Sunday, October 13, 2013

Singers who learn by ear vs. those who use sheet music – what happens when they swap?

The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network (NVPN) has done a great deal to dispel the myth that you have to be able to read music to be in a choir.

Children singing

There are now plenty of choirs around where people sing and perform to a high standard learning all the songs by ear.

But sometimes a singer who learns by ear might attend a singing workshop where sheet music is handed out. How will they cope?

Many traditional choirs and choral societies use written notation to learn their repertoire, and often perform with sheet music. Singer are encouraged to learn to sight read and singing from a piece of paper becomes second nature.

But sometimes a music reader will attend a singing workshop where there is no sheet music. How will they cope?

It is often said that people who don’t understand music notation are missing out and not teaching singers to read music is patronising. Singers who don’t have such music training are often belittled and made to feel that they don’t belong in certain choirs. A singer who learns by ear will be at a considerable disadvantage when sheet music is thrust into their hands and they are expected to launch into song.

But singers who sight read can feel just as disadvantaged when asked to learn by ear. Over time they have become accustomed to the security of having a piece of paper in their hands. They have learned to rely a great deal on the visual cues of notation to help them sing. I have seen many a seasoned sight singer really struggle when trying to learn even a relatively easy song by ear.

Over the next two weeks I will be writing about how to cope with sheet music if you don't read and usually learn songs by ear.

I’ll also be writing about how to cope with learning by ear if you usually read music notation.

Before I crack on with those two posts, I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences whichever ‘camp’ you belong to.

Have you struggled when learning songs in a way that you’re not trained to? do you have any useful coping strategies you can share? Do drop by and leave a comment.

Chris Rowbury’s website:

Chris Rowbury


Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox!

Click to subscribe by email.


found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may like to ...

... to say thank you.





Monthly Music Round-up: