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I realize this post may be controversial. I've been playing for about eleven years. I'm somewhere at the amateur/intermediate level. When I started sheet music was the only medium available. Since then, nearly every single song ever made has been made available for free on youtube in this form:

.

I was able to memorize and learn the proper fingering for Moonlight Sonata (1st movement) in a weekend, what a terrific song. This style of "sheet music" being so visual, using these videos, instead of sheet music, as accelerated my understand of chords, triads, etc.

I have a friend in his 80s who taught piano for over 50 years. I showed him these types of videos and asked him why anyone would even bother with sheet music, as the goal of sight-reading is to translate the notes on a page of sheet music into exactly the "sheet music" shown in a video, then playing those keys. I was totally shocked when my piano teacher friend said he agreed, and that if these videos existed decades ago, he may have used these to teach instead of sheet music.

It seems like this site as many piano teachers, and I wanted to pose the question, has anyone made the switch yet and started using this style of 'sheet music', and have you noticed drastic improvements like I have in my learning. To me (and apparently my teacher) the video seems to just skip a step translating the sheet music in your brain to a playable format.

An analogy I've considered for years is this: Using sheet music is like reading Latin, converting it to English in your head, then playing English on the piano. Using videos like the one I posted is like reading English and playing English, and you also get to see which fingers to use.

Super curious to hear your thoughts, as most of you are much more experienced than me. Sheet music has evolved over the years for string instruments and others.

If you reply, please indicate whether or not you've tried learning using 'video sheet music' and whether you've tried using these new tools with your students.

Thanks!

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12 Answers 12

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You added a different flavor of this question in the comments:

i think the spirit of my question was, has anyone found that using newer styles or technology for reading music advanced their students own their own learning for the piano[?]

My answer is yes, but perhaps in a different way from what you are thinking.

I took piano lessons back in the early 1980s, when buying sheet music in a store and writing on it with a pencil was really the only option. Today my study of piano, clarinet, and guitar greatly benefit from the following technologies:

  • Apple iPad Pro 12.1" - So easy to read, very powerful, and very portable.
  • Apple Pencil - Does an excellent job of enabling the marking up of scores. Light, easy to use, feels great.
  • ForeScore (iOS app) - ForeScore is amazing (for me at least). I can import PDFs of music and instruction manuals for synthesizers, guitar effects, etc. I can organize them easily with tags, composers, genres, etc., and group them into playlists. I can derive excerpts of certain pages or sections or selections from larger scores and have them appear separately in playlists. I can carry a huge library of music with me wherever I go. And I can use...
  • AirTurn Duo 200 - This is a double-pedal bluetooth page turner that works with ForeScore so I can use my left foot to page through scores while I play or sight read.
  • The Petrucci Music Library (imslp.org) - This is an online repository of scores, most of which are public domain in the United States (and most other countries).

If I want to study Brahms Symphony #4 or learn to play Beethoven Sonata #14 (Moonlight), I can just go over to imslp.org, search for the score I want, download the PDF, and import it in ForeScore. It takes maybe a minute. I rename it in ForeScore and add the appropriate tags and genre and composer, and then I can start sight reading and/or marking it up with the Apple Pencil.

If my markings get too numerous or cramped, I can create a new layer of markings and hide the markings that I don't want to see. I can mark up a jazz standard in one layer for clarinet, a different layer for guitar, and a third layer for piano and learn to play the same piece on all three instruments. I can do micro-analysis of chords and chord progressions of a symphony in one layer, and then I can hide that layer and to a macro analysis of the structure in a separate layer. You can't do any of that stuff with paper and pencil.

One more thing I want to mention: I can see learning the first movement of the Moonlight sonata from a synthesia video, but the third movement is a whole nother beast entirely. There are so many techniques and fingering notes and details etc. that can't be taught with such a video. Perhaps a teacher could recommend the video to learn the notes and then provide help with all of the things the video can't teach, but why?

You can't go very far in music without knowing how to read it. You can't play a classical concert. You can't compose for other musicians. You can't get a music degree. You can only ever teach certain students (since most students will want to learn to read at some point). Not learning to read sheet music will forever stunt your growth as a musician.


I think there's a concept missing in this question. The question seems to assume the only point of sheet music is to teach one to play an instrument or a song, so a better way to learn an instrument or song potentially renders sheet music obsolete, or at least not needed for the teaching of an instrument.

