I Can’t Read Music…

…What Use Would I Be In A Choir?

As a choir leader people often tell me that they worry about joining a choir because, although they would love to sing, they don’t read music. This has also been an issue with people applying for Choral Holidays.

The common misconception is that people who can read music can just pick up a piece and sing it. That is a completely different skill and is called sight reading. The ability to sight-read is by no means something that all professional musicians can do either. Comparatively few professional singers are good sight readers.

The ability to read music, especially for beginners, is really more concerned with ones ability to look at a piece of music and tell whether the musical notes are going higher or lower. If they are written higher on the stave then you sing a higher note, if they are lower you sing lower. The rest is just a question of degrees.

If you were to give a set of darts to someone who had never played darts before and place them in front of a board, there is very little chance they would score 180 straight off. However, with practice, their ability to judge the weight and flight of the dart would improve. Likewise, with experience comes more of an ability to judge by what degree the notes are higher or lower.

Rhythm is really just a question of very simple maths using a few easily recognizable symbols.

It is of course useful to learn the names of the lines and spaces on the stave and this once again is simply a case of knowing where one letter is and counting up. So the lowest line on the stave of a soprano, alto or tenor line is an E. The space above it is an F, the next line G, then A (space), B (line), C (Space), D (Line), E (space) F (line). This enables you to pinpoint the place to which a conductor is referring.

Personally, I think that the important thing is that a singer seeks to get their part in their head over a period of time, so that when they see the music they have a strong affinity with it and are able to sing without relying on others.

In my church choir there are now about 35 people, the vast majority of whom do not read music to any great degree and yet we have just returned from a very successful weekend trip to Lincoln Cathedral, where we sang some extremely demanding music. People have learned to ‘get it’ in spite of their own perception of their musical ability. People who told me they would never be able to sing anything other than the tune are now happily holding harmony parts.

The most important thing is to put aside what you think you can’t do and open yourself to the idea that you can get it. Once you approach it with that attitude, anything is possible.

So, if your inability to read music is holding you back then why not apply for a Choral Holiday! Enjoyment is what it’s all about after all.