Musicians who play by ear are rarer than you’d think. While singers only ever sing one note at a time, instrumentalists must figure out chords and complex rhythms, which requires a very gifted ear. Of course, a few chosen musicians are blessed with perfect pitch, which makes figuring out a note or chord a piece of cake! If you’re unfamiliar, perfect pitch is the ability to recognize the pitch of a note or to produce any given note without the benefit of a reference tone. (Test yourself to see if you have perfect pitch here!)
But since perfect pitch is not very common, the majority of musicians who play by ear are figuring out a song or piece one note at a time by a lot of listening and tinkering around on their instrument. While it’s certainly impressive and we recommend ear training for any aspiring musician, many musicians who play by ear don’t see the need for knowing how to read sheet music. With this mentality, you could actually be missing out on a lot, so we’re going to give you a few reasons why sheet music is still important!
1. Learn Music Faster
Take yourself back to when you were first learning math. Many of the problems you faced required a formula. Of course, you could spend hours trying to figure out the answer without the formula, and you may eventually get there. But why would anyone do that when they could come to the same answer in a matter of seconds?
Knowing how to read sheet music works in the same way. If you’ve ever been trying to learn a new piece of music and found yourself stuck at a particular chord or note, you could be saving a lot of time by simply checking the sheet music.
2. Playing With Accuracy
In the same way that sheet music will allow you to learn your music faster, it will also allow you to play with greater accuracy. Maybe you’re exceptionally good at playing by ear, but it’s still worth it to double check the sheet music. You may have thought you learned a piece correctly, but in comparing your rendition to the sheet music, you may find an incorrect chord or two.
Think of your sheet music as an answer key. Going back to the math analogy, just because you feel like you did really well on a test doesn’t mean that your teacher isn’t going to grade it! And how many times have you made a silly mistake that you would never have caught on your own?
3. Working With Other Musicians
Remember, just because you play well by ear doesn’t mean that all musicians do! If you ever intend to work with other musicians, whether it’s in a choir, orchestra, recording studio, church group, or for songwriting purposes, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across with someone that doesn’t play by ear. If one of you only knows how to play by ear and the other only knows how to read sheet music, it’s going to be like speaking two different languages, and you’ll find that working together is quite difficult.
This point is especially crucial for musicians going into the music business or those that are trying to “make it” in the industry. Not only is it helpful to others when you know how to make sheet music, but it makes you look far more professional and educated.
4. Writing Your Own Music
If you’re aspiring to be a songwriter or composer, knowing how to read sheet music will give you the ability to write down your music. As great as countless voice memos on your phone can be, when you’re showing your songs to others, it’s not going to be as helpful as a chord chart or a notated melody.
Particularly if you’re ever planning to record your music and will need other musicians to play, this ties into our last point, where you may be working with musicians who don’t play as well by ear and could use some written music.
Writing down your own music is also a way to easily remember a piece if you haven’t played it in a while. Even if it’s just the chords, the quick refresher will likely spark your memory and bring back the song as if you’d just written it!
5. New Music Theory Knowledge
Possibly the best reason to learn how to read sheet music is the endless music theory knowledge that will come with it. Diving into sheet music will allow you to see how music works and what makes it so great.
Let’s say there’s a particular part of a new song that you love, but you don’t really know why. Upon diving into the sheet music, you learn that you’ve actually stumbled upon a flatted sixth chord! Now the next time you encounter this borrowed chord, you’ll know what it is and be able to understand why the music sounds the way it does.
Sheet music is the key to understanding music. Once you know how to read it, your eyes (and ears) will be open to brand new facets of music, making you an even better and more rounded musician than you were before. So if any of the previous reasons to learn sheet music haven’t been enough to convince you yet, we think this one will!
We hope you now feel a little more inspired to learn how to read sheet music. If you’re starting from scratch, check out our article How To Read Sheet Music: Step-by-Step Instructions. And don’t forget to grab any sheet music you might need (any instrument or difficulty) at musicnotes.com.
Don’t worry–just because you learn how to read sheet music doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose the ear training you’ve worked so hard for. You’re only going to enhance the musical abilities you already have, and we commend you for having a fantastic ear, as it’s an equally important component in music.
Now it’s time to get started in reading sheet music. Happy learning!