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Postby MaxRumble » August 12th, 2005, 9:50 am

Hi, I have been bonning up on my theory for a while now, a little at a time. Of course being able to read music is still a way off.

I have been wondering if the huge effort to learn to read standard notation fluidly is worth the time, in that tabs are everywhere. It is easy to find tabs of most songs where as written music seems to be much more scarce. I realize the importance of understanding musical notation and the advantages that come with it, I am just not convinced that I will be able to find music for songs that I like.

Any comments?
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Postby kingpatzer » August 12th, 2005, 10:01 am

If you ever want to write your music for others to play, yes.
If you ever want to play fluently in a sit-in gig, yes.
If you ever want to play something that hasn't been tabbed out, yes.
If you ever want the fun of doing frequent studio gigs, yes.
If you ever want to understand theory beyond the most basic level, yes.

There are ohter reasons, but for me those are the big ones.

Frankly, to me, reading music is part of being a musician. It is, for good or bad, the written language of our craft. Not knowing how to read music is condeming yourself to being illiterate in your choosen craft. It is a foolish choice.

And frankly, it's not a "huge effort" to learn to read notation fluently, anymore than it's a "huge effort" to learn any other language. It takes time and dedication, but you tackle it one day at a time as part of your practice and in a year you'll be able to read anything with a little work, and in 2 or 3 all by the most difficult pieces will be able to be sight read. For something like music that is a life-long journey, spending 2 or 3 years of that journey learning how to more fully enjoy the remaining decades is hardly a "huge effort."

Like learning scales, it's the foundation upon which you will build as a musician.
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Postby Ignar Hillström » August 12th, 2005, 11:05 am

Ask yourself what you want to do, then ask yourself how being able to read standard notation is going to help. I'd dare to say 99% of guitarists have absolutely no reason to learn it. Programs like PT and GP offer exact tabs copied from standard notation and are far easier to learn a song of. Most people don't ever need to sit in suddenly and play parts that need standard notation to explain. After learning reading I didn't receive any grand theoretical insights, just as learning Dutch didn't opened the world of language. Do you write music for non-string instruments? No? Then you don't need it for that reason either.

Pretty soon this topic will be filled with half the forum telling you how important it is. I'm telling you that for most people it isn't. Don't just take either stories, think it through for yourself. All I can say is that I can read but never do it with guitar, rare exceptions excluded. Kinda amazing if it is really such a wonderfull and amazing skill to have. A general rule: if you're a professional, learn it. If you aren't, you probably don't need to learn it.

Just my heretic opinion. Feel free to burn me.
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Postby cnev » August 12th, 2005, 11:31 am

I agree with King and Arjen, but I fall into the non-professional category and I've decided that learning to read music wasn't my top priority.

Being an adult beginner I just didn't think I'd get the bang for the buck.

Either way it is up to you. I would love to be able to read music because I do believe to truly be called a musician you should have that skill.

I guess I could never call myself a true musician...but I don't care I just want to play some rock & roll.
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Postby MaxRumble » August 12th, 2005, 11:47 am

Well King that was a pretty impassioned answer. I do plan to learn to understand written music. I have already learned quite a bit actually, but I will likely draw the line at practicing enough to be able site read. Realistically how much written music can I expect to actually play like I said tab is everywhere.

And frankly, it's not a "huge effort" to learn to read notation fluently, anymore than it's a "huge effort" to learn any other language.

Well I am currently learning french and while i don't see it as a chore nor do I see learning to read music as a chore they both definitly require thousands of hours of study to be highly proficient. Which is well within my definition of a huge effort.

I appreciate all the responses.
Cheers,

Max
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Postby NoteBoat » August 12th, 2005, 11:54 am

On another board I was in a discussion of which is 'better', tab or notes - and I posted a comparison:

Advantages of tab:

- you can figure out a song with no musical training
- most guitarists use tab, so it's an easy way to communicate guitar parts

Disadvantages of tab:

- it gets in the way of understanding theory. First string sixth fret is always just that. You don't know when it's A sharp (like in the key of B minor) or Bb (like in the key of Eb)
- because tab doesn't have a clear time element, you need to have heard a song to give a convincing performance from tab
- some young guitarists I've seen recently have learned the instrument using ONLY internet tab. They can play songs, but know absolutely nothing about music - some of them can't even name an open E chord. Relying on tab to that degree makes you a monkey with a guitar... you can only play things that other people have figured out for you first.

