Friday, April 22, 2016

How to Read Sheet Music and Not Get Lost (#playingbass, #jazz, #bigband)

We just started a new session for our jazz and swing band, and we've had two practices in the new semester.  However, I realized that somehow the sessions weren't working for me.  It came to me in a flash.  The sheet music provided is often woefully lacking in anchor points that I need to avoid getting lost.

All of the music is lacking song lyrics.  With the words to the song provided, it is relatively easy to get back on beat if you get lost during the song.  Without the words, it's not so easy.  The lyrics are an important anchor point.

Even worse, some of the sheet music doesn't have the chord symbols over the staff.  There are just notes.  If you don't know the notes by rote, you're dead.  It's easy to get lost and to stay lost.  There are no anchor points to get you back on track.

I have been practicing sight reading with every practice for the past two years and have gotten a lot better at it.  However, learning a song just by reading the notes is difficult and not much fun.  If you can't associate the notes with the actual tune, it seems hopeless.  It's sort of like reading German on a page.  You can pronounce the written words, but have no idea what they mean.  Just reading notes without connecting them to the tune and the place in the song means you won't learn how to play the song.  Just reading notes doesn't work for me -- at least in this stage of my musical development.

Before practice last night, I decided I needed something practical in order to play the songs with the band.  I began printing out the songs under study from digital fake books.  First I made sure the fake book songs had lyrics and were in the same key.  Then I made sure the music had the chord symbols displayed.  At practice, I used this sheet music instead of that which had been provided.  I stayed on beat, didn't get lost much at all, and played some decent bass lines just by reading the chord symbols.  It was a big improvement.

We will study four different songs next Thursday, and I will be ready.