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Is music-reading an important skill?

EmmaHartley 07 Oct 11 - 09:56 AM
GUEST,Jon 07 Oct 11 - 10:09 AM
GUEST,Suibhne Astray 07 Oct 11 - 10:15 AM
Will Fly 07 Oct 11 - 10:18 AM
Tradsinger 07 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM
Big Mick 07 Oct 11 - 10:23 AM
GUEST,Jon 07 Oct 11 - 10:30 AM
Will Fly 07 Oct 11 - 10:33 AM
The Sandman 07 Oct 11 - 10:35 AM
Bernard 07 Oct 11 - 10:36 AM
Richard Bridge 07 Oct 11 - 11:32 AM
GUEST,suegorgeous away 07 Oct 11 - 11:52 AM
Bernard 07 Oct 11 - 11:58 AM
The Sandman 07 Oct 11 - 11:59 AM
Lox 07 Oct 11 - 12:00 PM
Peter C 07 Oct 11 - 12:34 PM
Mary Humphreys 07 Oct 11 - 12:34 PM
bubblyrat 07 Oct 11 - 12:49 PM
The Sandman 07 Oct 11 - 01:35 PM
Big Mick 07 Oct 11 - 01:36 PM
John P 07 Oct 11 - 01:48 PM
Stower 07 Oct 11 - 01:51 PM
GUEST,Captain Farrell 07 Oct 11 - 01:53 PM
Edthefolkie 07 Oct 11 - 02:07 PM
alanabit 07 Oct 11 - 02:07 PM
Deckman 07 Oct 11 - 02:14 PM
Will Fly 07 Oct 11 - 02:23 PM
Big Mick 07 Oct 11 - 02:26 PM
JohnInKansas 07 Oct 11 - 02:41 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 07 Oct 11 - 03:24 PM
Don Firth 07 Oct 11 - 04:05 PM
GUEST,Tunesmirg 07 Oct 11 - 04:35 PM
Don Firth 07 Oct 11 - 05:02 PM
JohnInKansas 07 Oct 11 - 05:06 PM
Jane of 'ull 07 Oct 11 - 05:07 PM
GUEST,Jon 07 Oct 11 - 05:19 PM
nager 07 Oct 11 - 05:47 PM
JennieG 07 Oct 11 - 08:19 PM
GUEST,livelylass 07 Oct 11 - 08:37 PM
GUEST,josepp 07 Oct 11 - 10:07 PM
GUEST,josepp 07 Oct 11 - 10:33 PM
GUEST,999 07 Oct 11 - 10:35 PM
Mark Ross 07 Oct 11 - 11:22 PM
GUEST,999 07 Oct 11 - 11:29 PM
Don Firth 08 Oct 11 - 02:17 AM
Don Firth 08 Oct 11 - 02:27 AM
Will Fly 08 Oct 11 - 03:47 AM
GUEST,Jon 08 Oct 11 - 05:34 AM
Johnny J 08 Oct 11 - 05:37 AM
foggers 08 Oct 11 - 07:19 AM
Will Fly 08 Oct 11 - 07:29 AM
GUEST,Jon 08 Oct 11 - 07:38 AM
Howard Jones 08 Oct 11 - 08:35 AM
GUEST,kenny 08 Oct 11 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,999 08 Oct 11 - 09:54 AM
Musket 08 Oct 11 - 11:03 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 08 Oct 11 - 01:00 PM
GUEST,josepp 08 Oct 11 - 01:12 PM
GUEST,josepp 08 Oct 11 - 01:30 PM
GUEST 08 Oct 11 - 07:03 PM
GUEST,josepp 08 Oct 11 - 07:34 PM
Big Al Whittle 08 Oct 11 - 07:36 PM
Mark Ross 08 Oct 11 - 10:35 PM
Johnny J 09 Oct 11 - 06:42 AM
GUEST,999 09 Oct 11 - 07:04 AM
Jack Campin 09 Oct 11 - 07:14 AM
GUEST,Strad 09 Oct 11 - 08:18 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 09 Oct 11 - 08:46 AM
Tug the Cox 09 Oct 11 - 08:52 AM
GUEST,999 09 Oct 11 - 09:29 AM
Big Al Whittle 09 Oct 11 - 11:13 AM
DrugCrazed 09 Oct 11 - 11:42 AM
banjoman 09 Oct 11 - 12:02 PM
GUEST,josepp 09 Oct 11 - 12:13 PM
GUEST,999 09 Oct 11 - 12:27 PM
tonyteach1 09 Oct 11 - 01:35 PM
Big Al Whittle 09 Oct 11 - 02:15 PM
GUEST,josepp 09 Oct 11 - 03:28 PM
Don Firth 09 Oct 11 - 03:55 PM
Big Al Whittle 09 Oct 11 - 05:18 PM
Mark Ross 09 Oct 11 - 06:35 PM
GUEST,Jon 09 Oct 11 - 06:51 PM
Big Al Whittle 09 Oct 11 - 08:44 PM
andrew e 10 Oct 11 - 04:23 AM
GUEST,PeterG 10 Oct 11 - 06:03 AM
Will Fly 10 Oct 11 - 06:09 AM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 07:38 AM
GUEST 10 Oct 11 - 08:46 AM
John P 10 Oct 11 - 10:36 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 10 Oct 11 - 01:57 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 02:32 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 10 Oct 11 - 03:43 PM
olddude 10 Oct 11 - 03:47 PM
olddude 10 Oct 11 - 03:53 PM
ripov 10 Oct 11 - 03:58 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 04:11 PM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 10 Oct 11 - 05:36 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Oct 11 - 08:06 PM
Will Fly 11 Oct 11 - 09:09 AM
Big Al Whittle 11 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM
tonyteach1 11 Oct 11 - 10:41 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 11 Oct 11 - 02:14 PM
s&r 12 Oct 11 - 10:17 AM
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Subject: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: EmmaHartley
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 09:56 AM

http://theglamourcave.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-do-paul-mccartney-andy-cutting-and.html

What do Sir Paul McCartney, Andy Cutting, Damien Barber and Eric Clapton have in common? None of them can read music...


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:09 AM

I can't read music but I believe that ideally one would be able to both play by music and by ear.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:15 AM

Music-reading isn't as important a skill as music-listening.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:18 AM

So? I learned by ear initially, and still have a good ear nearly 60 years later. But being able to read music - which I taught myself - is a bonus.

I downloaded the sheet music for "Puttin' On The Ritz" the other day. I'm perfectly capable of working it out for myself but - sometimes - it's useful to see what the composer (Irving Berlin in this case) originally intended. And very interesting it was.

So whether it's "important" or not - whatever that means - is purely subjective.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Tradsinger
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:21 AM

Those that can read music and especially those who understand how it all fits together (scales, chords etc) are at a great advantage. The ability to read the dots per se will not make you a better musician but the ability to understand what I would call musical syntax is, coupled with critical music listening as mentioned above. If you understand how music all fits together, it opens up possibilities such as interesting harmonies and chords. Of course there are many great folk musicians who couldn't read music but the current crop of younger generation folkies are all good readers of music and are pushing out the borders on what can be done with our music.