The thing is, when you're learning piano by reading sheet music, you're not just learning piano. You're also learning to read sheet music! The piano is a tool to teach people to read music just as much as the music is a tool to teach piano. If you taught piano (or any instrument) without sheet music, then that student won't know sheet music. And knowing sheet music is important.

Would you have a tablet with the video playing muted in front you while playing a concerto with an orchestra? One problem there is you have to follow the tempo of the conductor and the video will go at its own pace.

What if you composed a symphony? Would you then record separate videos for each instrument and for the conductor to teach them their part of the symphony? There are so many problems with that approach that are completely outside the challenge of you making all those videos.

What if you wrote a song and you wanted to copyright it? If you copyright a video of you playing the song then you still haven't registered a copyright for the song. To have copyrights to a song itself, you have to write it down.

Basically there are some situations where you still need to be able to read and write music as easily as you read words.

Side note: I’m not a great sight reader but already for me reading sheet music is not at all like reading Latin and then translating it in my head. It goes right from dots on the page to fingers. I don’t think about the note names when I’m reading.

Side note #2: I hate trying to get information from a video. I much prefer getting it from text or notation. Videos go at their own pace and you can scan a video to find the section you want easily and I can read words faster than a person can talk and I can read music faster than it is usually played. The thing with reading is you get to choose the pace. You can skip around, re-read the same part three times, skip to the end and then come back to the beginning - all just by moving your eyes.

Side note #3: I used a video to learn "Why Georgia" by John Mayer on guitar. I would rather have just had the tab for it.

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    Like you, I prefer the dots. However, you then state you'd prefer the tab for a guitar piece. Isn't the music going to give you better what you really want? The tab, to me, is getting towards the video learning realm, away from 'I decide where (and how) I play my notes'.
    – Tim
    Jan 29 at 11:32
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    I was going to say that the video is like the "keyboard version of guitar tab". Jan 29 at 13:09
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    @Dzuris In the United States, a work is only copyrighted when it is “fixed”. For a song, “fixed” means written down in some way. If you compose a song in your head and play it live and then someone hears it and plays it by ear, you would have a very difficult time in the US making an infringement case. If you want to register the copyright to a song in the US, you must submit a written form of the song. If you haven’t registered the song for copyright you essentially cannot make an infringement claim. Jan 29 at 14:08
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    @DarrelHoffman - and that's where my problem is. Many times students have said to me that they have found far better places to play certain things shown in tab. Tab shows one person's idea of where it should be played.
    – Tim
    Jan 29 at 14:46
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    @DarrelHoffman "Regular sheet music does not dictate which string each note should be played on" -- it absolutely can. There are standard ways to indicate the string (typically when playing melodically) or the position (typically when playing chords). Classical guitar music is full of these marks.
    – MattPutnam
    Jan 29 at 16:21
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Using sheet music is like reading Latin, converting it to English in your head, then playing English on the piano.

Well, you probably never really translated Latin, at least not in a good way.

Despite its naming, music notation is not just about notes. As much as writing is not just about words.

I was able to memorize and learn the proper fingering for Moonlight Sonata (1st movement) in a weekend, what a terrific song.

let's just ignore the fact that most people would have massive headaches when reading the word "song" used to describe a piano sonata

Yes, you memorized the notes, and learned the fingering. That's just that. It's almost as learning that the Pythagorean theorem is "a2+b2=c2". But do you understand it? Do you realize the subtleties of its concepts? Are you able to properly use it in unrelated scenarios?

Music notation is a very extended writing system (much more extended than the writing systems used for spoken language we normally use). The written notes are just the beginning, in those videos they are almost just like the "dots" in a score. Those "piano roll" videos are just an extremely limited (I'd say ignorant) representation of music. Why?

  • there's no specific, clear and unambiguous representation of dynamics;
  • rhythm has no clear reference and rhythmic relations are completely undistinguished and unreliable;
  • voices cannot be clearly identified;
  • it's impossible to mark advanced concepts such as phrasing;
  • technique marks are undefined;

To add something more, using a completely different method of music reading than the one used on all other instruments is conceptually wrong.

