Lilting Fiddle

Learning to Play Fiddle as an Adult

Trouble with Learning to Read Music

Posted on January 20, 2019

Honestly, I don’t really know if this is a problem or not. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know!

I’ve always had trouble practicing reading music notation. The thing is, I can fumble through reading a (simple) song passage, such as something I’m practicing from my Essential Elements for Strings Book. I reference the notation the first few times, and maybe look at bits and pieces of it a little bit after. But once I know what the song should sound like, I find myself quickly shoving the notation aside to play from memory.

That’s why it’s so, so important for me to be able to hear samples of the tunes that I’m trying to play. When I hear the song and put it on repeat a few times, I’m much more able to perform it. Every book or learning tool I use has to have some kind of track to play with for this reason.

Back when I was learning to play guitar many many moons ago, I did the same thing. I feel like I never really connect the process of learning to match notes on the page with fingering. By the time I settle into practice, I’m doing it more by ear than by eye.

Is this a bad thing? Is this a good thing? Is there something I can do to help me focus more on practicing to read the notes? I guess I could FORCE myself to sit and read notation, but that seems awful dull. Or is this something I should just roll with for now and be more focused on when the tunes get a little more complex?

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Archived Comments

Jim - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

If you aspire to learn Irish fiddle music, as you mentioned in an earlier comment, I wouldn't worry to much about reading music. It would be important if you were learning complicated classical pieces, but I know most Old Time fiddle music is taught by ear and with the use of Tablature (TABS). I imagine Irish music is easily adaptable to this system. Tabs is a simplified form of musical notation. Once you understand this simple system, you can transpose any piece to Tabs. It doesn't tell you if the note is a quarter note, eighth note, etc., but if you know the song, you don't need that; you just need to know where to place your fingers in a simple format. I even made up a blank TABS form so I can easily transpose traditional music notation to Tabs. If you email me (jim AT fiddlingforolderfolks DOT com), I will send you the spread sheet file, and you can print it for yourself.

Aywren - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I'm familiar with tabs as a concept from back when I played guitar - I know a lot of guitarists use tabs rather than notation. I didn't actually look into trying it, but I can see the benefits of a simpler format. Something in me still wants to know how to read notes if I need to -- or at least enough to be able to pick up something written in notation and figure it out in time.

I just wasn't sure if what I was doing was considered learning by ear, and if it was a bad practice to fall into! You're right that I don't really plan on going into super complex classical pieces, but I would like to try to be as well-rounded as I can from the start! Plus all the learning books I pick up use and teach notation.