Sunday, February 27, 2011

Using sheet music to teach and learn songs: pros and cons

Last week I looked at what music notation is for and if you need it to sing.

sight reading

Sight reading by discopalace

This week I’d like to lay out what I think are the benefits and shortfalls of using sheet music to teach and learn songs.

advantages of teaching by ear

  • no looking at pieces of paper – singers can focus properly on their director (and it’s not a problem when they forget to bring their music with them!)
  • no need to photocopy – or buy lots of copies of the music (cheaper and less hassle)
  • complex rhythms will be learnt through the body – and not intellectually on the page
  • emphasis on ears and not eyes – it is, after all, an aural and oral medium
  • easier to add clapping, dance steps, etc. – without bits of paper getting lost or books being dropped
  • no ‘perfect’ rendition to aim for – the singers won’t have the constant reminder of an ‘ideal’ version of the music staring at them
  • no possibility of reading ahead – seeing the whole score at once can seem daunting, also if the song is taught and built up in segments, it can often be learnt better
  • learning together creates a sense of community – people are able to look at and listen to each other and feel they are all part of one whole
  • complex rhythms often look very difficult when written down – whereas if you just teach it by engaging the body and getting everyone moving together, it can be much easier

advantages of using sheet music

  • can teach very complex songs – especially very long or structurally difficult ones
  • helps visual learners – although it’s good to exercise ears more than eyes
  • have a back up – the written music can remind us of our parts and/ or we can rehearse on our own at home
  • egalitarian – musical director doesn’t have all the power or act as gatekeeper, everyone is in the same position with the music in front of them
  • easy to disseminate music (but we now have recording devices, so not so relevant)
  • creates ‘product’ – a composition or arrangement that can be sold

Is there anything I’ve left out? Do leave a comment. If you’re reading this by email or in an RSS reader, you should find a ‘comment’ link at the bottom that you can click on.


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Chris Rowbury


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