Can you learn to play that sonata like that? Yes.
Is your playing going to be really accurate? No.
Is it a good method for beginners or amateurs? Yes, for very simple cases and just at the beginning.
Does any similar method really allow to play music while ignoring any other system? No.

Finally, even music notation has its limits: it is a coherent transcription and abstraction of a completely different medium which is only the beginning (one of many) of reproducing music. There is always a variable amount of freedom in playing a score, and having an accurate writing system that tries to address almost any aspect also allows to understand the possible boundaries of those freedoms (including allowing the composer to specify them with more accuracy).

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    I totally agree with answer, especially because of the dot points you made. And also for pointing out the moonlight sonata being referred to as a "song" Jan 29 at 6:59
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    It makes me think that on the video, you know you have to press a key, but you don't know how (pianissimo? forte? what about the pedals?)
    – Clockwork
    Jan 29 at 11:18
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    @Clockwork the pedals are an issue indeed, but the dynamics are somewhat indicated by colour. I agree though that it's not the best way to read them Jan 29 at 12:32
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    Color for dynamics actually seems like it has it's advantages. Many sheet music notations, like dynamics, require you to backtrack arbitrarily far to know say the speed or volume of a particular bar, and it's impossible to just squint at a piece and discover the general dynamic outline. Jan 29 at 19:02
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    Just found out that "song" means a musical composition intended to be sung. I always just thought of it as a synonym for musical composition. Jan 29 at 20:33
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Every musician knows that sheet music can be frustrating at first, but almost everyone has spent quite some time learning it. I've met literally dozens of people (students, fellow musicians etc) that have asked the exact same question: "Why isn't there a simpler way of notating music? Ableton's piano roll works for me! Synthesia works for me!"

Sheet music took many many years of development to reach the state it is today and it is dominating the way people read/write/learn/teach/study music because so far it is the only way that can display literally every little aspect that needs displaying.

I can show you one example of poor quality in the video you posted (2:12):

enter image description here

Can you tell me what the exact rhythmic ratio between these two notes just by looking at this picture? Because, in a traditional sheet music, you can always say that (1 quarter equals two eighths, 1 eighth equals 2 sixteenth notes, etc). Or even, by the preview of the video:

enter image description here

There are 3 notes, almost the same duration, but how much does each one last? They are slightly off with each other, but just by looking at it you cannot really tell what is different between them.

You can write your music any way you like, but not all systems have the same amount of details as sheet music, so many aspects may be left up to the judgement of the performer (i.e. Aleatorism in music ), which is something completely acceptable, but only if you want it in your piece.

A quick 20th century sheet music history lesson
In the past century there have been numerous attempts at new types of sheet music, because composers felt (possibly like you) that the traditional sheet music didn't capture what they wanted to play/hear. Just off the top of my head, here are some examples:

enter image description here

enter image description here

(this is what we refer to as a graphic score)

enter image description here

enter image description here

I'm pretty sure that you can tell just by looking at and listening to the few examples that you are not the first one to have thought of something like that (not by a far chance). But, just fyi, these are pieces that the composers didn't really care if the performer got a certain note or duration exactly right, they mostly cared about the soundscape/flow/texture/w.e that was being created. In a case like this, you could use something like synthesia to read/write music

And honestly, at the end of the day do whatever works for you. If you want to play on your own at your house and for friends, you can easily learn the pieces (not all pieces are songs - at least not the ones that are not being sung) using Synthesia. But if you want to play with other people, or teach adequately or have someone else perform your music exactly the way you want them to (without any aleatorism), you have to use traditional sheet music.

