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Thread: new to mandolin! how to read!

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    Default new to mandolin! how to read!

    So im brand spanking new to mandolin and playing music in general. Out of curiosity does it help to know how to read music before hand or does everyone just read tablature? And what's the difference between tablature and reading chords?
    I appreciate any and all feedback including tips on getting started

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Some players read music,some players read TAB,some players read both & some read nothing at all - the 'ear' players on here. It's a matter of personal choice in what you want to do.If you decide that you really want to learn to read music,then you need to find a teacher at least to get you started along the right path. Learning to read TAB is easy enough in theory,but it still takes time & you need to know the melody to the tunes that you're learning in order to know that what you're playing sounds right. The 'ear' players on the other hand,listen to what they want to learn from recordings,& work it out pharase by phrase,finding the notes as they go along.
    Unless you feel the need to learn to read music,then learning to read TAB & some 'ear' playing will get you along fine. I would say that learning to play by ear,is very beneficial when it comes to playing with others. After a while you get to the point where you can pick up the melody to a tune pretty quickly - you develop a 'fast ear'. Getting too dependant on TAB can be a bad thing. I've come across too many pickers of instruments who can't play a lick without it.Combining TAB with ear playing would be the way i'd go - in fact it's the way i have gone.However,i only resort to TAB for those parts i find too tricky to learn by ear or if i think i'm maybe playing something wrong. Good luck in your endeavours,keep us posted & don't hesitate to ask questions,
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    Registered User Mike Bunting's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    A good ear is the most important thing in music.
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bunting View Post
    A good ear is the most important thing in music.
    Maybe, but if you're going to play the mandolin, it also helps to have fingers.

    Seriously, it always helps to have a good ear, whether you read or not. But reading opens the door to understanding rhythm, harmony, theory, and all the other building blocks of music. The most complete musicians are the ones who have both a well-developed ear and strong reading ability.
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Rich del Grosso has an excellent book for beginners that teaches how to read music. I also like the Mel Bay Mandolin Method for teaching how to read on the mandolin. Reading music is easy, and gives you access to a world of written music to explore. Of course learning to play by ear, without needing written music or tablature, is the most important skill for most of us.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Awesome thank you all for your responses! I really want to learn to read so I can be better well rounded and I picked up on TABS pretty quick. My first book came in the mail yesterday (painless mandolin melodies) and it uses tabs to teach.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Reading music isn't essential. There are a few different ways to learn including tabs and/or fake books where you don't really need music knowledge. In the case of tabs you just have to go through and put your fingers where the tabs tell you. In fake books just play the chords name that it gives you.

    Personally, I came from a classical music background and learned to read music in middle school. It was nice because I could transpose music from any instrument. It is a nice luxury to have but it isn't necessary. There were several great Jazz piano players who couldn't read sheet music at all.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by JGregs View Post
    Personally, I came from a classical music background and learned to read music in middle school. It was nice because I could transpose music from any instrument. It is a nice luxury to have but it isn't necessary. There were several great Jazz piano players who couldn't read sheet music at all.
    OK, but those guys wouldn't have been any good at playing a concerto with an orchestra, or accompanying
    a violinist playing a Brahms sonata, or sight-reading standard notation at a studio session, or playing anything they hadn't heard before ... or even charting their own arrangements for publication.
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    AAwesome! So its not essential but I would still like to learn tabs standard and chords

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    OK, but those guys wouldn't have been any good at playing a concerto with an orchestra, or accompanying
    a violinist playing a Brahms sonata, or sight-reading standard notation at a studio session, or playing anything they hadn't heard before ... or even charting their own arrangements for publication.
    No, if you want to play a Brahms concerto note for note then yes, you should learn to read music but seeing as how that wasn't the OP's stated goal I think you have overshot the purpose of this thread. When I was playing violin I couldn't sight read to save my life but I could improv and copy music by ear like a pro. Im not a prodigy by any means so I can only imagine that the great pianist would be experts at this as well.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    You're the one who brought up the piano, dude. The "purpose of this thread" was for the OP to find out whether, in his words, it helps "to know how to read music before hand." The correct answer is: It depends on what, and how much, you want to accomplish as a musician.

    I would have to know more about the OP's goals and the type of music he wants to play before I would say "You definitely need to do X" or "You can completely blow off Y." But the fact is, you can never go wrong developing your ear, and you can never go wrong learning to read music. The best, most versatile musicians are really good at both. That's the only safe answer I can give with the information at hand. Great classical composers like Bach, Buxtehude and Mozart could improvise the tapestries off the wall if they needed to. And Wynton Marsalis, possibly the most important jazz musician working today, is an accomplished reader as well as a consummate improviser.