Tradsinger


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Mick
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:23 AM

I'm with you, Will. My experience is very similar. I am an ear player, but the more music reading and theory I learn, the richer the experience becomes. But it is absolutely is not necessary in order to play well.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:30 AM

At least with the folk stuff I do, I can't say I've ever noticed any correlation between being able to read the music and being able to understand the music. As far as I can see that is a feeling/listening to the music thing.

pushing out the borders

Hmm...


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:33 AM

Agreed, Mick - absolutely. With my interests in popular song from the early part of the century, and in jazz and classical music (as well as folk and blues), harmonic content is fascinating - and very, very instructive.

It's very exciting to buy a couple of pages of a classic tune from a sheet music website - just two or three pounds in most cases - with PayPal, print it off, and then settle down to hear just what the composer intended. Always something new to learn.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:35 AM

yes.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Bernard
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:36 AM

I went the other way round (oo-er!)... I learned to read music, then learned to sing and play 'by ear'.

Reading music is only important in so much as you can learn tunes/songs you haven't actually heard - which is fine in a 'classical' environment where faithfully and precisely interpreting the score is considered far more important than giving an approximate performance.

However, in the folk environment, personal variants (the 'folk process') is not frowned upon, on the contrary it is to be encouraged... so 'ear' playing/singing is probably the better path. It is the reason why we have so many versions of songs and tunes, each beautiful in their own right.

That said, being able to 'see' a tune is a definite advantage - I'm glad I can do it, because it gives me more options.

I would think learning to read music from scratch might seem to be a daunting task - but given proper guidance and encouragement it needn't be. It's a lot less complex than learning. say, a foreign language - and you already know the aural side, giving you a head start!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:32 AM

I'd love to be able to read dots properly. I can figure out the pitch of each successive dot, slowly, but getting the timing off paper I cannot do at all effectively.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,suegorgeous away
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:52 AM

I've just been given a battered cello... is it feasible to play this by ear?


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Bernard
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:58 AM

Probably - just don't try to shove it under your chin - that spike will go straight through your throat!!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:59 AM

is it feasible to play this by ear? probably better to play it by using a bow


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Lox
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 12:00 PM

Its useful - its that simple.

If you can read music you have a skill that you don't have if you can't read music.

Thats it.

No Mystery.

No politics.

No issue.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Peter C
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 12:34 PM

Personally, I think the two greatest advantages of being able to read music are (a) learning tunes you have not heard before, and (b)recalling tunes you learnt a long time ago, but have forgotten!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 12:34 PM

I learn most of my tunes by ear, but there are always one or two bits of every tune that are a bit indistinct. The written notes help to clarify the "iffy" bits.
Also if you are ever given a book of tunes/ manuscript of songs from way back when, it enables you to read the lot and work out what tunes/songs were being played/sung a hundred years ago or more. For a researcher that is a BIG bonus.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: bubblyrat
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 12:49 PM

I have always played "by ear" , both as a "folk" guitar-player and Royal Navy marching- band percussionist ; I have always found it very easy, and find that any attempts at reading "the dots" brings on a kind of musical dyslexia ,almost to the point of nauseating disorientation , as if my brain refuses to acknowledge the correlation ! Very strange !!
                   However , my partner is ,or was , a piano teacher, so she sits down patiently at the Grand in our music-room and studiously works out what I SHOULD be playing , according to "the rules" , and then, having grasped the basics , I go my own ,free , uninhibited ,unfettered way ( which she cannot do !) ,and it works out OK in the end ! At 64 , I'm too old too learn, in any case.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:35 PM

learning by ear is great too, but if we go to the thread "whats this tune", the player has made up their own ending to the girl with the blue dress on, nothing wrong with that, except in my humble opinion its not so good. so learning by ear is really useful but sometimes can result in an inferior version, to the dots, contariwise occasionally it can result in an improvement, but the dots are useful as a reference point.dots are also useful to bring back into current repertoire forgotten tunes


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Mick
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:36 PM

Yeah Lox, I agree. But I am reminded of the classically trained musicians I have been around that, when asked to play along, wouldn't do it without scores. Seems to me the ear player has an advantage in that area. But that is not meant in any way, shape, or form to be a dig. One clearly has an advantage in knowing how to read music.

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: John P
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:48 PM

Is music reading an important skill?

That all depends on your definition of important. It is certain that playing music is a much more important skill for a musician.

Music reading can:

Allow you play music you can't hear.

Allow you to quickly communicate music to others who can read.

For many, learning to read music is accompanied by an increased understanding of music theory (as in, what chords will likely sound good at different places in the melody?)

If you are doing arrangements, it makes it easy to visualize how everything lines up and which harmony or counterpoint notes might sound good with the melody notes.

On the con side, many of those who have been trained extensively at reading music find it difficult to learn to play by ear.

None of this has anything to do with the skill of the player or with what the music sounds like.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Stower
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:51 PM

As Mary said, if you only play by ear then you cannot play anything from a manuscript that you've never heard played and, perhaps, never has been played in public for a few hundred years. I play largely by ear and harmonise by 'feel', but my musical life would be much the poorer if I didn't read music. I really enjoy all the research, which would be impossible if I couldn't read music.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Captain Farrell
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 01:53 PM

This subject is a minefield but for me It is nice to go through a folk tune book pick the ones you like/or easy to play then and this is the good bit pull the notes off the page and do something a bit different with them.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Edthefolkie
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:07 PM

I wish I read a LOT better than I do.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: alanabit
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:07 PM

I like being able to read (albeit not well) for all of the reasons given above. In the world of our music most players can play by ear and do it very well too. Don Firth gave the best reason for learning to read in an excellent post a few years back. He pointed out that it means that you do not have to remember everything. I find that if a guitarist shows me a couple of bars, which I have been having trouble with, I can then go back to the notes afterwards and read all the rest. That's the beauty of it for me.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Deckman
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:14 PM

Let me draw a comparison between learning to read music and learning a new language. Would you succeed well in a new language without being able to read a dictionary in that language? bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:23 PM

My old mate Alan Day came round yesterday - bearing with him a battered copy of Mel Stevens' "Massif Central Tunebook, vol. 1", plus a folder filled with sheet music of French tunes. The day before that, I received a copy of Thomas Hardy's Tunebook which I've just bought from another 'Catter.

What riches! Just seeing them lying on the table in front of me is like having the key to an unknown Aladdins's cave. I'm almost reluctant to open them - delayed gratification, you understand...

Hours and hours of musical exploration and discovery, new tunes, new ideas, inspiration - couldn't experience all of that without knowing the dots. Poor old Clapton!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Mick
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:26 PM

Bob, I speak very good Spanish. I learned it on the street. I couldn't read in Spanish until much later, much like I learned music. And in the case of language, the same thing applies for me. The ability to read the dictionary is a great help, but not at all necessary for me to learn to speak very well.

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 02:41 PM

To fully enjoy music, you need to be able to look at a page of dots and know what the music will sound like by "reading in your head."

To be considered an "accomplished" musician in many genres, you should be able to play at first sight any piece of music dropped in front of you, the first time you've seen it, at an appropriate speed and "with feeling."

To enjoy playing, you should be able to play (by ear) any music you've heard and want to play, without benefit of written notes.

To be best able to continue to learn more music, and to learn about music so that you understand how it works and how to "do it better," you should be able to write any music you can play.

Most people get by with less than a full set of those skills, and probably the majority of people can't get past just listening to music.

If you know enough to enjoy it, you probably know enough. If you enjoy it enough to want to increase your pleasure in it, then always continuing to learn more about it is a good thing to do.

Understanding the dots will be a help to almost anyone even slightly serious about the pleasures, so it's important. There are lots of ways of working around an inability to read the dots, so for many it's not all that important.

Reading (not music) is very important, but I've known several people who were happy enough without the skill. Simple math is almost essential, but I've known a couple of people who couldn't count their own kids (or sign their paycheck to get it cashed) but they made out okay.

The real question is not whether it's important. It's whether you want to learn it, and whether you'll use that particular skill enough to learn it well enough to benefit from it. Being able to read the dots is very important to me, but you're not me.

John


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 03:24 PM

Reading music can be a very useful for folk musicians.
Take the great Nic Jones. Not only could Nic read music but he could sight sing.
This meant he could wander in to any library - while killing time before a gig, and find a book of folk songs and be able hear the melodies in his head (via sight singing).
Now that's very useful skill.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Don Firth
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 04:05 PM

The vast majority of my coffeehouse cohorts back in the Fifties and Sixties sang only songs that had been recorded by someone, learning the songs off records. Song books were a—closed book(!)—to them.

I kept coming up with songs they had never heard before.

I did learn a lot of songs by ear from records, but a large chunk of my repertoire came from song collections like Folksong U.S.A. by John and Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag, The Ballad Tree by Evelyn Kendrick Wells, Cecil Sharp's One Hundred English Folk Songs, The Richard Dyer-Bennet Song Book, and so on. Looking at my bookshelves right now, I have about eight feet of songbooks and song collections.

These would not be open to me if I could not read music.

In addition, I took a batch of classic guitar lessons early on, and can toss in an occasional guitar solo in my programs if so inclined (I love hearing someone in the audience mutter, "Gee, he can really play that thing!"). Learning classic guitar pieces would be next to impossible without the ability to read music.

Sure, you can get along without it. Lots of people do, and do quite well, in fact. But this is in spite of their inability to read music, not because of it.

It ain't that difficult, folks!

Don Firth

P. S.   Contrary to popular believe, being able to read music—or for that matter, knowing music theory—does NOT mean that you are "limited to the rules." Unless YOU let it be.

P. P. S. By the way, I am a lousy sight-reader (which is to say, I can't look at a song in a song book and sing it right off. But I can read through it and get a pretty good idea of what it's supposed to sound like. And especially if I can pick it out on the guitar.

It's next to impossible to sight-read for classic guitar. When you get up the fingerboard a way, the same note can be found several different places. Where you would finger that note depends on what went before and what comes after. So to learn a classic guitar piece, you have to experiment with it awhile and figure these things out. Not even Segovia or John Williams can look at a piece of guitar music and whip it right off. Unless it's extremely simple. One of the very early Fernando Sor studies, for example.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Tunesmirg
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 04:35 PM

I remember back in the 60s, the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs was a great resource for leaning new material - if you could read music!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Don Firth
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:02 PM

Yup. Got it, Tunesmirg!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:06 PM

Without the ability to read music, LiK would not have been able to submit her ~200+ song contribution to the DT, from our accumulation of music books, in a form that could be used there by the rest of ya'all.

She gives credit to the local 'phone operator, who let her sit at the switchboard when the op needed to run errands. The lady had a piano, and a bench full of sheet music that Lin learned to read well enough to pretend to kill some time playing.

I was more fortunate, and my 5th grade English/Music teacher "roamed" to give music classes to 3d and 4th graders, where she taught me (but alas, not all the kids) to read music reasonably well by the time I started 4th grade.

Without the ability to read music, I'd have missed playing in the HS band, and my chance to flirt with "Marilyn the flute player with the sexy lips," but (big sigh) I never really got very far with that. I'd also likely not have had the chance to perform with the college Concert Band on tour, I suppose - (but a person can only take so much of Milhaud and Stravinsky, although Corley was fun).

John


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Jane of 'ull
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:07 PM

No.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:19 PM

It might not be as easy but it's quite possible to transcribe from books to notation formats usable on computers and the Internet without having the ability to read music.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: nager
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 05:47 PM

I learned to read basic music at school at about eight when we were taught to play the recorder. When I "graduated" to a guitar, I first played by music and then by ear. But is reading music important? No, 99 per cent of the time I play by ear and memory. And if you get stuck working something out there's usually some genius on Youtube showing you how it's done!!


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: JennieG
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 08:19 PM

I look upon being able to read as another tool, for want of a better word, in my musical tool box. While it's not an essential tool - many people get along just fine without it - it does help when learning a new piece. I sing in two community choirs here, one uses music, the other doesn't (we are given the words with no dots to follow) and if it's an unfamiliar piece, having the dots definitely helps with the learning process. My older son is a musician, a drummer who can sight read very well, and this ability has been the means of his getting work he would not have been given otherwise....because many drummers can't read a note, so those who can will be given preference.

Cheers
JennieG


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,livelylass
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 08:37 PM

I guess it all depends on how sophisticated you feel you want your music to be. Music is essentially a mathematical set of construction tools, like geometry is to architecture.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:07 PM

If you can't read music then you can't read music. If you can then you should. There's no need to shove a list of famous people down your throat to justify ones own ignorance. It's very simple: If you have the ability to read music--use it; if you don't, then you can't.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:33 PM

I recently improvised with a pianist at a coffehouse with my double bass. We'd been wanting to work together but haven't had time to practice. He called me up and said to bring my bass down anyway and we'd try something so I agreed. We decided to try "Fever" and "Satin Doll" which he had in a songbook. I took it down the street where there was a copy machine and ran off both songs. I told him not to play the left hand stuff too much because my bass part would carry it and he said ok. When we got up to do our two songs without a single rehearsal, I played bass to two songs I had never played nor learned before. I didn't need to. I just played what was on the page the way my classically-trained instructor taught me. It was flawless. I could not have improvised that out of my head, I'm not that good. But I can read music and that made all the difference.

