The Benefits of Reading Music vs Playing By Ear

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I have had I have had many discussions and opinions about drummers that read music vs the drummers that play by ear.   I played “by ear” for years with minimal reading skills.  I know of many great drummers in which have never learned to read music.

Learning By Ear is as Important as Learning Music

Some would say that learning to play by EAR has its advantages as drummers flow naturally and can feel the flow of music better.    By ear drummers can sense where the song is going and adapt very quickly.   They aren’t depending on a chart, and they are able to fill in where necessary as well as be creative with drumming techniques.

Lets face it.  Some people are born with natural ability.   Playing certain instruments comes natural for them.  Some of us grew up around music.   Our brains are wired for “sound”   Our environment stimulates us to play more, and music becomes a passion.   I remember plucking on a toy piano at the age of 5 and I could actually play a melody.   As I matured, I became interested in different instruments.   As time went on, I gravitated more towards drums.  I found it easier and more natural, as I heard rhythms in my head.

While in school….I learned very little about reading, and because of my natural ability, I never saw the benefit in reading music.  While in NY,  I was being offered chances to play for school productions/plays, churches,  local events and this was very exciting starting out.   I attended many jam sessions after moving to Virginia in my junior year.  This also helped in developing my skills and getting noticed while creating a buzz around town.

I watched, listened and mimic’d so many drummers and I continued to play by ear.   It wasn’t until I really got into the music industry and was actually getting  PAID to PLAY, that I realized I needed to know MORE.

I soon realized that I had no idea what the Music Director meant when he said  “come in on the one”, or “come in after 2 measures”.   As easy as it is, I had NO clue what “1e, and a, 2e,and a”  meant.   I will never forget when a well known Drummer/Music Director took the time to show me “how to count”.   He explained that I could do accents on the snare when learning those simple counts.  It was like a whole new world for me.

I stay busy in the music industry, and I found that there were a few jobs that I didn’t qualify for, because I didn’t know how to read sheet music.   I understood my counts, but did not understand sheet music.  I knew that I needed to be able to sight read, or understand sheet music if someone handed it to me.

So…..in a nutsell… DO I think you should learn to read music  ????   Definitely YES.   It will be an asset in your drumming career.    Don’t worry if you can’t read it fluently.   I’m not a fluent reader, but I have an understanding of what I’m looking at NOW.    I can at least follow along, although I may be slow.

Perfection comes with PRACTICE…. and it takes PRACTICE to read and PLAY fluently.  If you are like myself,  it will be a little harder to learn to read if you have been playing for a while.  Only because your natural abilities may kick in, but with PRACTICE you will do fine.  

Now understanding on  a different note……some site readers are very mechanical.  They are sometimes unable to naturally sense or feel the other musicians around them.  After all….good drummers know how to feed off of their band members.    Connecting while playing with others will advance your career.   There is nothing like having a drummer that can feel and sense the music, while adding dynamics and controlling the flow of a song.  I believe that BOTH approaches combined are effective drumming.   I hope you find your balance…

      

DJLadydrummer

6 Comments on “The Benefits of Reading Music vs Playing By Ear

    • Beat of Her Drum by DJLadydrummer – A well-known drummer (Denise Commander Johnson) that has played in the MD,VA, DC area. I have played for many churches, jazz, rock & R&B artists. Was contracted to Nintendo to promote WiiMusic. I demonstrated the virtual drums, as well as 100 other instruments. Currently plays for many local artists as needed. Toured with well known hip hop artist and continues to share the gift of music. Being a musician can be rewarding, but its important to have good habits for success. Discipline and planning is also important when embarking on an unstable market like the music business. Follow your beat and always have constant learning in your schedule and daily routine. You can be successful as a business and do what you LOVE ! Create Music and Don't Miss a BEAT
      djladydrummer

      Thank YOU ! Just my own life’s experiences in the music world 🙂

  1. This is a fantastic post! I’ve been debating whether or not I should attempt to learn to play by ear or get lessons and learn how to read music. As I was googling around, I ran across this article. Very nice write-up. I particularly like how you underscore the importance of practice. Being an old football jock, I fully get the importance of repetition. Kudos DJ Lady Drummer!

    • Beat of Her Drum by DJLadydrummer – A well-known drummer (Denise Commander Johnson) that has played in the MD,VA, DC area. I have played for many churches, jazz, rock & R&B artists. Was contracted to Nintendo to promote WiiMusic. I demonstrated the virtual drums, as well as 100 other instruments. Currently plays for many local artists as needed. Toured with well known hip hop artist and continues to share the gift of music. Being a musician can be rewarding, but its important to have good habits for success. Discipline and planning is also important when embarking on an unstable market like the music business. Follow your beat and always have constant learning in your schedule and daily routine. You can be successful as a business and do what you LOVE ! Create Music and Don't Miss a BEAT
      djladydrummer

      Thank you so much Jeremy !! If you have an opportunity to get lessons..do so !! It will help you on the long run. Whenever you can play to your favorite song or have a jam sessions. The skills for listening and being able to adapt will equally be as important in the music world. So glad you liked the article !
      Rhythm Always….Denise

    • Beat of Her Drum by DJLadydrummer – A well-known drummer (Denise Commander Johnson) that has played in the MD,VA, DC area. I have played for many churches, jazz, rock & R&B artists. Was contracted to Nintendo to promote WiiMusic. I demonstrated the virtual drums, as well as 100 other instruments. Currently plays for many local artists as needed. Toured with well known hip hop artist and continues to share the gift of music. Being a musician can be rewarding, but its important to have good habits for success. Discipline and planning is also important when embarking on an unstable market like the music business. Follow your beat and always have constant learning in your schedule and daily routine. You can be successful as a business and do what you LOVE ! Create Music and Don't Miss a BEAT
      djladydrummer

      Hi Vicki,

      Glad you found me here ! Will email you for details 🙂

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