    As for you, if you couldn't sight read to save your life, then it sounds like you never fully developed your reading ability, so now you just choose to dismiss reading as unimportant. Classic fox and grapes.
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Well that seemed to help me out a lot. I want to accomplish as much as I can as a musician. I want to be able to be put into any situation with the mandolin still be able to play. As far as music goes I like bluegrass as well as Celtic jigs and just about anything the mandolin can produce.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    As for you, if you couldn't sight read to save your life, then it sounds like you never fully developed your reading ability, so now you just choose to dismiss reading as unimportant. Classic fox and grapes.
    I never dismissed it as unimportant. I said it was not essential for all levels of playing and I even conceded that at a certain level it is very important. I played classical violin for 8 years and could get through a piece sight reading but it wouldn't be perfect.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    I am about as "newbie" as it gets, but here's my advice (for what it's worth). Learning to read music is helping me a huge, great deal in understanding the very basics of music theory, in so far as understanding what notes "are", how they relate to each other in general and in a specific composition, understanding what it means for songs to be in different keys, etc. Tab takes almost zero understanding and is really great for getting started making pleasant sounds come out of an instrument I was totally unfamiliar with, but for my money all it taught me in a long-term context was where to put my fingers in a specific pattern to turn out a specific song. Learning and using standard notation I can take what I learn from one song to the next and it all seems to be building on itself in a much more cumulative way.
    I met up with some friends last week to tool around with and they were all amazed at how much progress I've made. That's not intended to be a brag by any means because I'm barely at a state where I can play scales smoothly with anyone else in the room, but they were impressed that I'd put in the effort where I had and said that most folks they know with a beginner's interest in an instrument will often just learn a few songs by memorizing the fingering pattern and call it good. My goal isn't to be a real musician by any means, but I am really enjoying fostering a deeper understanding of how music is made, so to speak, and I feel like that's reflected in my playing, even as "newbie" and unskilled as it is.

    Also it's really not hard, and it does open up the whole world of written music, whereas if you're stuck with TAB all you've got access to is what people have already put down for you. If your ear is as undeveloped as mine, playing by ear is a long way off. For me learning to read notation is really, really helping me in the process of developing a useful ear. I can look at the sheet music and listen to a piece and am learning to see a piece of music in my mind while I'm hearing it, identifying notes, chords, etc. I may be wrong about this but I feel like having even a beginner's understanding of the visual, written piece is a super useful intermediate step to helping me make that auditory information accessible. Someone with a natural or developed skill for playing by ear hears something and knows what the notes are and how to play it. For me at this stage it's much more like being in the beginning stages of learning a new language. I have to hear it, mentally translate it, then I can spit it back out. Native speakers don't have to do that translation step, and after a few years secondary language speakers don't, either. It's certainly possible to learn a language (whether that's music or Spanish) by immersion and be able to understand and speak it without knowing how to write in it, but for someone trying to learn it on their own out of a book, the written piece seems to be pretty helpful, at least in my meager experience.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Well, I would recommend getting a bluegrass book, like Steve Kaufman's "Parking Lot Pickers" book, and a copy of "O'Neill's Music of Ireland," and playing through some tunes on your own while you are learning to read. Thing is, nobody shows up at a bluegrass jam or an Irish session with a tunebook, so you will need to find some tunes you like and memorize them, then leave the books at home when it's time to play.

    Meanwhile, you need to learn all you can about chords (essential for bluegrass, but not always required for your average Celtic session) and start training your ear to play back melodies you hear on recordings or in live jams. Along with chords, work on learning to keep a good steady rhythm, which is what you have to do 80-90% of the time in bluegrass anyway. It's not unreasonable to expect to be able to play simple bluegrass rhythm within a few weeks of picking up the mandolin, if you can find people to play with. Soloing and tune playing could take a while longer.

    To make a sweeping generalization where written music is concerned, you might find Irish/Celtic players a bit more accepting of standard notation and bluegrassers a bit more inclined toward tab, but you'll also find significant prejudice against the idea of reading music at all.

    If you really want to be able to play in any situation at all, then it seriously will take being able to read standard notation (and possibly some tab too) as well as developing your ear. I play with both a mandolin orchestra and a bluegrass band, so my gigs are pretty much split between ear-based and reading standard notation. I've done a little film soundtrack work and played Mahler with a symphony orchestra, both of which required reading, and done some other studio work that was more ear-based. And I play in church, which can involve ear-based playing on the more informal contemporary worship songs, then switching to notation to play a duet with the organist.
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    Registered User Mark Robertson-Tessi's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by sdeanw21 View Post
    ... does it help to know how to read music before hand ...
    You don't have to learn to read music before you can play, nor the other way around. You can develop your ear, your music reading, and tab at the same time. In fact, they all support each other. Learning notation/theory can help give names to the things you learn to recognize by ear, which can be supported by shapes and patterns you see in TAB. They're all good tools, and not exclusive of each other in any way.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Again excellent responses! Thank you so much moxie that comment really hit home with what I needed to hear. I don't just want to learn songs I want to learn music

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Robertson-Tessi View Post
    You don't have to learn to read music before you can play, nor the other way around. You can develop your ear, your music reading, and tab at the same time. In fact, they all support each other. Learning notation/theory can help give names to the things you learn to recognize by ear, which can be supported by shapes and patterns you see in TAB. They're all good tools, and not exclusive of each other in any way.

