Weekend vote: At what point did you learn to read music?

June 26, 2020, 6:04 PM · Learning to read music is a learn-term project, a lot like learning to read words.

sheet music reading

This week, Paul Stein made the point in his blog about what makes a good reader that words have tangible associations, such as a "pig" or a "dog" -- but the associations with notes can seem little more abstract, especially to a beginner.

I actually started learning to read music on the same day that I started violin lessons at my public elementary school. I was nine years old, and they placed the beginning violin book Muller Rusch in front of me. Off we went!

Many people I know learned to read music from taking piano lessons, before ever taking lessons on the violin or another instrument. When I finally started learning the keyboard, well after learning to play the violin and to read music on the violin, my understanding of note reading took a major leap. It all seemed much more logical on the piano, with its black-note sharps and flats!

Those raised in the Suzuki method may have started reading well after learning to play. This has evolved over the years; Suzuki students start reading earlier than they used to, but they still don't start it right away. The idea is that a student achieve a level of physical comfort and fluency on the instrument before starting to read. After all, you learn to speak before you learn to read.

What was the situation for you? Did you learn to read music on the piano? The violin? Another instrument? And was the reading delayed, or did you start reading from the beginning? Please select the answer that best matches your experience and then tell us all about it!

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Replies

June 27, 2020 at 04:05 PM · Learning to read music was a sort of fusion. I first started with trumpet, but built on that singing with the piano later. Violin came last but I was already able to read by then.

June 27, 2020 at 04:06 PM · Learning the notes and playing the violin began exactly 60 years ago for me. What I remember is learning the names of the notes first from a book of some sort and written on the blackboard, using the spaces as FACE and the lines as Every Good Boy Does Fine. At about the same time my music class was also singing. I also remember accompanying our little class choir on the autoharp - thus began my understanding of chords.

June 27, 2020 at 04:33 PM · Laurie, I learned to read music exactly the way you did: in public elementary school violin lessons! I even had the Mueller-Rusch book. I wish I still had it but I seem to have lost it in one of my moves.

June 27, 2020 at 05:24 PM · Learned to read music in piano lessons starting at age 5.

By the time I started learning the violin, as a late starter, I had already earned a DipABRSM in piano performance and passed the ABRSM Grade 8 Music Theory exam so was already a proficient sight-reader on piano and capable of sight-singing in all common clefs including alto and tenor.

June 27, 2020 at 09:52 PM · Age 6, on the piano. After starting violin as an adult, I joined a Scottish Fiddler group and was just learning to play by ear, which is what they do, when I took up viola and quit Scottish Fiddlers. I think it's a good exercise to play a stringed instrument by ear--in my mind, it goes along with learning to play well in positions. And more challenging than playing piano by ear, IMHO.

June 27, 2020 at 10:27 PM · Elementary school. 4th grade and earlier. Had great music book which we used in class so learned to read as followed along as we sang. My folks even bought me the book which I still have.

Was not a children's song book but a general one with vocal and piano lines more for older students and adults.

Would play others pianos and work through pieces by the music or combo music, trial and error. Etc. Started Viola in 6th grade...switched to violin in 10th grade. Started piano in 7th grade for 2 years. Still play and teach violin and viola. Play classical and Scottish (celtic) and bluegrass both with music and by ear. And work on jazz and improv at times.

June 27, 2020 at 10:30 PM · Francesca ... get that viola up and play those Scottish fiddle tunes. Great workout for the brain but worth it!

June 28, 2020 at 02:36 AM · Yes, I know. I have told myself: get really good at playing in partial positions (is that what they're called?) and learn how to harmonize. I'm working on both.

June 28, 2020 at 05:08 AM · My mum (organist) gave me solfeggio lessons for one year, at age 8, before starting violin lessons, at age 9.. so I was able to read at a level that I didn’t faced reading problems when started violin lessons..

June 28, 2020 at 02:38 PM · As many here know, I was in Alice Joy Lewis's first Suzuki class ever, and we were started off in the expected way by ear. However, Alice Joy had known my family well for several years and was aware that I was an early and precocious reader. Because of this, she introduced note reading to me far earlier than was the Suzuki recommendation and in fact far earlier than she did to other children in the class (at this point I was getting private lessons in addition to the class). I have memories of learning to read music on pieces from the old Listen and Play book 2, which was equivalent to the latter half of the current Violin School book 1.

June 28, 2020 at 02:42 PM · Taught myself from my older siblings' piano books when I was 4.

June 28, 2020 at 05:09 PM · Learned on piano simply because I started piano lessons about a year before I started violin.

June 30, 2020 at 09:26 AM · I learned reading on piano just under 30 years before I started learning the viola.

Despite I'd never acquire the skill of reading ahead, I would say I'm a very fast reader on the piano because I can recognise every note instantaneously within 4 ledger lines (because of the way piano music is presented, that's close to the full range of the piano), have good keyboard geography and my fingers can react to patterns close to immediately. The skills somewhat translated to my second instrument (saxophone) as well so I thought my reading is quite secure.

So it's very interesting when I started to notice that I didn't really learn alto clef properly. I mentally map the position of notes on page to the position on strings instead of really thinking whether it's a C/D/E/F when I play. When my teacher say things like "that G# from last bar was flat; let's start from there again", I would stare at the page blankly and need time to figure out which note he's talking about.

I think when I look at the notes on sheet music, instead of thinking of them by their names, I think of them as position on the keyboard and work out what they are from there.

July 3, 2020 at 07:52 PM · I learned on piano, starting at 7 y/o. I can still read bass clef -- by itself, that is -- although I've never owned a piano and haven't touched a keyboard since the late 20th century. Soon after I started piano, the violin muse got hold of me. I first played simple tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle, then began teaching myself violin beginner tunes and scales by reading from my first violin instruction book. This was a few months before I had a teacher. It was like what happens when you acquire a second language at an early age -- and then the second language becomes dominant. If I attempted to read treble and bass staves together now and put both hands together, it would be quite a challenge -- I'm conditioned to reading treble only.

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