So I’ll admit that reading music has never been my strong suit. Piano lessons as a kid have ensured that I can distinguish a treble clef from a bass clef, though forty years of neglect haven’t really helped my skills at all. And did you know there are alto and tenor clefs too? Well, one of you must know because I learned about those here at the Avocado.
As a kid, the most painful aspect of piano lessons (and I think this was mostly a California thing) was the dreaded Certificate of Merit program. My teacher would force us to participate every year, and I remember three distinct phases. The first part was a written test, which was hard enough but a complete delight compared to the following trials. Next up was the performance (in front of a single judge) of memorized classical pieces. But the real coup de grace was the final trial…sight reading a completely unfamiliar page of music, again in front of a judge. It’s no wonder I started to hate those piano lessons so much.
With great effort, I can sit down and decipher a piece of written music, but I’ll get pretty lost and frustrated if it has any real level of difficulty. And during the years I’ve spent writing my own music, it hasn’t really been a necessity. A few years ago, I was working with a cellist who wanted a score to work with…imagine my embarrassment when I gave her a sheet with about eight bars of single whole notes (in A minor, if I remember correctly).
Since I started with the guitar lessons about two years ago, my teacher has been giving me guitar tabs and charts to work with. My god, what a difference! Of course there’s a lot of detail left out in these charts, but I can manage to make my way through the chord changes and knock out a fairly recognizable version of “Ashes to Ashes” without much difficulty.
Of course there are a lot of rock musicians who don’t read music and have no real need for it. I wish I could read much better than I do, but I’m not sure I’ll ever spend the effort to develop the skill.
How about the rest of you? Is the ability to read music essential to you as a musician? Do you prefer actually notation over things like tabs and charts? Or is reading music a lost art that you have no particular need for?