Do you need to read music to play the harp? [ep 32]

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Well, do you?

And if not, why ask the question in the first place?

If you’re wondering what’s best for YOU – this episode of the Coffee Break Harp is a must-watch!

With music or by ear?

People can get in a lot of heated discussions about which approach is better and what makes a better musician.

You will also find people arguing that a good musician should be able to do both, and more, and all at a high level. You will find many great examples of musicians who fit into each of these categories (as well as many, who don’t!) and we could make a whole series of videos about what does it mean to be a great musician, and we still wouldn’t have answered this question.

We are not going to get into any of these discussions today. Instead – I would like to encourage you to focus on YOU, and what approach is best in YOUR case, because the thing is…

…there’s no right or wrong.

Reading music is just a tool, among many others that you can choose to enrich your harp playing.

It’s only up to you how will you use it, and how will you combine with other tools, or skills, like playing by ear, technique,  improvising, and many others.

But why teachers don’t do both?

Learning to master either method can take some time.

Partially because of that, most teachers tend to specialise in one of the too, or at least they prefer to introduce one method first, and then the other, simply because they both take time to master.

Another reason for that is that harp teachers often also happen to be performers. The genre in which they specialise will often influence which approach they are most comfortable to teach. They will of course still use the other skills or tools that they’ve got in their toolbox, and each teacher will likely develop their favourite combination of methods, and in which order they use them to teach.

What is right for ME?

There are a few things worth considering when thinking of the path you want to take (as well as remembering, that there’s no “one-and-the-best” path that’ll work for everyone).

As mentioned before, genre of music is one thing to consider.

With classical music, although most of the highly trained musicians will be able to play by ear, reading music is essential and usually the vast majority of resources is shared through music resources.

When it comes to traditional or folk music, nowadays many musicians read music, as well as write down and share their arrangements, but because of the way traditional music evolved, being passed on by playing and listening, this approach is still very important in this genre.

Another important aspect is how independent you like to be in your learning. If you don’t want to have to source recordings every time, or wait for your teacher to play pieces to you, reading sheet music will give you the freedom to browse any kind of music scores available.

In the harp world, many of the resources are only available as sheet music, so you also need to take into account accessibility of the music you’re after. Are the pieces you want to play only notated in sheet music?

And one last thing is your preferred way of tackling challenges. Both learning to play with music and to play by ear are challenging to master, and will take a lot of practice and dedication. Are you worried that slow progress may discourage you from playing? Or do you like to tackle challenges head-on when you’re at your most motivated and inspired?

Watch the video
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