There are plenty of famous musicians out there who play music by ear and do not know how to read sheet music. But that didn’t hold them back. They managed to play music and complete their compositions by playing music by ear.
Then why should you go through the trouble of sight reading to play music? Well, it is not that simple. Sight reading has its own way to improve your music playing ability.
In this article, I will discuss how playing music by ear and playing music by sight reading work, their benefits and which one is better.
Playing music by ear
Every beginner musician starts to play music by ear. It’s a natural phenomenon. You just listen to the music, memorize it and try to copy it with your instrument. Sounds easy right!
Well to accomplish this process you can start with some ear training exercises until you learn to figure out the relative pitch. After ear training, you will be able to play any melody by listening to it. From the melody notes construct a suitable set of chords and find the chord progression. Then improvise over the chord progression.
At the same time, develop your rhythm sense by analyzing the time signature. Hit the melody notes or your improvised notes at the right time. After years of practice, you will be able to play any music just by listening to it.
Learning music by ear is the fastest way to learn to play any song. You will not have to slog through any theory, which means you will be able to dive straight into it and start playing your favorite songs.
Playing music by ear helps you to create new ideas that may push you to compose music. Composing music by ear is like forming the melody and improvised musical elements by the process of elimination. You go through every possible direction and finally choose the one that you like most. Like discovering new tunes. It creates the chance to develop your self-improvisation.
Many types of music around the world, such as blues, folk, jazz, Indian classical music and non-western music, are essentially based on the idea of playing by ear, in which musical works are handed down from generation to generation. In this regard, playing by ear can be seen as a music-specific example of oral tradition.
Playing music by sight reading
Sheet music or sight reading is a form of written instruction for playing music. And by reading the instruction you will be able to play music without even listening to it first. Music theory is also involved with sight reading. Because first, you must understand the instructions and rules for studying music theory.
Sheet music works with a set of symbols, notations, and terms that determine the musical notes, tempo, rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, volume, and other stuff to help you play the music. You must study them all to play from the sheet music.
The process of learning sheet music is quite slow and take much longer time and effort than learning to play by ear. But once you know all the meaning of the symbols and notations of the sheet music, you will be able to play any song instantly by just reading it in a piece of paper.
Sheet music not only tells you what note to play, but it also tells you when not to play them, when to play them louder or quieter, and beat, rhythm & time signature. As a result, playing music by sight reading helps to play more precise music. If the composer has been careful enough to provide it, the sheet music will also have emotional context.
If you can read sheet music, it will give you an extra advantage in learning music theory. Most people think of sheet music and music theory as a set of rules that you must follow strictly. But the truth is those are just another tool to help your understanding of music. Music theory is a set of ideas that you can use to play around it. It adds more techniques to your music-making ability.
Which one is better?
Playing music by ear may take some time to figure out the appropriate notes and play them. But if you know sight reading you can play any piece of music instantly. If you want to learn music theory, you must learn sight reading. Playing music by ear helps you to explore new areas and experiment with new ideas. Well, music theory narrows down your exploration by eliminating the wrong paths.
If you are a beginner and want to play music as a part of entertainment, sheet music or learning to play music by sight reading is not mandatory. But after long time of practicing music, at some point you may realize the importance of music theory. For studying western classical music or performing orchestral music sheet music is mandatory.
In conclusion, learning to play music by ear and sight reading both are very effective and the best is to learn both and improve your music playing to an enormous world of possibilities. So, which do you prefer to follow or are you going to follow both? Let me know in the comment section.