February 8, 2017
Break it up and move along
February is a great month – not so long that you get bored with it, not so short that you can’t learn something new – so this month we’ll focus on learning.
Reading music is a challenge for many people. It is, after all, a whole new language. Written music conveys a lot of information in relatively little ink. Ok, it does look like a lot of ink! Music scores are built from a set of symbols that come together to express musical ideas. Just like letters build to make words, sentences, paragraphs, or entire stories!
So how do you get to the meaning of all that ink? Well, you have to read it. It’s important to remember that just like in a word book, those little strokes and splotches convey a lot of information. The score conveys pitch, movement, rhythm, volume, and more. That’s a lot to take in and it can be intimidating.
Musicians with strong formal training quite literally read a score. Just like you read a book, their eyes move along the lines as they recreate in their heads what's being conveyed. They have a lot of practice - they've already sat at the equivalent of the blue bird table just like you did when you were learning to read words.
Sounding out words? Reading aloud? Pronouncing (and mispronouncing) strings of symbols while you learned what they meant and how to voice them. Remember that? No, you probably don’t (or the details may be fuzzy) – you practiced very hard to learn the symbols, then to put a couple together (remember sh-, ch-, th- and ae, ai, ea, oa?), and then put more together, until you were speeding through sentences and then whole books!
You need to do the same thing with your score! Practice reading, learning the symbols. Then practice reading them in pairs. Then move on to longer strings, until eventually you are zorching through entire tunes. Keep at it and soon you’ll be reading Sonatas and Symphonies!!
But it all starts by looking at the sheet and not panicking but by slowly breaking it up, getting the idea and moving on to the next couple...just practice, take it slow, acknowledge the work you are doing. Break it up and move along!