Monday, January 18, 2010

Sitting in church looking at the hymnal, I was once again struck by the idea that I can't fluently read music. This thought occurs to me approximately once a week, around 11:00am on Sunday.

As a child, I took, for varying periods of time, piano (for several years), flute, recorder, and voice (the latter over the longest period of time, but with the least attention given to reading music). I have a good ear. I can generally sing something with reasonable accuracy after hearing it once, or pick it out on the piano or recorder if it's very simple.

However, despite technically knowing how to read music (I could use a refresher on the exact details), a musical score tells me very little beyond whether the notes are generally going up or down. If I had a piano in front of me, I could probably play it (assuming it wasn't too complex), but I can't look at the music and know how it was supposed to sound. The notes are mentally mapped to the keyboard (or, in the case of the recorder, which I remember better than the flute, the fingering), not to the sound they make, similar to how someone not fluent in a foreign language has to mentally translate each word or phrase, rather than simply understanding it. Other friends who have had music training say the same when I bring it up.

Googling the term "musical fluency", I hit upon this, which seems to echo the conclusion I came to.

I'm not sure what to do with this thought. I'd like to be able to actually read music fluently. I'd like the kids to, as well. At this point, we don't have money for formal lessons, and my experience leads me to believe that traditional lessons are probably not going to be particularly beneficial unless the kid has both a real talent and a drive. The ways I've thought about starting to teach piano - colored stickers on the keys corresponding with the notes in the score - maps score to keyboard, not score to notes, which is what I'd like to avoid. Vocal lessons, with an emphasis on actually reading the music, seem like they might be an answer.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just focus on musical exposure.

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