Posted on July 28, 2011 by Andy John

Everyone knows someone who doesn’t know anything about music and just plays by ear.  So why bother spending all that time to learn to read music?  It’s also confusing to guitarists, bassists, and harmonica players who juggle with tablature AND standard notation.  So why bother?

My answer is, it depends what kind of musician you want to be.  When people ask me if I read music or play by ear I say “yes!”.  There is a wealth of knowledge to be learned by people who don’t know how to read music or know anything about music theory; those who play strictly by ear.  Your ear is your best musical tool.  Every musician should be able to play by ear.  It requires listening and communicating with your fellow musicians.

Reading music requires a deeper intellectual understanding of music.  Reading allows you to communicate easier with other musicians (who also read).  It also opens up a body of literature that is hundreds of years old.  If you ever plan on playing with horn players, pianists, or string players (violin, viola, cello, bass), you’d better plan on being able to read.  Pianists are unsympathetic of guitar players who don’t know how to read.  Reading music is mandatory for musicians who play in symphonies, jazz bands, theaters, school bands, stage bands, and recording sessions…  any gig you would be PAID for!

In my experience, it is a good idea to develop at least a basic knowledge of reading music because you don’t know what kind of playing situations you will be in.

Is it more important to read music or play by ear?