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    A couple of examples of another approach that tried to extend standard music notation (from Sylvano Bussotti): i.stack.imgur.com/BSqM2.jpg i.stack.imgur.com/bd7Dy.jpg Jan 29 at 18:23
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    I actually like the "trees" of notes - packing a sequence of pitches, the subdivision of which is arbitrary, into one duration value (referring to the latter picture referred to by @musicamante) Jan 29 at 19:04
  • Your Highlight of the difficulties of the rhythm issues is spot on. The video doesn't contain any information about where in a measure a note takes place either, so it would be especially challenging to play any off-beat rhythm, especially for other instruments where a melody player isn't responsible for the harmony, and is playing tricky syncopated lines. Jan 29 at 21:41
  • You wrote "Every musician knows that sheet music can be frustrating at first". With all due respect I disagree. For some musicians your statement is right, but for others it is not. Many musicians learned to read music from the start. At some point they know which notes the 5 staff lines indicates and they know the basic note values. At that stage they can easily find sheet music that is way too difficult for their playing skills, but they can certainly read it. Thus their problem is lack of technique. So they need to build up their technique to a level where they can play it. Jan 30 at 22:59
  • To be fair, the 'precise' nature of sheet music is also its greatest flaw, as it's impossible to get arbitrarily precise, which is where the 'human element' comes in. When you compare a high level pianist with the sheet music they won't naively play the notes exactly like a high level MIDI player. Instead some notes will start earlier or later than the 'limited' sheet music indicates. Not because the pianist made mistakes, but just because sheet music is very limited/rigid. At least conceptually one could argue that an annotated visual recording of the composer playing is more valuable. Jan 31 at 9:09
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...An analogy I've considered for years is this: Using sheet music is like reading Latin, converting it to English in your head, then playing English on the piano. Using videos like the one I posted is like reading English and playing English, and you also get to see which fingers to use...

This just sounds like a rant and resistance to learning to read music notation.

The first, super obvious problem with the idea of playing from these piano rolls is you can't read rhythm. In general a piano role is an amorphous bunch of colored blobs. Some specific missing elements are meters, barlines, and repeat marks. Things like one beat of two eighth notes versus three eighth triplets is super clear in notation, but indistinguishable in a piano roll.

The second problem is you can't quickly read the harmony. The accidentals used in notation, and the lines and spaces of staff, make harmony and voice movements clear. Basically in the piano roll your can't read intervals and you can't read the accidentals of secondary dominant which make up the bulk of harmony reading.

Another problem is the real time encoding of duration in a piano roll. Longer durations require longer scroll time. That means you usually can't see more than one or two chords of music in a piano roll. In notation you can see whole phrases, even entire sections, in just a glace. Prior to sight reading a piece you can glace over it quickly for important structural elements.

But, this brings up what I think is the real point. You aren't reading from these piano rolls. You are using them as a memorization aid. Memorization is the opposite of reading.

I think a real test of this idea would be to give a "reader" of piano rolls a new, unknown roll with the sound turned off, start the roll, and then ask them to "read" it. I doubt this would work. I've seen video games that involve rhythm and pitch and pushing buttons in time to various types of music scrolls. But I haven't seen any for a full piano texture. Importantly, my sense with such games is it was harder to play the music because it was not notation. I have strong doubts about the readability of piano rolls. They are just eye candy for audio recordings which can be used for memorization.

I think a better analogy would be something like giving a person who can't speak Japanese a phonetic transcription and recording of Japanese text for them to memorize. Then saying the person can "read" and "speak" Japanese when they can recite the sound from memeory.

Actually, Japanese writing offers a helpful comparison. I learned to read a very basic level of Japanese. The language uses three systems of characters. Two of those scripts, called kana, are phonetic - representing sound only, no meaning - and use 46 basic characters. The third script, called kanji, is based on Chinese characters which represent meanings, have varied pronunciation, and number around 2,000! (I learned only about 300 or 400 of those.)

Kana is much easier to learn than kanji. I had the same complaint as most other beginners: why not keep things simple and just use kana. The answer for all native Japanese is kanji is easier to read than kana! The truth of that only becomes apparent when you start to learn kanji and then try reading something written in all kana. Kana is all meaningless phonetics, but kanji conveys meaning. It's more immediate to read meaningful text than abstract phonetics. It turned out the Japanese were right! It's easier to read kanji and all kana. The downside is it takes a long time to learn.

I think reading music notation is similar. It takes a long time to learn how to read it. But that doesn't mean it's a bad system. It also doesn't mean that piano rolls are readable. It only means it takes time to learn how to read music. This is probably true of learning to read any complex form of writing or notation.

One final thought about reading "meaningful" notation or writing systems. Staff notation was developed over centuries for music that is essentially diatonic, but extended with various degrees of chromatic harmony, and needed precise rhythmic coordination. Then you read music in those styles staff notation works well. When the music becomes very chromatic, when the sense of a diatonic foundation is gone, I think staff notation becomes problematic. When the musical idea doesn't need to be precise other writing/reading systems can be used like jazz lead sheets or graphic, aleatoric scores.

