The Value of Reading…

Yeah, jazz is fun and all, but it sure doesn’t bring in that much a) steady work and more importantly b) money. It’s hard to call music a “real job” if you’re totally reliant on playing irregular gigs in restaurants and clubs where the owner is concerned solely about how many people he can get playing for how little money and the tipsy audience is more concerned about yelling loudly above the music about how much they dislike the taste of asparagus than listening to the blood and sweat of musicians who have spent the majority of their lives reaching into themselves to express the great American art form.

Am I jaded? Rather so.

Instead, I’ve been able to get into the wild woolly world of musical theater, and recently I’ve had a few high profile gigs with a local regional theater. I’ve been doing community theater type gigs since high school, and it’s been a great deal of fun (and convenient) having a semi-regular gig schedule for a month or two at a time, and the skills one uses in the pit are eminently useful in all situations. Professionalism, accompaniment skills, following conductors, playing at a manageable volume, etc, but clearly the best skill and the one that is the most useful for all situations is the one that most contemporary music musicians are painfully negligent in developing – reading the damn music.

Plenty of aspiring professionals and committed amateur bass players have opined their thoughts both on the merits of reading and their own prowess within the art on the wonderful wide world of the interwebs (ahem…www.talkbass.com). And I can personally guarantee that if you, as one of these bass players, think that you can “read music” in the generic sense of the word actually cannot at any sort of level that is really worth much in a professional situation. Perhaps I’m generalizing, and perhaps I’m hyperbol…

…izing? Hyperbolizing? Ahem…

…..hyperbolizing, but what I’ve seen from my own students and others who lay claim to being able to read doesn’t fall anywhere close to the level that could be required at the professional level, and is indeed light years behind what our classically trained colleagues are capable of on their instruments. Perhaps it comes from the “oral” tradition or the DIY tradition of popular styles and the lack of classical tradition on the electric bass specifically, but there really isn’t a “culture of reading” I’ve found with people studying the bass guitar, making a lot of chance situations very awkward and unfortunate. The worst thing an aspiring musician can go through is not getting a gig because of lack of a useful skill and chances are that skill will be able to sight read fluently and proficiently. There are very, very few gigs that you will ever get being able to take a nasty ass solo over some II-V’s, but the gigs that you stand to gain being able to play a chart down on the first read through without thought or concern are numerous and plentiful.

So next time you sit down with some Jamey Aebersold and plan on shedding them II-V’s, consider whipping out some Bach Cello suites or something to that effect and reading them down instead.

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3 Responses to “The Value of Reading…”


  1. 1 thatguy August 3, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I 100% agree with you, I’ve been trying to get my reading chops up at the moment. What would you say the minimum is for reading? So far i’ve been looking at 8th note stuff and trying to get it nailed first time @ 120bpm is that enough?

  2. 3 Emma August 5, 2010 at 2:20 am

    As one of those classically trained music readers, I *like* this post.


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Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

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