Advantages of standard notation:

- you can communicate with any musician on any instrument, so you can write arrangments for instruments like sax or piano that don't have tabbing systems
- you can play anything written, for any instrument within the guitar's range
- you're prepared to study theory, harmony, counterpoint, arranging, and composition
- you better understand the choices the guitar affords - that 1st string 6th fret note is also available on 2nd/11th, 3rd/15th, and 4th/20th
- because the time element is included, you can play any music and reproduce the composer's intent without having heard it first
- because it's more 'complete' (having the time element), you can write out a riff now, and still play it the same way in ten years.

Disadvantages of standard notation:

- it'll take you about 4 years to really learn to sight read in any key/position

Side note: BECAUSE it takes so long to learn, guitarists who sight read tend to be very well rounded - they haven't skipped over musical concepts in their progress, even if those techniques are outside their genre. Tab-only guitarists can often be very good at what they do... and no good at all at any other style.
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Postby AzraelDrah » August 12th, 2005, 12:22 pm

reading music is really essential if you want to write music for other instruments for other people to play.

but to say that you need to learn it to be a musician is a bit harsh. Music isnt about reading its about playing, whether you choose to learn standard notation or your musicianship depends on how well you play.

Personally i can read music and i find it helpful, particularly with rhythm work, and when arranging music for multiple instruments (e.g. keyboard)
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Postby missileman » August 12th, 2005, 12:39 pm

Advantages to being able to read music.
I can buy any sheet music or music book ect.. without worrying if it is in TAB.
Most TABs give you the notes but not the rythm (OK if you are familiar with the song or have a recording but useless if you don't know the song)
If you want to learn a new instrument you are way ahead already.
Dissadvantages to being able to read music:
HMM, UM, well I can't think of any.
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Postby Ignar Hillström » August 12th, 2005, 12:50 pm

Why does every pro-standard notation individual feel the need to give a one-sided view of the situation? Sorry Tom, but I have to reply again.

you can figure out a song with no musical training


Oh? I think you must know how to read tab. Admittedly easier, but a skill nevertheless. The only real difference between modern tabs and standard notation is that numbers are replaced by little dots.

- it gets in the way of understanding theory. First string sixth fret is always just that. You don't know when it's A sharp (like in the key of B minor) or Bb (like in the key of Eb)


But since I know in what key I am playing that is rather unneeded. Besides, what exactly is the practical difference? Have you ever made the mistake of confusing A# with Bb while playing? If so, how many people from the crowd walked away? Is there any objective way to notice the difference for anyone but the dude who plays the note?

Besides, 'first string sixth fret' is atleast simple and basic. Once you finally know where the dots of the sheet are on your fretboard you can start all over again when you tune your guitar to something different then standard tuning whereas a tab is straightforward as long as you tune in the same way as the tabmaker did. Which is because standard notation obviously wasn't invented for the guitar.

some young guitarists I've seen recently have learned the instrument using ONLY internet tab. They can play songs, but know absolutely nothing about music - some of them can't even name an open E chord. Relying on tab to that degree makes you a monkey with a guitar... you can only play things that other people have figured out for you first.


That isn't even an argument, really. I could have easily learned how to play basic piano using standard notation without ever knowing a C, E and G note are called 'C major' when played together. And I could have learned to play [x 3 2 0 1 0] without ever knowing it is a C major. Don't blame the system, blame the people who don't educate themselves.

- because tab doesn't have a clear time element, you need to have heard a song to give a convincing performance from tab


I write my stuff in tab on a computer, and you know why? Because it allows me to indicate dynamics and tempo FAR more detailled then sheet music can ever go.

