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Thread: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

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    Default learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    I'm about 6 months into learning mandolin, from a no experience at all playing music background. Started off, doing youtubes, and a dvd/instruction book,,,and some friends that play guitar helping me...recently started taking lessons...my instructor's view is that while you are beginning to learn the instrument, this is the time to learn to read music as well,,,and some basic theory that goes with it...I know a lot of musicians, most of which do not read music...I'd like to hear this forum's thoughts about the importance of reading music (versus tabs?) starting off.

    thanks,

    tim

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    Capt. E Capt. E's Avatar
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Not reading music notation limits you to TAB and playing by ear. Reading music allows you to learn to play just about anything ever written. Many people, large numbers of famous professionals included, never learn to read music, so you can certainly get by not doing so. It is like any art, the greater your education the more options for creativity open up.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Hey dryfly, I'm new as well and I'm sure you'll get some solid advice from some of the more experienced crew here.
    I joined the Mandolin Academy with lessons by Mike Marshal over at Artistworks http://artistworks.com/mandolin-lessons-mike-marshall. Having never played an instrument before I was also wanting to learn how to sight read. I purchased the Ebook by Joe Carr from MelBay; Reading Standard Music Notation for Mandolin & Fiddle (EBook/music files) .
    I'm now on lesson 25 or thereabouts and absolutely love it. The majority of the book is focused on first position, and it may not be the best way to learn, but I'm having a blast at it.

    Good Luck

    ps I can't put into words how great the Mandolin Academy with Mike Marshal is. It's well worth the cost and is a surreal experience learning from him.
    Last edited by Bryan Gerrells; Aug-21-2013 at 10:24am.

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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Ahough I had cleassical piano lessions as a youth I never felt comfortable with reading music and around 13 switched to a teacher featuring Django influenced popular music. That I enjoyed as it was very much a "play by ear" approach. Then I became interested in girls... Fifty years later I once again took up stringed instruments, this time mandolin and plectrum banjo.. In the mean time I had gone legally blind so not reading music was not a detriment to learning. So I would side mostly with your non-music reading friends...

    On the other hand some folks find it necessary, easier, and more enjoyable, to learn to read music. So I have nothing against it... It just isn't my way of learning. Just too abstract for me to enjoy, and just about impossible with my blindness. But even if not blind I would almost certainly not learn to read music... I might add that my interest in music is for my own enjoyment, not for performing for others.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Learn both.
    I started out using tablature. Decided to learn to read music when confronted with a confusing (therefore useless) tab system for another instrument. Haven't looked back. Tabs are good for fretting information, not much help when learning an unfamiliar tune.

    Take your time and enjoy the learning.

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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    There are a number of advantages to knowing how to read notation. There's no downside.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    What Steve L said. I learned music notation in school band and chorus, plus a mandatory junior high music theory class. Names of the lines and spaces, whole steps and half steps, intervals (thirds, fourths, fifths), that kinda thing.

    Never more than a slow sight-reader, and only use standard notation with mandolin when I want to learn a tune. Get it in my head, then bye-bye sheet music! But knowing something about theory -- most of which I've just picked up from 50 years of playing -- helps me understand more what I'm doing. Modes, scales, chord-building, "what goes with what" generally -- all of that's helpful.

    There's a vein of "reverse snobbery" that sometimes crops up, portraying those who can read music as "stuck to the paper," not able to improvise or create an individual sound. That may be true in some cases, but it's not the norm. Knowing standard notation, and a bit of theory, is just a useful tool as you try to progress musically.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    I taught myself to play mandolin and taught myself to read mandolin (standard) notation at the same time. when i taught someone the basics of mandolin, i also taught the basics of standard notation. I figure if you're learning something new, you might as well go whole hog. your brain already is in 'learn' mode, why go through that again later? Like Steve L said, there's no downside to learning how to read standard notation.

