Can you really not read music?

ocgvictoria

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I was “classically“ trained in my youth with the typical band experience but was good enough in reading - and COUNTING (which is just as important!) - to make the jazz band and classical orchestra. Reading drum music is no big deal, as others have stated, since you are mainly reading only two things, when to hit a drum and which drum/instrument to hit. In the two ensembles I play with, a classical string orchestra and 16-piece polka band, reading music and counting measures is important in the sense that the classical ensemble plays music from a wide variety of composers, styles, and tempos. Count on a lot of full measure rests for many, many, many measures. So reading the music and counting the measures is critical as is reading the volume notations and the “road map” of repeats.

The polka band has a songbook of more than 200 songs from traditional German and Czech polkas, to waltz medleys and marches, to inspirational songs like Washington Post March and God Bless America. In this type of music reading the “road map” of repeats, codas, bird-eyes and other notations is in a way, more important than the actual drum music since most of the pieces are either 2/4 (cut time), 4/4 or 3/4 time and have very simple rhythms. If there is not drum music for a song, I will get a trumpet part and either mark it up with crashes or splashes or make a simple chart on a Stick-em note and tape it to the page opposite of the music.

Learning to read drum music is not very hard but as others have posted earlier, reading the music during live playing takes a bit more time to learn. The great thing about reading drum music is when I can’t make a gig, my backup drummer is a band director who reads music so the ensemble knows the beats and cues remain the same.

Here’s a snap from a recent gig for the polka band. Note the thick notebook full of songs to the left of my throne. I use a very simple kit for this group; 18” INDe kick, 12” Bliss splash, 18” Zildjian fast crash and a beech Sonor snare.

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Skins_in_the_game

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I am a visual learner and at work I often draw things out to see how they relate and what the logical process is from one step to another. I can get a bit lost when someone is describing a complex process without diagrams.
Because of that, I gravitate towards reading music when it is available until I have it locked in my mind and then I don't have to from that point.
 

ocgvictoria

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Here’s a nice comparison of two pieces of drum music; one a march and the other a two-page polka. Note that the Washington Post March (in 6/8 time) does not have cymbal notations so I added stickem dots so the backup drummer knows when to hit the crash. Note the repeats, volume notations and endings. With a large group of musicians, following everything on the music is what makes consistency possible.

For marches we typically follow the music. For the polkas, often we will alter the roadmap, for example we might repeat the trio all the way back to the beginning, then take the second ending the next time. If we are in a rush, we might ignore the repeats. You will see that most of the polka is backbeat (kick on 1 & 3, snare on 2&4) but I like to highlight the fills and transitions.


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Ian S

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For those who never received proper lessons, and think it's too hard, you are not alone. It was always daunting to me as a kid/teen when I occasionally would look at music and try to figure it out on my own. Really frustrating because some of it seemed so simple, but the really crucial road map stuff was not intuitive. I understood time and most tempo instructions without needing someone to explain them, but I never understood where I was supposed to go next, when I got to the end of a line. I naturally wanted to go to the next line, but apparently I was supposed to either skip ahead or go back and start from the beginning, and pick up where I left off again later. Pff. That always seemed like nonsense to me.

My parents' biggest mistake raising me was failing to enlist me in music lessons, and they also never encouraged me to join band in school. They both regret it immensely, and yes I have forgiven them.


reading the “road map” of repeats, codas, bird-eyes and other notations is in a way, more important than the actual drum music

Password to enter private club. Syntax and punctuation of the language, these are the most crucial aspects.


 

BennyK

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Just about anybody can learn to read music if they want to , but they have to want to .
 
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ocgvictoria

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For those who never received proper lessons, and think it's too hard, you are not alone. It was always daunting to me as a kid/teen when I occasionally would look at music and try to figure it out on my own. Really frustrating because some of it seemed so simple, but the really crucial road map stuff was not intuitive. I understood time and most tempo instructions without needing someone to explain them, but I never understood where I was supposed to go next, when I got to the end of a line. I naturally wanted to go to the next line, but apparently I was supposed to either skip ahead or go back and start from the beginning, and pick up where I left off again later. Pff. That always seemed like nonsense to me.

My parents' biggest mistake raising me was failing to enlist me in music lessons, and they also never encouraged me to join band in school. They both regret it immensely, and yes I have forgiven them.




Password to enter private club. Syntax and punctuation of the language, these are the most crucial aspects.


Excellent primer!
 

ocgvictoria

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Two books that could help the beginner to read music: Chart Reading Workbook for Drummers by Bobby Gabreile is an excellent beginners guide to reading drum arrangements. The brochure-sized Dodge Drum Chart shows how drum music can be broken down into rudimentary beats and stickings

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frankmott

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Learning to read music -- like learning a second language -- is definitely easier at a young age. I learned to read rhythm in grade-school, but didn't really start to read pitch until I decided to become a music major in college, and got to where I could sight-read easy piano parts. Fast forward a few decades and I never use those skills. I can still sight-read medium hard snare-drum parts, but really struggle even with simple single line pitched parts (xylophone, for instance).
Still, I'm convinced anyone can learn, no matter their age, it's just harder if you're older.
I didn't read all of this thread, so I don't know if this has been covered, but I hope no one brought up that old-saw of "I don't want to learn to read, because it'll ruin my natural feel." not true. No one who ever learned to read has complained of that. Learning to read deepens one's understanding of music, and that can only be a good thing.
 

hsosdrum

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I learned to read when I started drum lessons at 12 years old, and honed my reading skills in music classes all the way through high school and college. (I even took a sight-singing class in college where we learned to sing on sight one part in four-part vocal harmonies. That was challenging.)