'normal tempo'
'bit above normal tempo'
'slightly faster then above normal tempo'
If you want to write it down properly, get the exact BPM down. And no, giving you the chance to be creative with the sheetmusic has nothing to do with inaccurate tempo indication. (admittedly some sheets do give a BPM estimate).

Dynamics are even worse:
'normal'
'a bit louder'
'even louder'
'quite loud'
I mean *really*, since when does this allow me to play anything even remotely the way Beethoven intended it to be played? Everyone who knows something about classical music knows people have debated how pieces should be played for hundreds of years and we still have no real clue. Standard notation is not accurate.

- you can communicate with any musician on any instrument, so you can write arrangments for instruments like sax or piano that don't have tabbing systems
- you can play anything written, for any instrument within the guitar's range
- you better understand the choices the guitar affords - that 1st string 6th fret note is also available on 2nd/11th, 3rd/15th, and 4th/20th


All very true, worthy reasons to learn it. Although most people would probably figure the last argument out themselves by just playing.

because the time element is included, you can play any music and reproduce the composer's intent without having heard it first


See above arguments.

- because it's more 'complete' (having the time element), you can write out a riff now, and still play it the same way in ten years.


Difference being that my tab would be slightly more accurate then your standard notation, but your version would be somewhat accurate, true. And programming a proper tab takes a lot more time then writing standard notation.

Another advantage of tab: it's about 250kb for a good one and <10kb for a standard 'notepad-tab', so you can easily mail them around. Standard notation takes a lot more for each page, whereas my tab would contain all bass, guitar, drums, piano, vocal and whatnot lines. And after being written in tab it can transform it to standard notation for the piano-player to read. Although I have to admit they could make the transformation a bit less sloppy, no technical reason why it cannot be done 100% accurately, apart from the flaws of standard notation.

So why doesn't everyone drop standard notation?

-Tons of classical, jazz and other less-mainstream genres are still based on standard notation. If you care for those genres, learn it. There are proper tabs for these genres, but usually it is restricted to the better known songs and the more obscure ones get less attention.

-You don't need a pc, soundcard, speakers and reading program to get the most out of standard notation. When printed standard notation usually contains more detail.

-Big chances not all your lesson books feature tabs. Most older books don't, and I've had a few jazz books where they skipped tab most of the time, if not all the time.

-If you're thinking of learning another instrument someday yourself learning standard notation is a pretty smart idea. Not only will you need to be able to read standard notation for most instruments but using multiple notation systems can get confusing.

-Many, many reasons if you're apsiring to be a professional (session) musician.

-The reasons given above by the rest.

So yes, there are a whole bunch of reasons to learn how to read it. And depending on your situation none, some, many or all may be particularly valid. But stating that standard notation is required, or even very usefull, to most guitarists is utter nonsense.

Dennis: A musician is someone who makes music, either with an instrument or your voice. Doesn't matter one bit which system you use to play those notes. You have good musicians and bad musicians. The difference is the sound, not the method used to get there.

Missileman: the disadvantage of learning how to read is that it takes time. And most guitarists, including me, might benefit more by practicing their actual playing skills instead of learning how to read multiple systems. If you could just press a button: sure. But that is, unfortunately not the case. Luckily I don't play just the guitar, but if I did I would consider the time I invested to be seriously wasted. Not because it is a bad skill to have but because there are more usefull skills for someone in my positon.
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Postby missileman » August 12th, 2005, 1:14 pm

With all due respect Arjen,
Stating that "Standard notation is not accurate" shows me that you are not as very familiar with standard notation.
Also I would have to disagree with the statement that most guitarist would not benifit from learning to read standard notation.
I do agree that it is not "required" to learn to play guitar.
Again, with all due respect, you are young and haven't had to deal with having the situation arise that you lost a paying gig because you couldn't read the music sheet they handed you.
You stated you can read notation, so on what basis can you possibly tell others they would waste their time learning?
If done right, learning standard notation can go hand in hand with learning to play the guitar and no practice time is wasted.
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Postby NoteBoat » August 12th, 2005, 1:52 pm

Arjen, you raise some valid points... but some are off the mark.

