Reading a Song

Once you’re familiar with the basics of reading a score, the best way to learn is to practice. You can start with this simple line from a nursery rhyme. Imagine that you were looking at the score for a full orchestral arrangement of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep.’ You look down the different parts, find your instrument, and see this staff written out for you:

Using all the tools from this lesson on score, and your knowledge of the song, you can read the line from the score. If you have an instrument, try playing this melody. If not, you can just sing or clap along.

Note on Sight Reading

Sight reading is the ability to look at a piece of music you’ve never seen before, then play along as you read it. This requires a really advanced ability to read quickly and play notes without thinking about them. Only experienced musicians can do this. It’s an incredibly valuable skill, though: it means you can sit down with a group of musicians you’ve never met, get the score for a song you’ve never heard, and make something beautiful together. Professional orchestras depend on sight-reading.

However, it’s much more common to study a piece intensively while practicing, and have it mostly memorized before any big performance. This also gives you a chance to think about how you want to express the musical ideas in the score – there’s lots of room for creativity and personal flair in performing from a score, and when you’re reading the piece ahead of time you have lots of freedom to think about those choices.

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