For those who say they can't get it off the page and into their hands in a timely manner, there's a secret to it: practice. To read music well, you have to practice, practice, practice. And then you have to practice on top of that. There's no shortcuts. It's like burning fat or building muscle--exercise. Yeah, it's a big pain in the ass but there's no easier substitute other than getting fatter and softer.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 10:35 PM

josepp, this may be the first and last time I agree with you. The thread title is stupid. Ranks up there with "Is knowing first aid an important skill?" Doh.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:22 PM

Check out Bela Fleck playing Bach on the banjo. He doesn't read notation, but he had a friend with a program that could transpose from notation to to tablature, and then he memorized the whole piece!
The trouble with playing folk music from written notes is that it loses something in the translation. I remember reading descriptions of Ruth Crawford Seeger transcribing folk music having to play songs over and over, trying to figure out which accidental was that? Sharp or flat? And how far. The Western system of writing music fails to reflect what the music is supposed to sound like. A classically trained violinist can play the written notes of a fiddle tune from the written page, but he won't necessarily sound like a fiddler.
Dave Van Ronk told a story about hearing Rev. Gary Davis in concert. His bottom E was a quarter tone sharp. At the break Dave went backstage to say hello, and on a pretext picked up the guitar, and surreptitiously retuned it. When the good Reverend came out for the second half, he hit the first chord and stopped to retune the string a quarter tone sharp. That's where he wanted it! How does written music deal with that?

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 07 Oct 11 - 11:29 PM

Indian music (sub-continent) has quarter tones. Besides, RGD had different ways of hearing. Wish I did.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 02:17 AM

The trick, Mark, is to know something about the music, not just read it blind--or in this case, deaf.

This also holds true for classical music. No competent musician would play Mozart or Beethoven without trying to learn sonmething about these two composers first.

Same with folk music.

George London, the operatic bass-baritone, was a marvelous singer--when it came to singing operatic roles and art songs. I once hear him sing "Lord Randal." It was gawdawful! The problem wasn't that he had learned it from written music, the problem was that he didn't know from Shinola about how to sing a folk ballad.

Written music had nothing to do with that.

By the way, Bruce, according to an Indian exchange student I knew at the University (he played the sitar--the first time I had ever seen or heard one), Indian music uses a different kind of notation.

I tried to play some Flamenco early on, from written music. Didn't sound at all right. Then, in 1962, during the Seattle World's Fair, I took some lessons from Antonio Zori, one of the guitarists playing for the dancers at the Spanish Pavilion at the fair. Suddenly I knew what was wrong. The written music was correct and all the information was there, but I was interpreting it all wrong. The fault was that I hadn't paid as much attention to the rhythmic markings as I should have. The problem was my lack of knowledge, not the way the music had been written.

Don Firth

P. S. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about:   Listen to a recording of Sir Lawrence Olivier doing Hamlet's soliloquey, "To be or not to be." Then listen to one of Sir John Gielgud. Both reading the exact same text, but two very different interpretations, both good. Now listen to, say, a high school kid who has never done any acting do it.

See what I'm getting at?


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 02:27 AM

Finish up on my above post:

I had learned several flameco pieces from written music. The notes were "under my fingers" so to speak. Then, when I played them for Antonio, he said, "No. Do it like this!" And he demonstrated how the rhythm should go.

Light bulb!! The next time through, I had them right.

The written music showed me what notes to play. Antonio showed me how to play them. Then, once I knew that, I was able to learn more flamenco pieces from written music and play them the way they should be played.

Written music is an extremely valuble tool. But it won't do it all for you.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 03:47 AM

Written music is an extremely valuble tool. But it won't do it all for you.

Quite right, Don. Interpretation, feeling, a good ear, knowledge of the genre, etc., are all bring important factors playing and singing. Being able to read SN is a hugely valuable tool. If people don't want to take advantage of it, that's their choice. All I would say is that they're potentially missing out on some unknown goodies by doing so.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 05:34 AM

I notice Will and Don for two regard the ability to read music as a choice. This is not the case for me, and it seems for Richard in this thread and I would imagine for some others.

As it happens, I have exactly the same problem as Richard translating the timing from the paper to playing does not work out and it's not a matter of not understanding the rules of music.

Not being able to do this slows me down no end when trying for example to write an abc from memory in text to share here. I have to play it back frequently but I can get there.

Btw I'm currently working on some ocarina tab for the folkinfo abc converter. I think I'm nearly done for most of the ones with two rows now (should have been much quicker but I've had to learn the basics of Postscript programming). I's trivial I know but I mention it as I don't actually read ocarina tab, or (to play from) standard notation or abc.

As for the converter itself, the really hard work (eg. abcm2ps) is done by others who I think do read (we run their programs) but it may be worth noting all the same that this web converter effort to help people get "sheet music" as well as Midi is in fact brought to you by someone who can not read music.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Johnny J
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 05:37 AM

Being able to read music is a good, useful, and extra skill.

However, "our" kind of music and song really does require listening and ability to hear what's actually going on. Otherwise, it's just a direct copy of what's on the paper...or even an inferior one if your reading skills aren't that great.

Basically, I'm an "ear" player although I've now been able to read music for several years. I'm still have to think a bit with the "bass clef" but most tune books usually just have the melody or treble clef line(Of course, classical and big production scores are much more detailed.
Also, you have to learn to find your way around the instrument and until you are familiar doing this, it is probably easier to do so "by ear" if this is what you are used to doing. For instance, on the fiddle and mandolin etc, my fingers will instinctively find the note as soon as I see it in piece of written notation but this isn't the case with less familiar instrument. Then I find that my "ear" is extremely useful especially if it's a tune I already know.

I've noticed though that many people who solely rely on music have great difficulty in memorising a tune. I don't have so much trouble with this as, even when I play from music, I will eventually learn the tune "by ear" even if it's only from myself although it's obviously better to listen to other players' interpretations too.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: foggers
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:19 AM

I am mainly a self taught musician but I had a smattering of formal music teaching at school and have built on that through books, internet and asking people who know more than me.

I agree that reading the dots is a useful skill and gives access to a vast array of materials, and I am working on improving my sight reading. However, now I am singing in a band where we do a lot of 3 part vocals I can also see the value of being able to jot down harmonies etc that we have found through improvisation n messing around. That means we can capture the best bits and then learn them accurately. It makes rehearsal much more straightforward. This is much easier than scratching our heads to try and remember what we did last time that sounded so good. We don't do it with every song, just the ones that are harmonically a little more complex.

So for me, music by dots plus music by ear (and improvisational skill) is more beneficial than either on their own.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:29 AM

translating the timing from the paper to playing does not work out

When I was teaching myself music, the most difficult part was getting the timing from the dots! It wasn't that I didn't understand the note lengths - it was more putting complex phrases together to get the correct rhythm. I got better - I think - by just trying to read as many different tunes as possible and listening to them on computer or on a CD.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:38 AM

Well maybe it will click for me one day Will but I'm not sure how and when. I'm not sure when I first encountered notation but as well as whatever was taught at school, my mother is a grade 7 (she didn't take 8 as it clashed with her physiotherapy finals) pianist who showed me music at an early age, etc. so it's been a long while coming.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 08:35 AM

It is not necessary to be able to read music in order to play music, any more than it is necessary to able to read text in order to speak fluently. However, if you want to be able to communicate music then being able to read and write it down is a useful skill, just as writing down language helps to communicate.