    Understand, I came to mandolin from flute (and recorder and percussion) so reading standard notation was part of my early musical experiences. It wouldn't occur to me to learn an instrument and NOT learn the notation to go with it. I didn't even know there was mandolin tab until I started reading stuff on this board (although I had seen guitar tab). Just so you know where I come from.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Learning to read music feels a lot like work to me, like math did in fourth grade. It's not fun for me, I don't like it, and I've never learned. That being said, I've remained a very elementary player (I'm primarily a guitarist). I can play with good musicians because I can chord and play in time, but I don't solo and I don't improvise. I play more melody on the mandolin because of TAB and lots of practice, but still, I'm likely to remain an elementary player. But a happy one. Think about where you want to take the music (jazz? classical? semi-pro?). That should help you decide.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    There are multiple threads on this topic, but might as well as my 2 cents. Playing old time music on fiddle and mandolin, I generally learn the tunes by ear, esp in the early days. There is much too much nuance in the bare bones tunes that you don't get from the dots. Now I know what this is supposed to sound like so I can easily learn tunes from the paper.

    The main downside of TAB is that it is only useful for that particular instrument, in our case, the mandolin. If you want to play a flute piece on the mandolin, you will have to find someone to transcribe it into TAB. Standard Notation allows you to play anything that is written in that system regardless of the instrument as long as it is in the proper range for the mandolin. Lots of violin music out there, much of it playable on the mandolin.

    In any case, it is a tool and something that will help you in the future. Maybe you can work on ear-learning now and page learning later but it is certainly a good thing to have under your belt.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    I learned to read music over 30 years ago playing saxaphone in school and then hadn't used it for squat since.

    When I picked up the mandolin the first sheet music I found had TAB and normal notation. Within minutes I was relating the two and within a week I was plucking along with simple fiddle sheet music from my wife's collection.

    Its a tool that will sit in your pocket until you need it and while it isn't the only tool that can get you where you want to go there will be times when its the best one, I'm sure.

    Besides, TAB is harder to transpose than normal sheet music. At least for me it is.

    My advice? Search youtube for music theory or music reading videos and set a foot on the path. If you find it the least bit interesting, keep going.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    I agree with your instructor. Now is the time to learn it all. Learning music theory and notation will help you play the mandolin. Learning to play the mandolin will help you learn music theory and notation. If you start out learning it now, you will improve at a greater rate than those who are held back by only being able to read tablature. You'll have a more expansive knowledge of music, instead of just playing frets where the numbers tell you to. And you won't have to do any remedial learning later, after you discover that you're at a disadvantage.

    I think music theory is vastly important for mandolin players, and doesn't get enough emphasis. People seem comfortable playing what they think sounds right without knowing why it sounds right. That will only get you so far.

    You needn't take college-level courses or devote years of your life to studying all the finer points of music theory. But at least having a firm grasp of time signatures, keys, chord progressions (i.e. I-IV-V) which give you the capability to change keys for any song, pentatonic scales, major scales, minor scales, and lots of other types of scales, will give you a better understanding of the language we call music. Just like any spoken language, it has a grammatical structure. And while you can enjoy music without understanding the structure, you will never truly master it unless you do.

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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    There are a number of advantages to knowing how to read notation. There's no downside.
    I couldn't put it better. If your teacher is giving you some basic theory, too it sounds ideal. It might seem like a lot of work at first, but it is well worth the effort. Not only are there the advantages mentioned by previous posters, but being able to write music enables me to record at least the basics of ideas that rarely come at a suitable moment to try out and develop on the mandolin or with the band. 30 seconds with a pencil and paper and bingo! stuff I would probably have forgotten by the evening, when I have time for music, are preserved. A very useful tool.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Simply answer to any beginning musician. All the music that has ever been written is an open library if you know music theory. It's in a foreign language and worthless to you if you can't read it.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    There are a number of advantages to knowing how to read notation. There's no downside.
    There is approximately nobody who ever said, "I regret having learned to read music." It adds, it doesn't subtract.

    Now is the best time to learn to read music. Because everything is new, and you are at the beginning of the journey. Many an experienced musician reports that one of the hard parts of learning to read is having to go back and be an embryo again.

    Now is the time to do it all, while you are beginning, while you have the enthusiasm, while you don't mind screwing up because there is no expectation of proficiency.

    Do it now, it will never be easier and you will never regret it.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    There are detractors that will tell you that learning to read makes you dependent on the written page. Nonsense. Lack of ear training makes you dependent on the written page.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    You can't really beat the "there is no downside" / "no one ever regrets it" arguments. And as far as the "its like learning math" comparison: this is true, but it is more like grade 3 than grade 4 (you learn long division with remainders in grade four, and there are no remainders when counting in music). But if one needed any more convincing: in one of the many interviews linked to recently Chris Thile mentions sitting down with a Mel Bay book as a teenager to learn his Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. He wanted to play Bach, and he realized that there was just no way around it.