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    I would actually disagree with a detail here. I would argue that music notation obscures harmony by leaving you to read accidentals and incorporate them into the axis of "note head higher -> pitch higher". Piano rolls are fully proportional, so to say, and the difference between a full and a diminished trichord, say, is immediately visible as measured in half-steps. Jan 29 at 18:56
  • Also, technically triplets can be distinguished with the piano roll marking the new hit. Jan 29 at 19:59
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    @LeifWillerts: Although things get complicated when pieces modulate briefly without changing key signature, musical notation with diatonics and accidentals generally makes many aspects of harmony easier to read than does piano-roll notation. If one has a piece in G major, and the bass/tenor/alto/soprano parts are c/g/e'/c'', that will sound very different from c/g/eb'/c''. In piano-roll notation they would look almost identical, but in conventional notation the latter would have a flat accidental printed in front of the alto's note.
    – supercat
    Jan 29 at 22:21
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    For those who disagree, the burden is on them to demonstrate an alternative. Staff notation has withstood the test of centuries! Merely saying "I disagree" or words to the effect of "reading notation is hard" isn't good enough. I think I suggested a fair test: show us people sight reading a piano roll. Jan 29 at 22:46
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    I disagree with your statement that "Things like one beat of two eighth notes versus three eighth triplets is super clear in notation, but indistinguishable in a piano roll." I've looked at a lot of piano roll notation (sometimes of my own music), and assuming a quarter note has the same tempo in both, a two-8th-note duplet and a three-8th-note triplet easily look different from each other. (The tricky part is determining whether a given tuplet is a duplet, triplet, or quadruplet at first glance.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 30 at 15:53
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A few bad things

  1. Guess what? The person who played on that video that had to get it from somewhere. From where? From the sheet music of course!

  2. Those videos are for keyboards where all the notes are laid out in a row. Let's see how it works for a clarinet or violin! If pianists are the only ones who don't play from sheet music, how will they ever play with other musicians who are reading the dots?

  3. Church organs. How do you show the foot pedals with that system?

  4. The people playing the videos are already experts. How do they know which fingers to use in difficult passages? They read the fingering from the sheet music or write it on there themselves while they are learning.

  5. With sheet music you can start anywhere. Maybe you want to practise only the difficult bits. With paper, you can quickly flip between them. On a video you have to mess with timestamps. It takes ages.

  6. What about singers. How would this system work for them? You can show them the words but how would you show them the tune on this system? Would they have to first learn it on the keyboard? What if they don't own one?

  7. The songs on that channel marked as "advanced" are actually still very easy. An actual advanced piece on that system would be completely indecipherable.


Okay so I've listed just a few of the bad things. What are some of the

Good Things

For really easy pieces and simplified arrangements of popular songs and instrumentals, this is great. It can get beginners started and is a fantastic motivator. Can it replace traditional notation completely? Absolutely not, but for someone who never wants to progress beyond a fun, amateur level it's a wonderful resource. It also encourages the player to look a the screen and not down at the fingers. When someone gets to the stage that they do decide to learn to read music, this will be a great advantage.

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    I strongly disagree with your first point. Yes, the maker of the video probably got that from sheet music, but that is because it was only available in sheet music form. If the maker of said video had been a composer they could have skipped the sheet music form. This is like claiming that everyone should learn to calculate in binary despite the availability of calculators. "Guess what? The calculator had to calculate is somehow. How? Binary of course!"
    – user74796
    Jan 29 at 10:39
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    @MartinvanIJcken Everyone SHOULD learn to calculate binary despite the existence of calculators!! Learning to do math strengthens the brain. Imagine saying people should learn to walk despite the existence of wheelchairs. Of course people should learn to walk! Wheelchairs and calculators can help us when we need help, but they should not be used to completely replace legs or brains, only when necessary. Jan 29 at 14:13
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    @Martin van IJcken - Tell that to Beethoven. He didn't have YouTube. The OP says "nearly every single song ever made has been made available for free on youtube in this form". That is so far from the truth I don't even know where to start. Moonlight Sonata is probably the most popular classical piano piece ever written. Of course it's there. It's also not in the least complicated. The following piece on that channel is laughably called "advanced" youtube.com/watch?v=2km5gYx7MZY Jan 29 at 14:54
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    @Martin van IJcken - The argument about calculators is completely false. The calculator does the calculation for you - great. What is the parallel in music? The piano does the playing for you! You can buy pianos that play the pieces for you, no problem - so why bother learning to play yourself? In fact, why even have a piano? Just listen to the original on YouTube, it will be played better than you can ever manage. Jan 29 at 15:22
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    @MartinvanIJcken: You seem to suggest, that music can be distributed by imitation dropping other ways of transmission. This was already tried in the middle ages (time of the troubadours) with some disadvantages: many pieces are lost and in absence of a stable abstraction, each attempted reproduction added deviations of its own. The distinction between composition and interpretation is practically vanishing.
    – guidot
    Jan 29 at 16:00
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I would say no. Generally music teachers try to give students a window into the entire repertoire of piano literature. Not all of this has been translated into new formats. Likewise, one learns to improvise, play from orchestral scores, play from choral (and chorale) scores from the 1400s to the 2100s, etc. Again, these are not now (and not necessarily ever) translated to a new format. The suggested method seems rather limiting.

