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  • Chris Anderson

Is It Important To Be Able To Read Music In Order To Succeed?

Whether reading music is important for success depends on the context and goals of the individual. As a music teacher I encourage my students to learn to read and understand music so that they get a solid foundation on which to build. I also feel that it opens up many doors and opportunities. However, I’ve also worked with people who just want to learn how to play a specific song and while the reading of music would have made the task a lot simpler and quicker, wasn’t crucial as I was able to teach them by rote. Here then are some scenarios where reading music is useful.

  • Classical Music Performance: In classical music, reading sheet music is crucial. Musicians in orchestras, chamber ensembles, and choirs rely heavily on reading sheet music to play together accurately. For classical performers, strong sight-reading skills are often necessary for auditions and rehearsals.

  • Contemporary Music Performance: In genres like pop, rock, and jazz, the importance of reading music can vary. While many successful contemporary musicians can read music, it's not always a strict requirement. Some artists in these genres primarily rely on ear training, improvisation, and chord charts. However, being able to read sheet music can open up opportunities for session work and collaboration.

  • Composition and Arranging: For composers and arrangers, the ability to read and write sheet music is crucial. It helps in notating your musical ideas accurately, sharing your compositions with others, and collaborating with performers.

  • Music Education: If your goal is to teach music, whether in schools or privately, the ability to read and teach music notation is generally important. It's a fundamental skill for explaining musical concepts and guiding students in their learning.

  • Music Production: While reading music can be useful for music producers, it's not always a strict requirement. Many producers work with digital audio workstations (DAWs) and MIDI controllers, which may not involve traditional sheet music reading. However, having a basic understanding of music theory can significantly aid in creating harmonies, melodies, and arrangements.

  • Personal Enjoyment: If you're playing music purely for personal enjoyment, whether it's on your own or in informal settings, reading music might not be necessary. Many hobbyists play by ear, learn through tabs or chord charts, or use tutorials to play their favourite songs.

Whether reading music is important for your success depends on your musical goals and the specific field you're involved in. While it can open doors and enhance your skills, there are successful musicians in various genres who have succeeded without strong sheet music reading abilities. Ultimately, having a well-rounded skill set that includes both reading music and other musical skills can make you a more versatile musician.

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