I disagree that the ability to read tab constitutes 'musical training'. The kids I've seen who can't name a chord, but can play a Hendrix tune are evidence enough of that. It's the difference between being able to paint and being able to complete a paint-by-numbers - one requires understanding, the other only mechanical mimicry.

The only real difference between modern tabs and standard notation is that numbers are replaced by little dots

Not true. Notation symbols can by highly elaborate and precise - I have yet to see a tab notation that indicates some notes as staccato and others as marcato, to give just one example. Standard notation also has the ability to show the motion of voices... although that's also 'in the tab', it's exceptionally difficult to work it out, and totally impossible at sight. The number '8' on a tab may be higher, lower, or identical in pitch with a number '13'. Middle C - or any other noted pitch - is always the same. Standard notation systems have developed to include rhythmic figures based on double-dotted note beats (with septuplets as the standard division), and microtonal elements such as half or quarter sharps/flats. Anyone claiming tab can note everything standard notation can doesn't know enough about standard notation - tab has gotten better, but it's still far short of the mark.

Which is because standard notation obviously wasn't invented for the guitar

Music notation isn't about playing one instrument. It's about playing in ensemble. Clarinet could easily be noted L:T123 for note C (close the keys with the left hand thumb and three fingers) and L:T12 for D, etc. If I wanted to create an 'easy clarinet method', I could use colored in keys, similar to chord diagrams, and use them instead of notes. Standard notation allows the conductor to hand the clarinet part to the trumpet player if he chooses - without having to translate it into something instrument-specific. Standard notation has developed to be portable between any instruments as the common written language of musicians - not to make it as easy as possible for any single musician.

Have you ever made the mistake of confusing A# with Bb while playing?

My point was that tab impedes understanding theory. The audience will never know if you think A# when theory says it's Bb. But you sure won't be understanding it's a I-IV-V progression in F if you're viewing it as I-#III-V. Whether or not they sound the same is not the point at all.

Standard notation is not accurate

Sure it is. Accuracy and precision are two different things. The relationship between a composer and a performer/interpreter is a lot like that between a playwright and an actor. The notes (words) are all specified and fixed; the timing/phrasing (delivery/actions) are only sketched out. When I'm talking about producing music to a composer's intent, I believe composers all allow room for interpretation - not because they couldn't specify - after all, a composer could use BPM notations, which have been around for well over 100 years, instead of 'andante'... but because they recognize that the composition can be improved by an inspired performance. It's a collaborative effort.

If precision (instead of simple accuracy) is what you demand from notation, tab isn't the magic bullet either. When I'm comparing tab to standard notation, I'm doing so on the printed page. Yes, your tab files from software can be highly accurate to your intent, and more precise than a printed notation OR a printed tab. But it's not the fact that it's 'tab' that gives it such precision - it's the fact that your file is in MIDI or some other format; tab just happens to be the way that format is translated for input or display on the screen. The files I create with standard notation using programs such as Finale or Igor have the same attributes... but I can use hundreds or thousands of notations that your tab software won't supply... so the electronic comparison doesn't hold either.
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Postby 2u4ubyu » August 12th, 2005, 2:13 pm

Hey - I've played with artists that can do either - but not both well. Either they can read music like a superstar but some tend to have no "ear" for jammin' out a tune and creating on the spot - they are lost! :oops:

Some artists are the other way

Reading music will help open more doors for you as an artist - but for the most part - I have found that getting together with a good band or great artists at different levels is the best way to learn

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Postby kingpatzer » August 12th, 2005, 2:49 pm

MaxRumble wrote:Well I am currently learning french and while i don't see it as a chore nor do I see learning to read music as a chore they both definitly require thousands of hours of study to be highly proficient. Which is well within my definition of a huge effort.

I appreciate all the responses.


Learning to read music is part of learning to be a musician that plays the guitar. You add 5 minutes of work to your daily practice session and in a couple of years you'll be an expert at it.

