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Alembic Club » Miscellaneous » Archive: 2007 » Archive through December 12, 2007 » LEARN TO READ....EAR VERSUS TAB??????? « Previous Next »

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Username: white_cloud

Post Number: 62
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 3:18 am:   Edit Post

Hi Alembic folks, having played the Bass by "ear" for around 26 years I am now thinking that perhaps I should learn to read music.

I have always done a reasonable job of picking things up by simply listening/watching, but am at the stage of life where I would really like to be able to play things like "joe Frazier" by Jeff Berlin note for note (instead of sounding kind of like the bits I cant quite decipher!)

For some reason I always used to be fearful of attempting to read music, but maybe now I should have a go! I always played predominately rock bass and found it easy to pick out the lines...but my real love is fusion (try picking the notes out of "water on the brain" by allan holdsworth..forget it!)

Anyone out there got any thoughts on this or have any good recomendations for a bassist learning to read music??
Senior Member
Username: adriaan

Post Number: 1702
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 3:34 am:   Edit Post

Take proper piano lessons - that is as good a training as you can get for reading any score of music, and it translates easily to bass. It might even work better if you don't already play the piano.
Advanced Member
Username: hydrargyrum

Post Number: 302
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 6:10 am:   Edit Post

Tabs will get you to the right notes, but you'll still have to rely on your ear to get the right rhythm. It is much easier than learning to read a score, and well suited for immediate gratification, but in the long run learning to read music is the best bet.
Senior Member
Username: olieoliver

Post Number: 1641
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 6:27 am:   Edit Post

This is one of the things I have battled with for years. I pretty much have all the theory of reading in my head. In fact I can transcribe a bass line from the sheet music, but you'd better give me an hour (or more). But Sight reading?! Hang it up. I just can't seem to make myself practice reading.
I guess thats the curse of learning to play by ear first and then 10,20 even 30 years later trying to learn to read feels like starting over again.

It's wierd too, I can read tab, chord charts and number charts. But "sheet music" just seems to give me a fit.

It doesn't get any easier with age either, combine that with all the brain cells I killed back in the 70's, BUT I keep on trying.
Senior Member
Username: bracheen

Post Number: 1293
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 8:49 am:   Edit Post

The latest brave soul to try and make a bassist out of me is a jazz guitarist. He has many years of playing and teaching under his belt and has been stressing reading to me. I can see both the value of it and improvement with it. I vote for learning to read.
Senior Member
Username: olieoliver

Post Number: 1642
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 9:08 am:   Edit Post

OH, I agree 100%, LEARN TO READ, it will only help and get you more work.
Every student I've ever taught I've stressed that to. It's SO much easier when you're first learning to play too.
It is ironic though, the students I've taught all now sight read better than I.
Maybe that'll be my New Years resolution, improve my reading skills.

Advanced Member
Username: alembic_doctor

Post Number: 371
Registered: 8-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 9:25 am:   Edit Post

I have a secret. For twenty long years, I could not read. But now, Thank's to Hooked on Funk, I'M A FREE MAN.
Senior Member
Username: rami

Post Number: 706
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 4:33 pm:   Edit Post

I don't think reading music is something to get stressed out over. Tab helps as an accompaniment to the music. But it's something anyone can do given the time and effort required.
I know how frustrating and hopeless it can feel at times, but as they say, it takes 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
It's even more important if you're playing music for a living.
And it's never too late to learn.
Senior Member
Username: the_8_string_king

Post Number: 926
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 6:14 pm:   Edit Post

I strongly recommend learning to read; it will open up avenues otherwise unavailable to you. If you're a musician, it makes sense to learn the written form of the language you speak.

You'll want to learn both bass and treble clef, although it might be easier to focus more on one initially; on the other hand, it's not much harder to learn both simultaneously. I agree with Adriaan (of course) that learning to read piano is very useful/helpful.

I strongly recommend getting a METRONOME... a VERY useful tool for musicians and readers... and maybe get a fake book and/or music you already know to help you at first.

It can be helpful to separate notes and rhythm at first -before putting them together. This is why working on tunes that you already know can be helpful... you'd be focusing mainly on the pitches (at first) yet be able to study the rhythems, using what you know as a frame of reference.

Good luck with it!

