=727= Music Talk: On Reading Music

So welcome to my first post after the surgery, HAHA, I shall refrain from complaining about liquid diet for the moment. Perhaps when I am finally out of it, then I will talk about the experience. Quite fast ah, almost one week already.

I recently stumbled on this great YouTube channel of this Jazz Bassist. I like how he talks about music and how he discusses certain issues that I am sure we as musicians like to know. I first saw his Whiplash video here. Very interesting stuff, especially about the practicing and musicians liking to share certain videos. YES! I then watched his video on reading here. He talked about the book Syncopation by Ted Reed and I ordered it almost the next hour.

I think reading for me has always been my foundation for my drumming. For those that still remember my first few rehearsals in CAMY, would remember that I was very uncomfortable playing with the band without seeing any scores. I used to count bars, play a certain way, etc etc, after 5 bars, do a fill in here. I remember Josh told me that he can tell that I learn from school from the way I play. I only play certain rigid fills, etc etc.

Over the years, as I continue to play in church and gotten confident on how to play by ear, I kinda lost all discipline to read. Most of the time in church, you are able to get by with improvising. I am able to improvise whatever I want for the song on the fly for most songs because of how much I have been playing in church. Tempo didn’t need to be totally accurate etc etc. What forced me to learn how to transcribe and write out and read was when I had new drummers under me for probation.

Before that, my prep for rehearsal has been simply to hear the tracks, air drum a bit, try to figure out the rest during rehearsal. However, when I had new drummers under me, my rehearsal time got cut by more than half, I simply cannot maintain this sloppy prep if I want to play well. Rehearsals became really difficult because I was unable to play well enough for the set and I keep feeling disappointed with my playing.

As a result, a great habit got forced out of me. I would now sit down, write down on a piece of paper, the tempo, song form, beats, transition, etc etc. This good habit has helped me got a whole lot more accurate over the years. I now purposely hear every note played and write down how I should play, even for the simple songs. (In fact, the more you play the more you realise that simple is such a discipline. You will lose the feel of the song very easily)

My point back then was simply to help my rehearsal to be more productive. Instead of sitting aside while the junior plays, I sit in and write down what is being said, hence, I will be on the same page when I take over from him, making it easier. Even if I don’t listen, when I take over, I will have a guide to follow during rehearsal.

Now with buying books, I decided it is good to do so, because it will be great to practice certain things. Having it comprehensively in a book is very good. It just means that I can use the book objectively like a work book. Very often, when we practice we just practice and play whatever that comes to our mind. That is good and all because it will sound natural and nice, but you will miss certain important things.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine a kid learning math, you teach the kid, 1+2=3. After teaching him that, if you ask him what is 2+1, he will be confused. He has no idea that 1+2 has the same answer as 2+1. If we always play 1+2 in drums, what about our 2+1? It may be the same pattern, but the question is different.

Having an objective breakdown of patterns is a specialty of notation. Writing notes down helps in a very binary thought process. Be it 1 rest 11 or rest 111, writing can give you all kinds of combinations.

Being able to read is a great in this sense for it can help me learn things note for note without a teacher. I remember when I need help figuring out songs and my teacher would help by sending the notes. Be it Rosanna by Toto, or 5/6 by Jason Mraz, I was able to learn the song accurately by reading.

Perhaps to be a better musician, one should play more with people, to hone a sense of feel. However, to be a more proficient musician, one should learn how to read and play accurately. Why be limited to one way of learning when you have so many ways of learning? Why just be a ear drummer when you can be both a ear and an eye drummer?

When learning a language, many people can hold a conversation without knowing how to read. I can speak Chinese rather ok, but I am horrible at reading. Sure it doesn’t affect me much in Singapore, but I am sure it would be easier if I knew how to read Chinese better.

Being able to know theory and read music may not be as an important skill now, but it surely is a useful skill. It is like trying to find your way around by asking for instructions vs reading a map. If you are able to do both, it will be easier to navigate.

Hopefully when I work on reading this book, I will be a more proficient drummer and hence be a better musician.


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