    CHeers
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    Thanks for this--that's exactly what I was trying to say in a much more helpfully succinct way ;0)

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    Registered User MixieArmadillo's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    PS: as an example, when I was very first starting out with only TAB, I practiced scales by thinking in terms of "second fret, fourth, fifth, second, fourth, fifth, second, third, fifth, second, third..." but it wasn't more than a couple weeks after deciding to do the homework of learning standard notation that I realized I was now thinking in "G, A, B, C, D, F#..." etc. I could play the pattern of a scale quickly (and also badly as it turns out) without knowing the letter names of the notes I was playing, and there was definitely some lag time where taking the time to think it through and say the letter name in my head forced me to play extremely slowly. The upside is that I then started focusing on playing extremely precisely at a very slow speed while doing the mental homework and by the time it became automatic to think in terms of letter notes I could play much more precisely at the speeds I was playing horrifically sloppily before. Reading notation didn't cause that to happen, it just gave me a reason to focus on precision which I should have been doing all along. I'm still neither fast or very precise but I feel like I'm making much better progress, now.

    Incidentally, I can't afford lessons right now and am trying to figure all this out on my own with a Mel Bay book and 'net resources. Aside from the Mandolin Cafe, Bradley Laird's website has been solid gold and when I'm in the market to invest in videos and such, my $ is going straight to that fella. His "How to spend an hour playing 16 notes" article is just about the most helpful single piece of info I've read so far. For that matter, check out John ( =( ) McGann's website too.
    Last edited by MixieArmadillo; Apr-09-2012 at 4:23pm.

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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Whatever else you do, get a metronome & learn to practice with it!!!!!!!
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    If you stick with the mandolin , or any instrument for very long you will want to learn how to read music notation and all the other musical language also. It will not be long before you hear a song you want to play that you have the music to, but do not have the tab, or the tab is not available, so you either learn how to transpose music to tab or.......... you are shinola out of luck. In the meantime there is a lot of tab, quite a bit available here on MC.

    BTW, reading music is not hard, it is just time consuming until you develop speed. I just tabbed out 'Up the Lazy River', and Crazy(Willie Nelson), in just a few minutes. Anyone wants a copy , PM me.

    Then when you are really good you can play in chords instead of notes, like this maestro:
    I have the world in a jug, and the stopper in my hand.

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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    You know, a month ago I returned to this forum after three years' hiatus, and it's interesting to see a new generation of people having the same conversations. Yes, good advice here about how different modes of learning reinforce each other. But remember that learning to read standard notation is a two-step process: first you learn the mechanics, which is easy enough, and eventually you learn to identify the sounds of intervals, so eventually you can mentally "hear" the written music without needing to play it at all. Unfortunately some folks get the first step, and can read music fine, without taking the second step -- I've seen many students (often those with classical training) who are at this stage. Once you can "inner hear" the music, finding the fingerings to perform it becomes way easier, and you have another source of confidence in your reading abilities!

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    Registered User pefjr's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    Once you can "inner hear" the music, finding the fingerings to perform it becomes way easier, and you have another source of confidence in your reading abilities!
    Funny, you reminded me of some relatives and friends, long deceased, that could read music and sing the melody from the music notation by the shape of the note. They said they could not read notation music, even though the shape notes were in the same place as the music notation. I remember my older sister trying to teach these folks , to read the music notes and not the shapes, but they could not do it. They had learned as a child to read the shape of the notes. The next generation, their children( including myself) read the same sheet of music and don't even notice the shape of the notes. Curious, isn't it?
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by pefjr View Post
    Funny, you reminded me of some relatives and friends, long deceased, that could read music and sing the melody from the music notation by the shape of the note. They said they could not read notation music, even though the shape notes were in the same place as the music notation....
    I've seen that too. Shaped-note hymnody has a great history in American Protestant churches. In the church I was raised in long, long ago we had some shaped-note hymnals. Some of the old folks (old in the 50's) would use them and sometimes sing the sol-fa syllables instead of the words (usually the words for the first stanza and sol-fa beyond that).

    Just from curiosity: did these relatives and friends sing the printed words, or did they just stick with "do-re-me-fa" (which is as far as shaped-note usually goes)?

    NOW, @sdeanw21:

    I want to accomplish as much as I can as a musician.
    Then you'll want to be playing mandolin pieces by Beethoven and Vivaldi. At that point, you will definitely need to read standard notation.

    August is right: learning standard notation will help you play TAB and play by ear. Learning to play by ear will help you read standard notation and TAB. And so on. There's a synergistic effect that occurs when you know different approaches to determining "what note comes next...and next...and next......"

    But you can learn all these different things simultaneously, kind of a Grand Unified Approach.

    Enjoy the journey. It ain't endin' notime soon.


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    Registered User pefjr's Avatar
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    Default Re: new to mandolin! how to read!

    Quote Originally Posted by John McCoy View Post
    Just from curiosity: did these relatives and friends sing the printed words, or did they just stick with "do-re-me-fa" (which is as far as shaped-note usually goes)?
    As I recall my father, a self taught piano player/singer could sing the melody from the shape notes. I also remember a few other excellent piano players that could play by ear but not read any music.
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