Story Details

Do singers need to read music?

Posted By LaurelS 624 days ago on Education -

Do Singers Need to Learn to Read Music?Lots of singers learn by ear and feel that that’s enough for them to be a good singer. Why should they put in a lot of work to learn to read music when they can already learn music by listening to it? Don’t get me wrong, I think developing your ear is an essential skill for all singers! But music reading is also immensely useful for singers who take the trouble to learn it.Like any investment, you have to decide whether it’s worth the cost. You can walk everywhere you need to go, for free. Or, you can save up for a bike and learn to ride it. If you almost never go anywhere out of walking distance, you might say it’s not worth it. Likewise, if all you want to sing is karaoke, then okay, maybe you don’t need to learn to read music.But think of the possibilities that open up when you can read music. With a bike, you can travel so much farther than you could walk, so you can explore new places. With music reading, you can delve into more difficult music that you can’t just figure out from a recording. And what if there’s no recording and no one to sing it for you to show you how it goes? When you can read music, you can learn music independently without the need to rely on a recording or another person’s help.And while it takes time to learn music reading and get good at it, in the end, it’s much more efficient than learning by ear. You can bike three blocks to the store so much faster than you could walk there. Let’s say I could hear a one-minute excerpt of a song, something simple, and sing it back 100% accurately after only one listen (!). Even if you’re that good a listener, that takes two minutes. I can read music, so I could have just picked up the sheet music and sung it correctly without hearing it first. That’s one minute. Half the time. Actually, I’m a pro and I’ve been at this a loooooong time, so I can read simple melodies so well that it only takes me about 20 seconds to read through a minute’s worth of singing in my head.If you can read music, you’ll also have an easier time dealing with accompaniments and knowing when you come in and what note you start on. This can be so hard to figure out without music reading, and again, you’ll have to rely on others to help you and tell you how it goes. If you want to become a professional or even work with a high-level amateur group, you’ll need to be able to figure it out yourself.Best of all, if you can read, you can sing SO MUCH MORE MUSIC. If you can’t read, you have to memorize everything before you can perform it. As a professional musician, I typically teach, rehearse, and perform hundreds of different pieces of music per week. I could never do that if I had to actually know all that music off the top of my head. And when my music is written down, I never have to worry about forgetting a piece I used to know.When you read music, you can also study and appreciate music that can’t be sung, like piano pieces or orchestral compositions. In the process of learning music reading, you’ll come to a deeper understanding of how music is put together. Even if you don’t play an instrument, you could compose your own music. It’s pretty amazing how notation allows you to communicate the music that’s in your head so that someone else can perform it!So, how do you learn to read music?

When you can’t read music, it all looks like this…

There are two main aspects of music reading: rhythm and pitch. Reading rhythms is the same for any instrument: basically, different types of note symbols represent the relative length of time for each pitch, and a set of rest symbols represent relative lengths of silence. Once you memorize the system of symbols, reading rhythm well just requires practice and feedback about your accuracy.Pitch can be more tricky. On a piano, if you put your finger on the right key, the right note comes out. Voices don’t quite work that way; you have to know what it should sound like before it comes out. I teach my students to sing notated music using a combination of moveable do solfège and interval recognition.I strongly recommend working with a teacher to learn music reading; if you do, you’ll learn much more quickly and easily. Of course there are tutorials and resources of varying quality available for free online. You may be able to teach yourself how music notation works. Here’s a nice summary of the basics. As you can see, even “the basics” is quite a lot of information! And, like many such resources, this one is geared toward playing piano from notated music. You’ll need a teacher to help you apply this information to singing.If you’re interested in learning to sight-sing, I can teach you! Contact me for more information.

Submit a Comment

Log in to comment or register here