Musicians work with sound and it’s a slippery medium. Sound dies as soon as you make it. Imagine painting with colors that dissolve as soon as they touch the canvas. Luckily, we’ve inherited a solution to this problem from all the musicians who came before us. They invented a way to write down what sounds they wanted us to hear. The idea was refined over the course of hundreds of years and reached great heights of sophistication and precision. Now it’s ours to use, if we’re willing to learn it. Listed below are the top advantages of reading and writing music.
Reading music helps you get out of your comfort zone
I had played guitar for 8 years before I learned to read music. Learning to do so introduced me to classical guitar, which required new techniques and changed the way I played forever. Reading music gives you a fresh perspective by forcing you out of familiar patterns of thinking. Instead of playing like you always do, you end up playing what’s required and learn new things in the process.
Reading music ends the guessing-game
As a musician you’re often called on to perform something you’ve never heard, on the spot. Without having something to look at, it’s easy to get lost. Instead of playing to the best of your ability, you’re busy trying to find your place. If it’s written down you know exactly what to play and when, how to articulate it, how loud it should be, and how fast it should be. If the key changes, you know about it ahead of time.
Play with anyone, anytime
Reading music helps you play with musicians you don’t know. Without somewhere to start, not much happens when you’re jamming with new people. Even if you’re all playing the same song, it’s possible that each person remembers it a little differently. Written music clears up any confusion and allows everybody to hit the ground running.
Songwriters know how difficult it can be to remember something you’ve come up with. Knowing how to write it down allows you to forget old ideas without losing them forever. It’s a shame to think of all the songs I made up and forgot before I knew how to write them down.
Written music allows us to connect to the past
Although it’s not certain, ‘Greensleeves’ is rumored to have been written by King Henry VIII of England. The legacy of that melody is still astounding, whomever the true composer happens to be. Every time you hear it, it’s as if you’re hearing the voice of someone who lived nearly 500 years ago. If that melody had never been written down, it may well have been lost forever.
On a similar note, all we knew about music in Ancient Greece was very indirect until recently. Musicians are depicted visually and spoken of in literature, but what did the music sound like? New evidence is allowing us to experience the sounds that everyday people heard in Ancient Greece. The people are long gone, but if we can hear the music they left behind, it brings them to life again.