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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Note that there are only about 30 notes you need to learn all together. If you start with one scale at a time, say the G scale, there are only 17 notes you need to learn to get started. It isn't difficult.

    Here is a quick starter: To begin with, notes on lines are played with the first or third finger, notes in spaces are played open (and there are only 4 of those) or with the middle or fourth finger. Pretty easy.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Roberts View Post
    Here is a quick starter: To begin with, notes on lines are played with the first or third finger, notes in spaces are played open (and there are only 4 of those) or with the middle or fourth finger. Pretty easy.
    As long as you stay in first position or third position. I wonder how helpful that fact is.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Reading music has no downside because it's a skill, and like any skill it's not a matter of having a downside, but of the time and effort invested in learning it. If someone is resistant to learning it, you can't really force them and they may enjoy themselves just as much or more without the skill than if they had it. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the importance of being able to read music depends largely on what kind of music one is interested in playing. If someone intends to stick with music that is pretty standard for the mandolin (bluegrass, old-time, fiddle tunes, etc.) it is probably pretty easy to get by on playing by ear and reading tablature. The further one ventures out from those areas, the more important it will be to be able to read music.

    So while in general I'd say "learn it because it's good to know", for an individual I'd say it comes down to answering the following questions:
    1) Do I want to learn to read music or not, and how much will it add/subtract from my enjoyment of playing while I'm learning?
    2) What types of music do I want to play?
    3) How readily available is tablature or sound samples from which to learn by ear for those styles of music?
    4) What particular musical skills am I looking to develop and how will being able to read music help me accomplish my goals?

    It's also worth noting that if the combination of learning an instrument while also learning to read music becomes overwhelming, one can always learn to read music later when the instrument is more familiar.

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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    I think it makes a lot of sense to learn it, and learn it right from the get-go.

    I had no read standard notation in two decades when I started taking mandolin lessons. My instructor had me back reading in weeks ... learning notation while you're still learning and playing slowly is very helpful. Your ability to play things fast [while cleanly fretted and picked and in perfect time] takes longer to progress than your music reading skills which will quickly outpace your playing abilities.

    Good luck. It seems tough at first but gets better quick.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    As long as you stay in first position or third position. I wonder how helpful that fact is.
    It's a beginner's tip. It works for most fiddle tunes, but not for Bach. Once you get past this and can read the notes, then you start learning positions. The best way to learn positions is by practicing scales, but the OP doesn't need to worry about anything other than first position at first.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Thanks everybody for the time and great info...finding mandolincafe was the first step forward in learning! Like many of these posts said, I'm there learning from scratch anyway,,,I had my mind made up that I was gonna get give it shot...and several folks said this in the thread, and my instructor pointed this out as well, progress is quicker with an understanding...and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I would think that being "held to a page" would be much more so with tabs...I'm by no means a musician, but music is a huge part of my life, and has been for 35+ years with a lot shows in that time,,,mostly leaning towards improv genres...I would think the knowledge of knowing how music works, would lead to more "off the page" playing...

    thanks again for the great advice,

    tim

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    Quote Originally Posted by kmj2587 View Post
    If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the importance of being able to read music depends largely on what kind of music one is interested in playing. If someone intends to stick with music that is pretty standard for the mandolin (bluegrass, old-time, fiddle tunes, etc.) it is probably pretty easy to get by on playing by ear and reading tablature.
    Its easier to "get by" I agree, but knowing how to read greatly enhances participation even in these genres. I have learned more fiddle tunes than I have ever heard. Ever.

    It's also worth noting that if the combination of learning an instrument while also learning to read music becomes overwhelming, one can always learn to read music later when the instrument is more familiar.
    I believe that it is harder to go back and learn to read, because once you gain some confidence playing there is more reluctance to go back to something with which you have less confidence. I say, as long as you are awkward and everything is knew, take it all on, because you are more willing to be a beginner and make the mistakes.
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    Default Re: learning mandolin and learning to read music?

    "Here is a quick starter: To begin with, notes on lines are played with the first or third finger, notes in spaces are played open (and there are only 4 of those) or with the middle or fourth finger. Pretty easy."

    Actually - that is a great tip that will help a beginner get started and overcome the intimidation of sheet music.

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