Being able to read music doesn't make you a better musician, but it may help you to become a better musician, as it will help you to study music. Sometimes being able to see something written down will help you to understand something you can hear but can't make sense of.

On the other hand, musicians who can't read are probably better at playing by ear and probably better at remembering tunes.

I can read music, in the sense that I know what the blobs mean. What I can't do is translate that into sound. For example, I know that a blob on a particular line is "B", but I can't summon up the sound of "B" in my head. Because I learned my instruments by ear, I don't know where to find B on them either - at least not without counting up the scale from a key note, which is too slow to be of any practical use. I keep telling myself I should make the effort to learn where all the notes are, but I really can't be arsed.

I find myself in the position of someone who can recognise some characters in a language like Chinese, for example, without being able to speak it. I know that a set of squiggles means "fish" but I've no idea how to say it.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,kenny
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 09:42 AM

No. Can be useful, but not important.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 09:54 AM

Evelyn Glennie: How to listen--the video is 34 minutes long.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Musket
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 11:03 AM

When I played violin in youth orchestras, reading music was vital. When I played rock in a band it wasn't, When I play folk, it isn't either, although if somebody gets a score of an old tune, I can pick it up quicker than without.

Even if sight reading a score is too much to have to learn, I would always commend learning about chord structuring and cadence recognition. That way, accompanying others is much easier. If you are good at picking up accompaniment and have never read about the fundamentals of music, you might be pleasantly surprised to see the theory around what you can do naturally.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 01:00 PM

Back in the 60s, I used to do a few Woody Guthrie songs that I learnt from his song book. To this day, I've never heard Woody - or anyone else - perform them.
I also used to get songs from Sing Out magazine. I remember learning "White Girl" by Peter LaFarge, and there was no metronome indication and so I decided that it should be done quite slowly,
Years later, I heard Johnny Cash's version and I was flabbercasted at - what seemed to me - the breakneck speed at which he performed it.
Just a few minutes ago, I looked it up on Youtube and - for the first time - listened to Peter LaFarge singing the song.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 01:12 PM

What is on the written page is an approximation. This is really true of jazz. My instructor gives me jazz pieces to learn but won't tell me anything about them--just take them home and learn them. When I come back, I'm full of questions. One was a pattern that didn't really sound like anything. "You have to swing it," he said and played it the way a jazz bassist would play it. Smae notes but it sounded totally different and very jazzy. There's no real way to notate that. But now, whenever I see that pattern of notes, I know I have to swing it.

This thing I did at the coffeehouse, I was playing bass notes written for piano chords. I had to add in stuff that sounded double bassy because the straight notes off the page were too mechanical sounding. What was cool was that I could choose to play any note from a chord--not just the tonic. I could play a third or a fifth or a seventh which sounded very cool as long as I didn't overdo it and it gave the bass line some liveliness. Again, without the sheet music, I couldn't have done that.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 01:30 PM

Most people who are self-taught play by ear. I'm self-taught on guitar and play virtually everything by ear. I use tabs and the chord frames but not notes very much. The chords are essential to me for playing the uke since I don't know my way around that instrument too well.

Bass is different because I'm learning from a university-trained teacher who learned from the first chair bassist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Robert Gladstone). Now the emphasis is on learning from the page. I get drilled and drilled and drilled. Consequently, I can play the music from the page without a problem. I doubt seriously I would be that good at it without an instructor to drill me like the guy on "Full Metal Jacket." He said that's how Gladstone taught him-drill drill drill drill practice practice practice practice. He said Gladstone was like Zen monk when it came to bass-playing--a very rigid, thorough work ethic.

So if you want to get good at reading music, get an instructor. They push you harder than you would normally push yourself. And that's how you learn. Few people have that kind of resolve on their own. But a teacher gives you pieces and knows when to move onto harder ones and how hard they should be. I think it works better.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:03 PM

RE: What do Sir Paul McCartney, Andy Cutting, Damien Barber and Eric Clapton have in common?

They were all "Front Men" for very talented MUSICIANS.

They caught a free ride on a Monday morning fast train.

Thank God - the backs of the private labels have been broken.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:34 PM

I disagree that Paul and Clapton were mere merely front men (don't really know who the other two are). They were very talented guys but, see, that's kind of the point: Using them to justify not learning to read music is pointless because these guys had a lot innate telent anyway,

I mean, if I could churn out songs like Paul did, I wouldn't need to learn to read it either but the sad truth is that I don't churn out songs like he did either in quantity or quality. It's not like I've had hit records. I can't even find a single person who even wants to cover a song I've written even when I tell them they can rewite it any way they want to. Paul wrote a song that is one of the most covered songs in music history.

Most people are in my category even though a great many are FAR more talented than me. I mean, how many of us have been as successful as Paul? So, yeah, Paul got away with not needing to learn to read. Does that mean it's ok for you not to learn to read? And to say you know musicians who were trained to play off the page but can't play anything by ear has nothing to do with their reading ability because if you can play by ear, you will. So, if anything, if it weren't for their reading abilities, they probably wouldn't even be musicians. So, again, it's better to know how to read than not.

Another example is Kurt Cobain. I don't brag about my own talent because I'd get killed the first time I tried it but I WILL say that I am better than Cobain ever was. But he made quite a niche for himself in music and I've made none but does that justify not learning to play guitar well? I certainly hope not. "Why should I learn to play well? Kurt Cobain sucked and look how far he went!" Silly argument, isn't it? It's the same when justifying not learning to read. Those people are justifying ignorance and only the ignorant do that.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 07:36 PM

If its important to you - its important. If its not, its not. We're all different.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 08 Oct 11 - 10:35 PM

Pete Seeger once asked his father Charles, the eminent composer and ethno-proctologist, when someone should learn to read music. Charles Seeger replied, "When they know what kind of music they want to play."


Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Johnny J
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:42 AM

"None of them can read music... "

Do any of you really believe that musicians such as Paul McCartney, Clapton and many other "ear" players and singers have NEVER bothered to learn anything related to musical theory?

After all, the first thing you learn when you play guitar is what the basic chords are. You'll probably also learn which notes make these up and various sequences etc. A little later on, you will(I know I did)be able to transpose songs etc into different keys even if it's just by using a capo. I can't believe that there can be many strummers out there who use a capo and not know which key they are playing in.

Also, most players will be able to locate where the notes are on their instruments at the very least.

Of course, if you have a very good ear, you'll not necessarily need to know that much about musical theory. In the case of these musicians, they have managed without it very well but I'm sure they all(at some stage) looked into various aspects of it to a greater or lesser extent.

