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Ideas on Learning

How notation can help violinists

A great deal of my focus as a teacher is spent developing the ears of my students, so sometimes teachers and parents are surprised to learn that I teach sight-reading.

There are some very good reasons to know how to sight-read. Here are the three primary ways it has helped me as a violinist:

  1. Orchestral music. Playing in an orchestra is the most visible and obvious application of notation. It would not be feasible to get 100+ musicians playing together without the organizational function of notation.

  2. Chamber music. As a group gets smaller, say a quartet or duet, it becomes easier to organize and play music without the aid of notation. But for some people who are wanting to perform classical chamber music (and for the audience that wants to hear it), the importance of playing it ‘literally’ is very important.

  3. Contract work. When I am asked to play for a recording or in a concert featuring an artist I don’t normally play with, time is often the most important resource. Being handed a sheet of music and asked to ‘play this’ saves time, money and frustration.

These are good reasons to know how to sight-read. But they are not the primary activities of most amateur musicians. Most musicians do none of these 3 things -- not because they don't know how, but because it does not interest them.

Teachers have to continually make decisions about the allocation of our teaching time. If I see a student for 30 minutes a week, how much of that time should be spent on sight-reading?

I will discuss how and when I introduce sight-reading next week.


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