(Message edited by the 8 string king on November 27, 2007)
Senior Member
Username: richbass939

Post Number: 890
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 6:57 pm:   Edit Post

I say learn to read, by all means. I agree with Adriaan and 8stringking about learning to read on the piano if you can. Learning bass and treble clef at the same time will help you avoid confusion later if you decide to learn a treble clef instrument. Reading bass is still a bit of a fight for me after all the years reading treble. My kids both play piano and can't understand why I struggle with it.
Good luck with it.
Advanced Member
Username: terryc

Post Number: 361
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 2:33 am:   Edit Post

white cloud..I learnt to read when I was a teenager(oh my god that is a long time ago) I began to get out of touch with it some years ago but PC's came along and this was my solution.
First get a book just to give you the basics, you know GBDFA and ACEG for bass stave( learn both if you want ) then get a copy of Cakewalk or Cubase and install on PC and then download the vast amounts of midi files that are on the internet. Pull up the stave option on the program, hit the play button and play the notes as the cursor runs along. This certainly improves your sight reading skills and timing(computers are relentless at time keeping!!!)
There is loads of jazz midi files out there..one I would recommend is the midi file of Giant Steps by John Coltrane..there is a wicked bass solo in the middle..slow the tempo down to learn though!!
Advanced Member
Username: glocke

Post Number: 278
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 4:40 am:   Edit Post

Learn to read. You'll be surprised how much it will improve your playing.

Ditto the comment on the metronome. Using one during practice has vastly improved my sense of time.

As for tabs, for years I was pretty much a snob when it came to those. But now later in life, Ive realized they do have a place.
Senior Member
Username: olieoliver

Post Number: 1643
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 6:53 am:   Edit Post

While I obviously agree with all of the above, learning to read (sheet music, tabs, charts…) and practicing with a metronome or drum machine are a must in my book. Don’t totally forget about you ears. Keep them just as sharp as your reading skills.

Most “live” gigs I’ve done didn’t include charts. You either know the song or you better be able to follow by either watching or listening to the guitarist or pianist.

Just because one can read the language they speak doesn’t mean they can express what they feel. True self expression comes from the heart not the mind. That being said, the more knowledge you have about your “language” the better equipped you are to express what’s inside. So learn to read but don’t’ forget to just plain old “play” either.

Your wife seeing "I Love you" written at the bottom of a card will never replace the way she'll feel hearing those same words in your "voice".

Username: white_cloud

Post Number: 63
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 6:55 am:   Edit Post

Some excellent opinions and advice folks, thanks very much for taking the time to share your wisdom with me.....It is very much appreciated!

Im hopefully going to purchase both a book and Pc software to help me broaden my musical horizons!

And, hey...its a great excuse to play my Alembic even MORE:-)

Senior Member
Username: bracheen

Post Number: 1295
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 1:11 pm:   Edit Post

Olie, very well said. You just expressed the very thing that has so far been eluding me. I can play what I read and play it even better listening to it. But what I struggle with is the ability to pick up on something that's unfamiliar while watching and listening with no charts or score available. The sit down and jam factor is my holy grail.
Username: anarchyx

Post Number: 55
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Monday, December 03, 2007 - 3:48 pm:   Edit Post

Hughes, u should definitely learn to read music. say u were in a school concert, and there was a part of the song u were supposed to learn that u didn't know how to play. u need to learn the music in case you can't exactly pick something up by ear
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 1236
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Monday, December 03, 2007 - 6:09 pm:   Edit Post

After thrity years at it, reading (in proper notation) is a terrific thing, but: It's like learning a foreign language inasmuch if you don't speak it all the time, your skills erode, more for some than others. At one time I read both clefs effortlessly, BUT I was playing/practicing classical music at the piano every day. Now, it's a chore to read quarter notes in my F-clef scale books!

For me, tab is useless. Living where I do, the Number system has been very useful, but it's no replacement for standard notation IF you need to read written lines. For the usual gigs i do, I've never seen any charts in regular notation.

It's the real langauage of music, but you have to decide for yourself if you really need it.

J o e y
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 1240
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Monday, December 03, 2007 - 6:24 pm:   Edit Post

The number system is really the way to go. The Nashville variation allows for non-enharmonic chords within a I-VII range, with major/minor/etcetera added to the notation and the key explicitly stated (in "G" for instance), if memory serves. The standard number system, as used by jazz players and Real Book aficionados uses I through vii designators, with both the case (UPPER IS MAJOR, lower is minor) and key signature for tonality cues. Once you get your brain around the number system, then you'll find that you don't need to read notes for most things, as you'll already know where they are (to varying degrees) by the changes.

The above made a lot more sense in my head before I typed it, so forgive me if it isn't rational or exactly correct on the screen.

Having typed all that, reading actual notation is far, far better in all ways than relying on tablature. Perhaps the best way to learn to read is by learning to play another instrument at the same time. That way you're not as likely to become bored and frustrated with the reading part being so much more difficult than the bass playing part. Maybe this is a good time to pickup piano or saxophone as a second instrument..

John (who may have had too many glasses of wine before posting this)

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