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V.com weekend vote: Did you learn to read music along with learning to play, or a while after?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: October 11, 2013 at 8:46 PM [UTC]

Most of my students have learned to read music in a different way than I did.

I began violin at my local public school, and as was the custom of the day, I started learning to read music the same day as I started learning to play the violin. It's kind of a lot to explain: hold the violin this way, hold the bow that way, this note is an "A," this is a quarter note, GO!

Somehow I survived; it probably helps that I started at the ripe old age of nearly-nine.

Music books

These days I teach students to play first, then to read. It's a lot like learning to speak words before learning to read or right them. I find that if you put music in front of a violin student too soon, their scroll drops to the floor, their pitch goes out the window and the bow starts sliding around like a broken windshield wiper. Sometimes their tongues fall out of their open mouths, they have so many points of concentration to handle.

On the other side of the spectrum are students that come to me in Suzuki Book 3, having barely read a note. Just not good. Not as common as it used to be, but it still happens. I think reading needs to begin as early as possible, after a good set-up is established and the student is playing about a dozen tunes quite well.

But very few of us get the ideal! How did your music-reading happen? Did you begin reading simultaneously with playing, or were you playing a few months or years before you began reading?


And here, for your amusement, is a little video explaining how music reading works. Enjoy!


From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on October 11, 2013 at 9:19 PM
technically, I could read notenames when I learned piano around age 6. Started violin at 11 and i always played off the music but i never got the rhythms right unless i already knew what it sounded like. hit shifting and my mom (not my teacher) finally realized i was winging it by ear and pattern recognition and made me count and write in letter names!
From Royce Faina
Posted on October 11, 2013 at 9:43 PM
I could not keep up with my classes reading so I played by ear. When I got into choir for 2 1/5 years in High School only then did I really learn to read music.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on October 11, 2013 at 10:11 PM
I answered "from the beginning" because I already knew how to read music, thanks to early piano training.

Yet when the violin muse soon got hold of me and I switched instruments, I first played by ear on a half-sized fiddle -- no printed music. Then I observed two other kids playing from my first instruction book before I started lessons. I got hold of the book, already able to read notes, and started figuring out some simple pieces -- partly on my own, partly by observing these kids. This paid off at my first lesson soon afterward and made a definite impression on my first teacher, who played accompaniment as I played the solo parts, reading from the music.

From Aaron Krosnick
Posted on October 11, 2013 at 11:28 PM
I learned to read music on the piano two years before I started violin. (I still remember being able to find Middle C because of the missing ivory on that key on our piano.) I also learned to read music, maybe before that, in elementary school in New Haven, CT, learning the English system of solfege, the movable "do". I also learned my key signatures that way, with sentences such as "Good Deeds Are Ever Bearing Fruit" for the sharp keys and (although this isn't what the teacher actually gave us) "Fat Boys Eat Apple Dumplings Greedily" for the flat keys. I hate to admit it, but these sentences are still with me when I see an unfamiliar key signature (at the age of 76!!). I still remember my fourth grade teacher, Miss Coffee, writing them out on the blackboard.

From Kevin Keating
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 12:14 AM
I've been playing guitar for 30 years and I've tried several times to learn how to read, but it didn't stick. I just didn't need it and like any language, if you don't use it, you won't really learn it.
THEN I started playing violin about 5 years ago. It forced me to learn notation because of the old Scottish tunes I wanted to learn. Also, I made a concentrated effort to stay away from mandolin tablature since I had decided at that point that that was just a crutch. I only wish I had forced myself to learn it long ago.
So now I can read it. Not super fast on sight on the fly, but it's coming.
From Dottie Case
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Came on to comment that I needed a category that said "already could read music before beginning violin", but I see that others have beat me to it.
From Emma Otto
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 2:11 AM
Ugh... I didn't really learn to read music until about 6 or 7 years after I started violin, and I even had 2 years of piano experience before violin. I've always been the play-by-ear type, I guess.

When I first auditioned for the Jackson Symphony Youth Orchestra (after 6 or 7 years of violin experience), the conductor put a piece of music on the stand and asked me to read it. After staring at it for 30 seconds, I began at a very slow pace, making tons of mistakes. The piece wasn't even difficult, but I couldn't read it correctly.

I realized at that point that, although I knew where the A was and where the D was, I couldn't sight read. You can imagine what I worked on that year. :-)

From Ellie Phillips
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 2:25 AM
I started on piano, so I could already read a little bit when I started violin a year later.
From Jorge Armenteros
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 3:30 AM
As an adult beginner, I started to learn how to read music at the same time I started to learn how to play the violin. My teacher would not bother with instructing me how to read music, so I had to teach myself. I have plenty to learn, both music and violin, but I think it does not matter. I do not find it to be a problem. I teach myself as much music as I need in order to play the violin at my present level. I am having a great time.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 5:26 AM
Apologies, I should have had one for "I already knew how to read music before I started violin!" It's still a bit different -- I know that reading piano music is a whole different ball game for me than reading violin music!


From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 12:50 PM
I also started on piano at age six. My piano teacher taught me how to read music.


From marjory lange
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 2:36 PM
I learned to read music in the church choir a full 2 years before I began violin.
Our choir director was a dour Scotsman who 'rrre-fused' to have a choir that couldn't read, do solfege, sight sing...so at the tender age of 7 I was doing all those things. Violin, by comparison, was 'simple,' because "all" I had to do was learn the motions! I don't sing anymore, but I can still sight sing.

For me, reading music was just another variety of reading...words, notes? didn't matter. I learned what to do with them as I went on.

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on October 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM
"I find that if you put music in front of a violin student too soon, their scroll drops to the floor, their pitch goes out the window and the bow starts sliding around like a broken windshield wiper. Sometimes their tongues fall out of their open mouths, they have so many points of concentration to handle."

LOL! I so recognize this!

From Kim Vawter
Posted on October 13, 2013 at 9:26 PM
I don't know why I feel compelled to contribute since everyone has already said it but learning to read music came in the same time as learning to read. Recognizing letters, words, reading words and sentences, then addition, subtraction and reading notes on a page and then reading musical phrases that turned into melodies that we enjoyed. All of these were accomplished in grade school. Of course we had a piano as a center piece of the living room. (No "family room.") We did not question the fact
that we were going to have piano instruction and we were going to sing in the Junior Choir just as we were going to get on the bus to go to school. Like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we had no choice. So music education was integrated with everything else in grade school. Violin? Yes. About 50 years later! I am glad I could read music.
From Pat Yearian
Posted on October 13, 2013 at 10:17 PM
In 5th grade we learned how to read treble cleff on the tonette. (like a recorder) When I started violin lessons the next summer I read music as I learned how to play. Now as a teacher using the Suzuki approach I use the learn how to play the violinfirst. I have found when a child can read early chapter books they seem ready to tackle the music reading. It isn't always easy but they persist and it happens with repetition.

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