Many musicians who have entered the big leagures within the industry have long claimed that they have no knowledge of general music theory; that the creation of their music is contingent upon a emotional context. Consider the eclectic guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, most known for his work with the progressive-rock group The Mars Volta. He claimed complete ignorance of theory, saying that the work comes within. This is a very ideal and perhaps romanticized way of self-perceiving yourself as an “artist” rather than musician. Fact is, it is rather unwise to go by this, since the yielding results are simply non-dependable.
While I may get many eye rolls for this, I do have to say that musicians who are able to read music and are adept in theory simply sound better together as a group. The cause and effect relationship is quite simple really: if you sound good as a group, then you’re going to start turning more heads. I simply speak from experience.
As a drummer, who got his start playing in jazz, I HAD to know how to read music. A lot of the gigs I would show up to would involve someone placing music right in front of a stand I had never seen before - a lot of it original works - and, well, I just had to be on. Too many mistakes, and the gig would have gone to somebody else. That’s just how a lot of freelance musicians have to be. If you’re good at reading, then you’re going to find yourself one busy musician. If you can’t keep up, well…
Now I’m not saying to drop everything you’re doing now and spend money at a high-priced collegiate program. If you’re willing to put the work in, then you can learn how to read just by being continuously exposed to it. Luckily there are plenty of outlets online where you can get started. Putting in a couple of hours a day will make a world of difference to your approach with how you write and perform.
Let me reiterate that you don’t have to strictly be a jazz or classical musician to find reading music useful. If you are in a group where the members are all adept, being able to write parts can make a rehearsal go much easier, and when there are easy rehearsals, there are good performances. If you’re playing in an indie band and are looking to expand the sonority of your sound, being able to write string parts, or anything you want, can certainly increase your productivity.
The benefits that you can get are highly ample. I found it necessary to share this since I have seen way too many bands out there who, while they are excellent with their marketing and promotion techniques, are less-than-stellar live. Their songs are usually very watered down, and it seems that they are hesitant to expand their horizions. This could certainly be attributed to the fact that their knowledge base is limited, or that they did not rehearse enough. Just remember that you are indeed playing music, and people pay money to get into venues which in turn can pay you. If your band is tight, and everyone knows the appropriate ways to approach the sound, then the gigs will start coming to you faster than you might have expected.
Author Bio - Mike Lamardo is a musician and blogger who is always looking for new ideas and concepts in how musicians approach their work. He is also a writer in popular music for Direct SAT TV.