David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Music notation has been around for roughly one thousand years, although its present form wasn't arrived at until about three hundred years ago.  It may have been around even longer, because pottery from ancient Greece shows musicians reading something on papyrus, although it's doubtful that we will ever know what kind of notation they used - if any.

It was no easy task to translate sound into written signs and symbols, but over the course of several hundred years, some pretty smart guys figured it out and fine-tuned it along the way.  Our current system of notation is not perfect, but it does work very well and has been used successfully by all of the great composers.

It baffles me that so many of today's 'musicians' bypass this fundamental aspect of our art - much to their detriment, as well as that of their listeners.  Have you ever heard of a linguist who can't read and write using an alphabet?  It's an absurd thought isn't it? Although we can communicate using a language without being able to read and write it, most people would agree that life is so much easier when a language can be written and read.

Music is a vast art that can never be completely mastered even during several lifetimes.  To be the best musician possible, one has to study what has been done by other composers and performers, and although our ears are indispensable in this pursuit, there is nothing like reading what others have done.

Although music is all about sound, you will understand more clearly how it all works when you can see it written down.  When you can read music fluently, you can play anything that others have composed.  There is no greater training than this.  You can determine what you like and what you don't like, and understand how it was done.

When you see certain patterns in music notation and understand how they are used, you apply that knowledge to future pieces, which makes everything easier as you learn them.  If you compose music using notation, the form of your composition will be so much better and you will be able to avoid the mindless meandering that we hear in so much of today's piano music.

I love the saying "a short pencil is better than a long memory" and it applies here.  Your job will be made so much easier if you don't have to rely so much on your memory.  Your performances will also tend to be more consistent when you rely on notation rather than memory.

Now of course, there are many wonderful musicians throughout the world who cannot read music at all, and it is not even necessary for them.  The Chinese Erhu performer, or the Iranian Duduk player don't need to read notation.  It's not necessary for percussionists (although they do read rhythms) and also not necessary for contemporary singers.

However, if you are a pianist, composer or both, you owe it to yourself to master the art of music notation.  Although it is its own language, anyone can master it with time.  Those who don't are often just lazy.

Spend 15-20 minutes every single day working on your knowledge and understanding of music notation.  Plan on doing this without missing a day for many months and years.  Stick with it and not only will you never regret it, but your audience will appreciate your efforts.

Happy music reading!!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.