I know of one very good accordion player who wanted to learn to read music and went to classes where the tunes were being taught this way. He found it very difficult to do this as by the time he'd worked out the music, he'd already picked up the tune by ear from the tutor and other students!
So, I'd suggest that this is a reason why the musicians mentioned above never actually progressed either..... they had been so accomplished in playing by ear that they didn't really need it.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:04 AM

Earlier in this thread I implied that the title was/is a stupid question. I should have said it's a poorly phrased question. Yes, being able to read music is an important skill, just as being able to read printed text is an important skill. However, people can get along without it.

If you have no recording equipment and you have just composed a symphony, you will likely either learn the skill of writing some sort of music notation to preserve the symphony or you will have to keep it in your memory until such time you meet someone who can get it onto paper or a more permanent record of your accomplishment.

So, my apology to the op, and to answer the question 'Is music-reading an important skill?': Yes. If you need it.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 07:14 AM

Tunesmith - THANK you for the pointer to Peter La Farge. I'd never heard of him before (or "White Girl", for that matter). That was wonderful.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Strad
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:18 AM

Reading music is a great AID to learning tunes but I have found a tendency among players who learn from the dots that if you take their dots away they're struck dumb, even if they know the tune. Relying on the dots can be a hindrance too.

Also ,if you find yourself humming a new tune you have thought of, how are you going to record it for posterity. Using the dots can be more than useful then. There's two sides to every argument.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:46 AM

I find reading & writing the dots a great aid to memory. I can't hold all the tunes I've ever known how to play in my head at the same time, so getting them onto a piece of paper / hard-disk / whatever, means I can dig them up and jog my "live" memory with them at a later date.

And also communicate with people out of earshot, of course - to some extent; as with reading them myself, it works best as a reminder for one you're already familiar with.

To pick up tunes you've never heard, off the paper ? Well, yes, fantastic. But, it can be odd. Many of them, it's fairly straightforward, but others, I look at the dots, I play them, nothing special, just another tune like so many others. And it can stay like that for years. And then - some little twist, a different thought, or hear someone else play it with a different slant, and suddenly, the pitches are the same, the timing's the same, but the sense is different, I realise it wasn't 'just ordinary' after all.

I think it was a Dave Swarbrick tunebook (which I lost, ages ago) where I first saw the recommendation to regard notation as a road-map of the tune. You can see the shape all at once, what's round all the corners; but don't confuse it with being there.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Tug the Cox
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:52 AM

I've met loads of musicians who wished that they could read music. I yet to meet someone who can read it who wishes they hadn't bothered learning.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 09:29 AM

Jack Campin: You might want to give a listen to 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes' which was also written by LaFarge. Great song and basically true story. I first heard it from Pat(rick) Sky, another wonderful writer from outta the US. Neat guy and a mentor to me when I was a kid in the Big Apple.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:13 AM

Maybe so Tug, but you don't have to look far to see musicians who produced their best work in their pre-literate stage. It certainly seems to bugger up some people.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: DrugCrazed
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 11:42 AM

I can read music but prefer to learn tunes by ear. Learning by ear means that I can mess with the tune a bit more, and I'm certain it stays in my head for longer.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: banjoman
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:02 PM

I wold love to be able to read music but alas its probably too late now. However, I have been playing guitar/banjo.mandolin/etc for over 50 years and admit that I can sort of understand when dots mean up or down. I recall a music teacher (Christian Brother) thrashing the whole class because we could not understand his attempts to teach us to read the dots. I now hold as one of my most treasured possesions his end of term report for me where under music he wrote -Musically speaking this pupil is dead from the neck up - and thats perhaps why I have never learnt to read music and took to playing banjo at an early age - he also advised me that the banjo was the instrument of the Devil - but why should he have all the best tunes.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:13 PM

////Reading music is a great AID to learning tunes but I have found a tendency among players who learn from the dots that if you take their dots away they're struck dumb, even if they know the tune. Relying on the dots can be a hindrance too.////

No. If they can't play without reading then they wouldn't be musicians at all. Reading allows them to be musicians. Your argument is backwards.

I also agree that nobody who reads ever wishes they never learned but many who never did wish they had. Imagine Mozart or Bach lamenting that they received far too thorough of a musical education. Then you had great musicians and composers as Louis Chauvin for whom only three pieces of his music survive today because he couldn't read and needed others to write the stuff down. One of those pieces is "Heliotrope Bouquet" which he co-wrote with Scott Joplin. Imagine if Joplin couldn't read either--this marvelous piece of music would have been lost. In fact, we would probably not more than three or four Joplin rags today. You think there were times, especially when he lay dying of siphylis, that Chauvin wished he had learned to read?

And I don't buy bs that someone was a better musician in a "pre-literate" stage--that's just a matter of opinion and certainly not one that is going to be true in more than one instance in a million.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,999
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 12:27 PM

"And I don't buy bs that someone was a better musician in a "pre-literate" stage--that's just a matter of opinion and certainly not one that is going to be true in more than one instance in a million."

Studies have found that 97.31% of people who use statistics in arguments make them up as they go along. FWIW.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: tonyteach1
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 01:35 PM

There seems to be the view that it is either - or. Most classical musicians who do exams and indeed the electric guitarists have to do ear tests of increasing difficulty The ability to pick up a tune by ear is great IF ITS ACCURATE . I teach X factor type singers who learn the song from a track of their favourite artist which may be different from another artists. There may be different versions of a song whatever the genre. Not having both skills limits you Great artists like Martin Carthy rearrange songs and melodies to suit their style You need to read to do that fully

I have to read and to transpose for singers and rearrange. I can read at sight and also busk from the chords and melody Why because I need to and because I make my living from doing so. Also classically trained musos cannot improvise. I used to be an opera singer yet can improv blues or jazz or whatever


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 02:15 PM

give me Bix before his time in outfits like Whitemans. And django before he bothered his pretty little head with writinga gypsy mass and playing an electric geetar and Renbourn before he had that bloody silly midi machine that turned his and Jansch's noodlings into notation.

Probably a milllion others, whose lives have attentuated and whose enthusiasm for playing has been quenched by some dopey pedant with 'a musical education'.

And anyway, have you ever had your music published and turned into flyshit - its flattering? But its nonsense - let yhose who would know the secrets bloody well watch me, it wouldn't kill them.

Look! if you need it fair enough. But its not for everyone. And if Robert Johnson wasn't a musician - your God is too small.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,josepp
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:28 PM

//// Also classically trained musos cannot improvise.////

I'm sure Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers will be interested to know that. Both were classically trained. Chambers was educated on the bass by a bassist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and played classical music for years before turning his attention to jazz where he quickly established himself as perhaps the greatest improvisational bass-player ever.

Mingus was educated by Henry Reinshagen who also taught Fred Zimmerman--considered the greatest bass pedagogue in the US--and Zimmerman taught Robert Gladstone who became first chair bassist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Gladstone taught Linton Bodwin who is the DSO's current principal bassist and my instructor who is considered one of the best jazz bassists in this state who both reads and improvises on a level I can currently only dream of.