However like any skill, the ability to read music can atrophy from disuse. I never needed to read during the six years I was on the road trying to be a rock star (we communicated our ideas verbally and aurally) and by the time I quit the road my sight-reading skills were definitely wanting. If I had decided to become a session player I would've needed to sharpen my skills, but that kind of work didn't interest me.

Here in 2022 it's 50 years since I had any need to read music and I'm totally OK with that. If I needed to learn to play something from a percussion score I could still do it, but only with a boatload of practice.
 

swarfrat

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While there is something to brain plasticity, I think an absolutely enormous part of the "harder when you get older" thing is having 1hr chunks of time for doing things that tend to annoy others. As adults, we're extremely busy, when we get down time we want to do nothing, and we're rarely alone.
 

becken

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I haven't "read" music since @ 1976. From 1962 onward I played trumpet, then moved to percussion, majored in music for a year, took piano in HS, US Army Special Bandsman, learned to play the trombone, but mostly a battery, keyboards, tympani player in concert bands, orchestras, then nothing but drumset with & without charts. You study it, play it, and lose it if you don't use it. However, reading & music theory is still in my brain & I can muddle through now even though its rarely needed. Take beginning piano NOW! It will help, and get the Wilcoxon, or Haskell W. Harr, and/or George Stone books for practice also. Have fun! And as a side note, the "alto clef" can KMA!!!!!
 

toddbishop

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The reason for it is not just in case you have to read to perform. It's just a convenient format for understanding how rhythm, structure, and coordination work. And for learning new things quickly.

I haven't noticed it being easier to teach kids to learn to read vs. adults. Reading is basically easy, so just having a little longer attention span and ability to handle abstraction is a little bit of advantage for adults. The only advantage kids have is that if they're doing band class, they're reading every day. Even then most of them are just learning to follow cues and copy the one kid who actually knows how to read.


It’s not that hard. Always best to find a good teacher.

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Syncopation (or Mitch Peters's Elementary Snare Drum Studies) is better than Bellson for anyone just learning to read. Bellson is way harder than it needs to be for that. And misleading-- so much of it is about learning to handle bad notation, it could just end up teaching bad notation.
 

Matched Gripper

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The reason for it is not just in case you have to read to perform. It's just a convenient format for understanding how rhythm, structure, and coordination work. And for learning new things quickly.

I haven't noticed it being easier to teach kids to learn to read vs. adults. Reading is basically easy, so just having a little longer attention span and ability to handle abstraction is a little bit of advantage for adults. The only advantage kids have is that if they're doing band class, they're reading every day. Even then most of them are just learning to follow cues and copy the one kid who actually knows how to read.





Syncopation (or Mitch Peters's Elementary Snare Drum Studies) is better than Bellson for anyone just learning to read. Bellson is way harder than it needs to be for that. And misleading-- so much of it is about learning to handle bad notation, it could just end up teaching bad notation.
Not sure what you mean by bad notation. The Bellson book is the gold standard rhythm reading method. I do recommend going through it with a qualified teacher, however.

PS: the Syncopation book may be more practical for learning the typical kinds of figures to be found in swing drum charts. But, there is more to rhythm reading than drum charts. The Bellson book includes those kinds of syncopated figures and more.
 
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jptrickster

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Went to jazz camp one summer was 13 or 14 thought I’d be a shoe in for 1st chair that is until they started throwing out complex charts , meter changes and other sight reading obstacles. That weeded out the amateurs in a hurry of which I was definitely one haha. I blew an arrangement of ‘Sunny’ about half way thru the tune 2&4 groove was a fill that kicked in a swing section man I didn’t see that coming ! I got humbled and learned a lot that year. Reading was great all through high school jazz band never really had the need to read much after that … R&B R&R bands ever since always just figured it out. No real calls for sight reading so yeah I’m a little rusty 45 + yrs later!
 

Tubwompus

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Through the decades, I’ve heard guys on different instruments rationalize not being able to read (“don’t” read= “CAN’T” read) by saying, “No man, coz it’d effect my playing.” My response has always been, “Yeah man, just think how much more articulate we’d all be if we’d never learned to read English. Doggone those English teachers.”

Even if a drummer’s not literally playing from a piece of paper, to understand when someone says, “OK, this has an 8th-note feel, then in bar 32, there’s an ensemble kick on the last sixteenth of beat 4.”, to use an example. Not a single piece of paper in the room and yet…

English is much harder to learn to read than notation. If you can count to 4 and divide by 2, then you’re on your way to being able to read.
 

toddbishop

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Not sure what you mean by bad notation. The Bellson book is the gold standard rhythm reading method.

I detail it in the link in my last comment. There's a lot of stuff like this that's strictly intended to create reading problems:


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Nobody writes like that. I guess they're trying to train people to read absolute fly s*t, but it makes it pretty useless to me as a practice book.


PS: the Syncopation book may be more practical for learning the typical kinds of figures to be found in swing drum charts. But, there is more to rhythm reading than drum charts. The Bellson book includes those kinds of syncopated figures and more.

There's a lot missing from Syncopation-- I use it along with regular snare drum books-- Mitchell Peters, Podemski, Goldenberg.
 


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