Reading music (and in our case bass lines) has always been important for musicians. First of all, it’s a matter of principle. Music is a language, and a good student has the duty to nurture the understanding of how the language he wants to master is formally written. From a practical point of view, it helps the communication between musicians: if you and your bandmates can read music, you can “speak the same language”, and this has a lot of good implications, for example when you are arranging a new tune, you want to tell the drummer how is the kick drum pattern you have in mind and you want to tell it unambiguously, writing it on a board or on a piece of paper, not just singing it.
But I think that today we have to see the matter from another point of view: reading music is even more important for the modern player, even if we all know that internet is full of messy tabs written by we-don’t-know-who.
Before the digital age, most of the didactic resources you might find on the shelves of a bookshop were written with double staffs (traditional notation and tabs), because the publishers usually thought (and still think) that the presence of the tabs would have encouraged the selling of the book, expecially among amateurs. If you visit a bookshop and look for bass books, you will still find books with tabs. Actually, I’m essentially talking about books for beginners, but sometimes I have found the tab staff even on books for advanced players.
Nowadays, with the possibility of self-publishing on the web (Kindle Store, Apple’s iBookstore, Scribd, not to mention blogs and personal websites, et cetera), authors can produce and publish their own ebooks without dealing with publishers, editors or anyone else: we are just at the beginning of this ebooks era, and since most of the music teachers are reasonably against the tabs (which are, by definition, confusing and incomplete), I think that we have to expect a flowering of new tabs-free resources available on the web. And you don’t want to be excluded from enjoying these new resources, do you?
Acquiring the necessary skills to read music is very difficult without a teacher, but you may want to begin learning the fundamentals of reading music before applying to a music schools or while you are looking for a good teacher. These are my suggestions:
- Memorize notes on the lines and spaces, like a nursery rhyme. The more you practice, the less you have to repeat yourself G-B-D-…!
- Take care of the rhythm even apart from the melody. There are a lot of books out there that have been specifically written for the snare drum that can be used with the bass. They really can help you to develop a strong rhythmic sense;
- A computer can tell you how to read tricky rhythmic patterns. If you’re not sure about how to read a measure, just write it in a software like Finale or Sibelius, and let it sound;
- Find an easy bass line of a song that you know and like (I would recommend James Jamerson’s “My girl”), and try to read it with your bass. Slowly and without your metronome – you are studying, NOT performing.
- If the bass line you’re trying to read is written on a piece of paper, use highlighters, pencils and erasers to highlight tricky passages or to write down notes and guides;
- It’s quite common that a song has a specific pattern that comes almost throughout the whole song. Focus on that pattern and play a first, poor but solid version of the song, then add fills, phrasings, et cetera.
As usual, I look forward to read your thoughts about this article: tweet it, share it on your Facebook wall and tell your friends about it!