And you may as well know that all those string sections you dance to on those old Motown recordings were ALL DSO musicians.

////And if Robert Johnson wasn't a musician - your God is too small.////

But Johnson had teachers. When I learned blues guitar, I had no teacher. I had books. I had to play what was in these books to learn blues. Johnson couldn't have done that. He may have been a great musician as he was but it wouldn't have killed him to learn to read and he just might have been able to to some degree--I didn't know that man and I doubt you did either. Everything else in your post was the worst straw man I ever saw anyone set up.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 03:55 PM

"….classically trained musos cannot improvise."

I went to the University of Washington School of Music for two years and the Cornish School of the Arts music conservatory for another two years. And I can improvise.

Some of my classmates were jazz musicians, read music quite fluently, and were studying music theory, harmony, and music history. They can improvise.

Wynton Marsalis, one of the finest jazz musicians (trumpet) in the country, was not only classically trained, but he teaches music at the Juilliard School. In addition to his jazz performances, he has done some fine recordings of classical trumpet concertos (concerti).

Classically trained musos cannot improvise???????

(Where does this stuff come from??)

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 05:18 PM

straw man...?

just my country roots! probably sugar beet, I'm from Lincolnshire.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:35 PM

I could sight read when I was younger and played the clarinet. When I gave that up at 14 to teach myself guitar, I forgot everything I knew about reading music. I probably understand more now (and better) how music is put together.

I once was once hired to play guitar, banjo, and harmonica in a pit orchestra for a children's Christmas musical in Montana. At the 1st rehearsal the young girl playing baritone sax proceeded to play in the most godawful fashion on one of the carols. It seems the tenor player had transcribed her part in the wrong direction, and it sounded pluperfect awful. She could hear how bad it sounded, but she kept playing because that's how it was written on the page.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 06:51 PM

The ability to pick up a tune by ear is great IF ITS ACCURATE

With folk, even that probably depends and can depend even when people are playing together.

In a session, while there may be versions of tunes that are so far away from each other they do not fit I don't think too many would consider an odd note here or there (if noticed) of much importance - after all, we may all try to play our own twiddly bits putting in what we can or omitting depending on what we feel capable of, how the tune is going at the time, etc.

What IMO, is more important is the ability to fit in with time and hit the beat when others are and, at least in the ones I go to, to be flexible with that so you can follow (and keep to) the tune how whoever started it is accenting it. (I suppose like a jazz "swing it" but rather than having a set "swing rule" it's set by the starter or perhaps in some cases could be refined by a style, eg. Claire - although with as an I suppose "generic Irish session player", these finer points are beyond me).

Lots of different ways and rules, perhaps some more suited to dots than others? As I said in my first post, I do believe that ideally one can do both.
But I wonder whether some of the sort of can't do without dont's are really loking at things from an only been taught/; only have learned a from of music through dots perspective?


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Oct 11 - 08:44 PM

I think its nice when people sing your songs and do them differently. Session musician and classical musicians and I suppose formal set-ups need it. But theres lots of good music to be made without it.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: andrew e
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:23 AM

Obviously it depends what you're playing or singing, and what you want to play and sing.
Try singing William Byrd, or playing 1st violin in a Beethoven symphony without any reading skills!

Is there really anyone here who doesn't read any music, who doesn't wish they had some music reading skills.
Anyone who can read music who wishes they couldn't!

Published sheet music is often wrong if you're comparing it to original recordings.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,PeterG
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 06:03 AM

I have been playing traditional Celtic music for many years and I have learnt almost all of it by ear. when one of our session players has a new tune we sit together and play it to each other and work it out. Having said that I have made determined effort to understand how to sight read and I use it as a guide if I am on my own and stuck with a small passage.
With a lot of traditional music, it is passed on by ear and therefore you do get many many versions of the same tune. Looking the dots on many of the sites available on the net you will certainly come across many variations.
So I suppose it is down to the individual to make up his own mind if reading music is an advantage.
Myself, I love to learn all my tunes through the process of passing it on from another musician, but certainly recognize the advantage of learning how to read music in certain circumstances and it just adds another string to your bow ( pardon the pun)
Slante
PeterG


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 06:09 AM

Learning stuff through session playing can be great fun - and very interesting! Many a time I've picked up something at a session, gone away home to look at the dots and/or chords - and found something very different! Even the title can be unknown or wrong - none of which detracts from the fun of the chase.

Sometimes you just have to follow local variants if you want to participate in the session - dots or not. Down here in Sussex we play "The Sweetness Of Mary" a very nice strathspey, in D (to appease the free redd players and the amateur fiddlers). It's really in A and sounds more vibrant in that key - but it would be pointless of me to start it off in the written key of A at a session here when the accepted local version is in D.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 07:38 AM

You know where you are in a session - generally D.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 08:46 AM

just as an experiment, why not try asking this question on the irish site session.org? actually, if you do, you'll soon find out why not.
Greg


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: John P
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 10:36 AM

Some classically trained can't play folk music or improvise. Some can. Some folk musicians and improvisers can read music. Some can't. Some music readers can barely play, some play beautifully. Some non-readers can barely play, some play beautifully.

Trying to say that one way is better or more musical than the other is silliness. The real answer is that some musicians are pretty good and some are pretty bad. Whether or not they can read has nothing to do with it.

As a side note, the ability to memorize music may be a more useful skill for folk musicians.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 01:57 PM

BAW (09 Oct 2:15pm) - you may not like Bix after he played with Whiteman, but it had nothing to do with whether he could read music or not.

If I remember Sudhalter et al's biography correctly, Bix could read but wasn't very good at it. When he played with Whiteman he learned his written part mostly by ear on run throughs. I seem to remember that he himself felt bad about not being able to read better - others could read the parts and improvise. So reading/not-reading didn't really come into how he played. (And, whatever you may think about Whiteman, he kept a chair for Bix as much as he could).

(And wasn't it a musical pedant who he'd gone to to learn proper technique who told Bix not to bother because it would alter his unique tone?)


Mick


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 02:32 PM

I hold no great opinions about reading music - the benefits or the pitfalls.

I merely onserve that its not for everybody. I think if Bix had managed to stay in environments were his reading wasn't an issue - he might have lived longer and happier.

Similarly I think theres probably damn all you can express on the written page about Bert Jansch's technique which was so much about knowingthe idioms that various guitar keys suggest and individual touch. I think he moved effortlessly from the Piedmont picking in C and G, to using those big open strings in E and A (broonzy style all slams and pulling off) Davy Grahams jazz voicings - all effortlessly - all with a faultless touch. Never descending to that awful clockwork guitar sound that bedevils so many classical guitarists.

Imagine a guitarist who knows intimately Davy Grahams Tristano, Broonzy's Key to the Highway, Rev Gary Davis's entire catalogue and can switch betweem them within two bars and you've got Bert.

Write it down on five lines! Don't make me laugh. Don't make me despair at the sheer arrogance and human foolishness of the belief that anyone could.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:43 PM

Al you say you have no great opinions about reading music, yet every word you write seems to be against it. Bix's unhappiness and short life had nothing to do with his ability to read or not. He'd have died short whether he read or not = reading music wasn't his demon. (You can also dismiss the X was a brilliant player and he didn't read music argument. It's a logical fallacy; as would it be to say that X was a good player because he could read music).

I wasn't going to get involved in this thread (apart from the Bix refs). But now I'm here, I'll make a few observations:

I can't for the life of me understand why people seem to think that being able to read music precludes other skills - learning by ear and improvisation have both been cited above. But (as josepp pointed out with some examples above) they are not exclusive. Reading music is a skill you can learn, just as playing a song by ear is or improvisation is. You can learn to do all of them and knowledge of one does not exclude any or all of the others. You might as easily say you can't sing or speak properly because you learned to read.

I don't think anyone has ever suggested that written music tells you everything. In any idiom - and that includes jazz and classical music, not just folk or blues - the player needs to be aware of the stylistic conventions too. From the earliest times, written music was an aid. What written music does do is let someone who is distant in time or place play something he might not otherwise have been able to play; and if he understands the conventions of the style he'll do a reasonable job of making it sound like it should. You can't hope to hear anything like as many pieces of music as you are able to read.

My guitar sight-reading is pretty good (I'm a licenciate level classical guitarist). On the other hand, I used to play a lot of tin-whistle and almost all the tunes were learned in sessions by ear. In younger days playing along to Bob Dylan records made me a reasonable improviser. I can busk along to most songs from the folk or standards repertoire. Being able to read music hasn't stopped me doing any of those things, nor have they stopped me reading.

My own position is that if you can learn to read music you should - it can only make you a better developed musician, not a worse one. There are a million songs and tunes out there to explore if you can read them; why not give it a try.

It seems the only people who claim that reading would spoil their/others music are those who can't or won't learn. It's an excuse, not an argument against reading.


Mick


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: olddude
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:47 PM

Too darn dyslectic can't read a note. taught myself to play guitar and banjo never had lessons. A few people think I play alright so if it works for you that is great. If it doesn't that is ok too


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: olddude
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:53 PM

such as it is anyway
olddude


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: ripov
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 03:58 PM

Important?
So why didn't Cecil Sharp just learn the songs he collected by ear, and then perform them at folk clubs for others to learn?

Whether it's words or tunes, it's a great benefit that people can not only read words and music, but WRITE DOWN what they hear or make up themselves.

Those of you who do write know that it's very hard to get your exact intentions down on paper, it sounds right when you play it, but get someone else to play it - "How's this bit meant to go?"

We're all musicians, but we all have different skills. It's good that we use them and develop them, whichever branch of the Great Universal Music we play.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 04:11 PM

Not at all Mick. Reading works fine for some people Tal Farlow, John Williams, lots more. I've used notation and tab myself to get to grips with a piece. i even bought Ralph McTells book for £25 for one single piece (The setting).

But for some people, it doesn't suit them at all. In fact, reading seems to mess things up. just an observation, that's all. Think of django in Paris 1939 session with Larry Adler. They do Gershwins Lover Come back to me. You can hear django singing along in joy, and laying sown the best most breathtaking solo in history.

Then think of Django sat at home struggling with notation trying to write his Roman Cayholic mass for gypsies. failing.

Ask ourself, what do you think God meant him to do. Bugger reading. Leave it to bums like me, who need to told where to put our fingers.

we don't all bring the same talents to the table. We all worship at the altar in our own way. Its obvious.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 05:36 PM

Al - according to this transcript of Django talking about his mass (an organ mass at that) Django's Mass (transcript about 2/3 down), he dictated (presumably played on the guitar or sang) and Gerard Leveque (his clarinettist) took it down. So Django had neither to read nor write to do it (a technique used by Sir Paul McCartney more recently if I recall).

Whether he should have devoted the time to the project is a different matter. He obviously thought it was a good idea (perhaps, as suggested on that thread, without appreciating what was involved). But he wasn't the first musician to want to expand his musical horizons. George Gershwin (rather more schooled I admit) went from song writing and musicals to opera and orchestral works. John McLaughlin wrote a guitar concerto. Yehudi Menuin jammed with Steph. Sting played the lute (as I was reminded on another thread). Musicians often want to do more than they are expected (as in known for) to do. (And if Django's mass was a failure - it was unfinished, perhaps another of Django's whimsies -, we can see the other side of the coin with Menhuin and Grappelly: "Which one's Grappelly - the one who swings" I seem to recall an announcer saying before playing a track).

A brilliant musician won't stop making brilliant music just because he learns to read music (in the 1740s - exact year escapes me now - Bach and the lutenist Silvius Weiss, then living not so far apart, met and competed in an improvisation contest!). But being a brilliant musician won't necessarily stop you doing things you shouldn't (any more than it does for any of us!). It hasn't been enough to keep many brilliant musicians from going to an early grave.


Mick


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Oct 11 - 08:06 PM

Look Mick, you have your back story.I have mine.

I've seen my music ignored by the establishment and the only time they take it seriously is when expensive session musicians play it in four beats to the bar chunks. My creative peak probably came in the 1980's when programmable drum machines ruled -okay! I have never played four beats to the bar in my life - ever. Not because I can't, but that's not the way it is in my head and fingers.

I don't hate the establishment. But I resent its power over my life.

I respect your background of a decent musical education. But its not mine. Anow I'm over sixty, and I'm starting to dare to be the person I probably always should have been. My own person.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Will Fly
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 09:09 AM

I have never played four beats to the bar in my life - ever. Not because I can't, but that's not the way it is in my head and fingers.

Ahem... Al... do my old ears deceive me or are there not four beats to the bar in very many of your own songs? Your own website testifies to a regular rhythmic pulse of 4-to-the-bar which often underpins the rhythm of those twinkling fingers?

Eh? :-)


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 09:57 AM

Maybe, but not for the whole song, I lose interest and put other bits in - certainly when I'm playing well. i tend to award myself twiddly bits of indeterminate length at the end of every line.

Anyway - I get in the studio and the proper guys say, piss off Whittle - we'll play it properly and quicker! And anyway my website is one thing. When I pay two hundred quid for a a day in a studio - I want to come out with product - stuff that I can hawk around to record companies and publishers.


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: tonyteach1
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 10:41 AM

I do not mind people who say I do my thing and perform but I have met guitarists who decry one genre or another because they use different skills Its boring


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 11 Oct 11 - 02:14 PM

Big Al Whittle mentioned learning from a Ralph McTell song book and it put in mind of the following Tv sketch. It's quite apt, really.

The Trial of Ralph McTell


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Subject: RE: Is music-reading an important skill?
From: s&r
Date: 12 Oct 11 - 10:17 AM

"Is starting a thread to publicise your own blog a useful activity?

Stu


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