You don't even have to make your practice longer, read your scales and arpeggios, read the melodies of what you're learning, etc.
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Postby sapho » August 12th, 2005, 3:26 pm

There's something to be said for not knowing standard notation. There are times I wish I couldn't read it as I tend to be more visually dependent and admire these heavies who are more audio dependent. So perhaps that's the underlying meaning of Arjen's dissertation on the subject - ear training is time well spent. I worry about having to play in the dark as I seem to always need a piece of paper with scratchings on it - Why? Perhaps because I want to move on to a new song before completely digesting one song. I'm working on several songs at one time. I NEED to read standard notation in order to cover the musical ground that I so hungrily choose to cover. I learned standard notation on violin, piano and French Horn in an academic setting so that may be the best way to go with it. Not sure I'd have the discipline outside of an academic structure to focus on it. I'd be very surprised if all these blues players can read standard notation. I dropped out of a classical guitar class at the conservatory because the teacher used tab. It couldn't command my respect enough to stay with it. It's your call.
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Postby Ignar Hillström » August 12th, 2005, 3:54 pm

Missileman:

Stating that "Standard notation is not accurate" shows me that you are not as very familiar with standard notation.


All I'm saying is that standard notation is unable (as any notation system is) to totally write down a song or part of a song. Read my arguments regarding tempo and dynamics.

Again, with all due respect, you are young and haven't had to deal with having the situation arise that you lost a paying gig because you couldn't read the music sheet they handed you.


As I said, it has its uses for professional players. And since most of us aren't professional musicians, it is a pretty weak argument.

You stated you can read notation, so on what basis can you possibly tell others they would waste their time learning?
If done right, learning standard notation can go hand in hand with learning to play the guitar and no practice time is wasted.


I learn something. I notice I don't use it for what I want to do. I assume I am not unique. Three logical steps to the conclusion that not everyone needs it. And the vast majority of guitarists is in roughly the same situation as I am (enthousiastic amateur player) so I guess most people are like me in this matter. Oh, time *is* wasted. Suppose you often read books, and you want to learn Dutch. Now you could start reading Dutch books to practice while still reading, but you'll find that you can't practice what you need to because your reading skills are way behind your playing skills.

Tom:
I disagree that the ability to read tab constitutes 'musical training'. The kids I've seen who can't name a chord, but can play a Hendrix tune are evidence enough of that. It's the difference between being able to paint and being able to complete a paint-by-numbers - one requires understanding, the other only mechanical mimicry.


And that is purely because of tab? Don't you think it might be that those with good teachers learn standard notation? Musical knowlegde and the ability to read are correlated, but I doubt there is a real causal relation between the two. Reading tab isn't the pinnance of musical training, but since you have to spend five minutes training and it is about music, it is some very basic musical training.

As for the compatibility between instruments, that is exactly the core of it. If you are a professional musician or deal with multiple instrument or musicians learning standard notation is an absolute must. But if all you want to do is sit around, maybe jam with friends and have some fun, then I can't see the use of it. Neither system is 'better', it depends on what you need.

As for impeding theoretical knowlegde, you are on itself correct. But I personally don't really see the point of understanding theory that matters not even half a percent in the end. So what if someone plays a I-#III-V in F and uses the D###m scale to solo over it? Quite possible you can give an example where this bit of correct knowlegde would help but it sounds a bit academic to me. But yeah, your point still stands.

As for accuracy, I have never heared of those programs so can't comment on them. I'm sure they can do everything tab programs can do and more. But if a MIDI/tab system is more accurate/precise (whats up with that? It's an exact synonym in Dutch?) then printed sheets then I guess it is accurate enough for the average amateur guitarist. Still kinda weird that the innacuracy of standard notation is a 'feature' and the innacuracy of tab a 'bug'.

You are a far more experienced and professional musician then I am, so I'll just believe you on your word with what you've said above. But the starting question was: 'should I learn to read?', and I still think the correct anwser is 'no, but you could.' I don't think anyone doubts the variety of uses standard notation has but I do think we shouldn't pretend there is no way around learning to read.

Sapho:
So perhaps that's the underlying meaning of Arjen's dissertation on the subject - ear training is time well spent.


Wasn't exactly my main argument, but it is certainly true. You can have all the tabs and sheet music in the world, if your ears suck that bend is going to suck as well.
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