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15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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Remember to look for information about:

  1. Is music literacy necessary in this situation? Are learning by ear, improvising, and/or playing from memory common? Are they considered more valuable skills than reading music?
  2. What kinds of notation are used? If a variety of notations can be used, is one easier to learn, more common, more respected? Would you be expected to know all of them?
  3. How good would you have to be at reading the notation in order to do what you want to do?
  4. Would writing music also be a necessary or useful skill?
  5. How have others learned these specific music-reading or writing skills? In lessons, classes, while playing with others, or on their own?

Sometimes there are a range of answers to these questions. For example, some pop singers read music very well, while others do not. Some guitarists take private lessons, while others have learned through playing in bands with friends. Your goal is to get an idea of what the possible answers are to your question, so that you can then decide which version of the answer makes the most sense in your situation. To do this, you should consult a variety of sources before making your plan.

Possible sources of information

  • Talk to a musician - Is there someone who is the kind of the musician you would like to be and who would not mind talking to you about what they do and how they learned to do it?
  • Talk to a music teacher - If you have a music teacher or are considering hiring one, ask about the kinds of notation that will be studied and why they should be learned. If the teacher might have different goals than you (for example, if a piano teacher is likely to focus on classical music, while you are interested in jazz), ask whether music-reading in your preferred genre can be included.
  • Informational publications - For example, books and online articles that describe an instrument or a music tradition may have plenty of clues about how and when people read and write that kind of music, and what activities are done "by ear" or by memorization.
  • Autobiographies and interviews - Look for writings in which your musical role models discuss their career, musical activities and challenges.
  • Written music - How easy is it for you to find music that is written for that kind of musician? What kinds of notation does it use?
  • Methods - Look for method books, tapes, CDs, or online methods that teach the particular skill that you want to learn, and the style or genre that interests you. What information do they have about understanding and using the notation? What types of notation do the books use? Are there audio methods that claim to be able to teach you to do it by ear?