Besides playing the music on CD, via youtube, via iTunes, on iPod, on radio, on record player, you can enjoy it even more if you can play it on a musical instrument. Of course, you can always sing it acapella.
The oral tradition that is so strong before the monks wrote down the neumes is not flawless. It’s time consuming. Before notation, many people learn to play and sing by ear.
Last week, I introduced the Chinese simplified music notation called “jian pu” to students of a “History of Music in World Cultures” class I was covering. To my surprise, they were able to read and play a simple song on the piano in a very short time. This led to me explore different ways to read music notation that might be a stepping stone to the Western method.
I tell my students there are three parts to songwriting: melody, bass, and harmony. Rhythm is what holds it together. When you learn to read notes, you can craft the melody line and a bass line. Give it a beat, and you have rhythm. Harmony can come later.
A student asked me to find the sheet music to a song by Anthony Hamilton. I could only find the chords which are laid out in 4/4 time such that you can play it and see the beat going through the chords. There’s also a tutorial showing you how to place your fingers on the keyboard below.
I have also seen a synthesia version of popular songs, such as “Imagine Dragons” below. If you’re good at the piano hero game, you’ll be able to catch on pretty quickly.
These methods of communicating which keys to play on the piano result from the rapid propagation of recorded music. You hear what you like before you develop a longing to replicate it by playing it on an instrument.
I grew up learning to read notes and discover the music before I have heard of it. My students, on the other hand, are more motivated to play what they’ve heard. They are less willing to work at reading notes and discovering the result.
How do I get them to read notes and eventually master sightreading? Give them sheet music of music they have heard before. Show that reading notes is easier than watching a youtube tutorial or figuring it out by playing by ear. For guitar and ukelele players, it’s much easier to read chord symbols and tablature. Is there a short cut to reading notes? Maybe try jian pu, chords, and eventually graduate to Western notation.
A blog post on jian pu is definitely in order.