When you read music you are deciphering the printed page and transferring the information to the keyboard. You might say that you are decoding what the composer or arranger put on the page . The symbols put on the paper by the composer are the only means he or she has to convey his/her musical ideas to the performer, hence to the listener.
But! Is decoding a page of printed music and transferring those symbols to sound really making music?
Not necessarily. That is only one step. We might say that reading the notes with our eyes and playing them with our fingers is putting the mechanics to work. If we stop studying the piece as soon as we are fairly fluent in playing the notes we have read, we may be good keyboard mechanics, but we may not be considered "musicians."
No doubt you have listened to a pianist and come away saying, "That performance really carried me away." On the other hand you have also probably heard much so-called "music" that left you cold-that did nothing for you. Perhaps one reason we enjoy listening to "ear" players is the fact that they are listening to what they play and are not distracted by the printed page.
"Ear" players MUST listen to themselves or they would have no idea of what comes next. The music is really speaking to them. Always remember that until music speaks to the player it cannot communicate anything to the listener.
What has all this got to do with reading music? You ask:"Is it wrong to try to learn to read? Since I can't play by ear, should I just forget about learning to play?"
The first question will take a bit of detail to take us from the printed page to good listening. Don't forget that the performer must be a good listener, if not the most critical of all listeners. If, as you perform, you become so engrossed in the printed notes, their pitch, their time, the touch, the dynamics-that you forget that all those things must fit together as a whole to make a good tone story, then you are a note reader, not a musician. But you must learn to read fluently if you can't play by ear.
There are comparatively few people who can play from memory or by ear everything that is on the page, fully and accurately. But, you don't hear them falter and fumble over the spots that are rough because they have learned how to "fake," how to cover their mistakes so the average listener is not aware of their bloopers.
So go ahead-learn to be a good reader. Not just a good letter reader, be a phrase-wise reader. Be aware of everything printed on the page, but read between the lines. Like a good actor, put yourself in the role and project your feelings to your listeners . Don't let your development stop with just reading pitch and time. Include those little nuances: the delicate shadings of volume, the elasticity of tempo�the phrases that punctuate your musical story. Those are the things that make music from the printed page.
Now you know your answer. It is not wrong to learn to read fluently. Reading, as well as good technique, is a vital part of a musician's craft. And the more automatic your reading and technique become, the easier it will be to learn new music. That, of course, is the one big advantage the fluent reader has over the ear player-the player who reads can learn new music he or she has never heard.
Perhaps your second question is also answered. Of course, you can enjoy music even if you have to dig out every note phrase by phrase. A few hints may help you decide how to choose your music and how to go about learning it. First:
Choose music that is well within your present level of playing so you won't have to work forever on once piece.
Don't worry about challenging yourself.
Don't dub yourself lazy just because you play easy pieces. Who cares what grade level your music is? Just play the melody so beautifully that everyone wants to hum along.
Keep the beat moving smoothly and with the proper accent so everyone will want to tap their toes.
Put in enough subtle changes of volume to make the phrases speak.
Deviate from the established beat just enough to enhance the natural flow of rhythm to make the music come alive.
Copyright 2005 RAW Productions
Ron Worthy is a Music Educator, Songwriter and Performer. His Web Site, Play Piano Like a PRO, offers Proven Tips, Tool, and Strategies (that anyone can learn) to Play Rock, Pop, Blues and Smooth Jazz Piano.