Even as an amateur, I have had to pick up something I've never seen and play it. (The score to Ruddigore, when the rehearsal pianist didn't show up, I got to sight-read the orchestral part for the singers.)

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    @prettykitty You’ve never seen a professional use sheet music in a concert? What about a symphony orchestra, opera, ballet or big band to name a few? Jan 29 at 3:19
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    @prettykitty I guess you’ve only ever been to rock and pop concerts, maybe EDM, hip-hop and R&B? There are many other kinds of concerts. And you better believe that when you watch a movie or a TV show or a musical, and when you listen to your favorite music that was recorded in a studio, you’re hearing musicians who are sight reading what they are playing. Music as we know it would not exist without written sheet music. Jan 29 at 5:34
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    And it's not just professionals who sight-read.  I know an amateur choir who, after a concert, realised that they'd never rehearsed one of the songs — everyone had been sight-reading it.  They all assumed it had been covered at a rehearsal they'd missed.  But they were all good sight-readers, and the song went well enough that none of the audience would have known.
    – gidds
    Jan 29 at 12:47
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    Studio session musicians regularly perform from sheet music; it's a new arrangement for every song. Others include movie music performers for the same reason. In both cases, one is sight-reading the first performance. Likewise, I know of two cases where the solo pianist for a classical concerto had to fill in with only a few hours notice on a piece they were unfamiliar with.
    – ttw
    Jan 29 at 13:59
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    @prettykitty, "...i've never seen a professional use sheet music at a concert..." Maybe you haven't, but you're fooling yourself if you think professionals don't sight read. Jan 29 at 23:13
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Many of the above answers have well specified the necessity of sheet music. In simple terms, I would put it this way: Through notations, unlike in synthesia videos where the note length, crescendos, diminuendos, and ritardandos I.e. increasing the intensity of sound, decreasing intensity of sound, slowing down, and so many other notations are not available, sheet music is a means by which a composer can write down the feel of the piece. Without its specialty, there would be no music, rather just...noise.

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Here's a simplistic answer.

Babies first learn to speak by imitating. In some societies, this all that is ever needed. No knowledge of reading, writing or grammar is required.

Kids brought up in a musical family, absorb music in the same way.

For kids who are not so lucky, any and all online music resources are a boon.


Most children learn to read and write. None of us would be on this Stack Exchange if we couldn't.

Serious musicians learn to read and write a common language. That way they can talk to each other. A guitarist who only knows tabs cannot 'talk' to a pianist who only knows how to use piano-roll videos.

For amateur musicians and those who only play basic power chords and riffs, this is not a problem. If you have any pretensions to be a serious musician these days, especially a session musician, you have to know everything.

You could learn to recite poetry purely by listening to other people reciting it but to become an actor you have to read a script and interpret it without anyone else's help.

Go into a session to record an artist's new song and say to the producer, "Erm, would you mind making me a piano roll so I can come back next week when I have learned it?" and you will get laughed out of the building*.


Conclusion

All learning aids are wonderful, including piano-rolls - especially for beginners. Yes, teachers should use them for the students who can afford to buy the technology - not everyone can. That doesn't mean they replace written music.



*Yes you say, but if I get really good, I could read the piano-roll at full speed. Sorry, you're still out of a job. That gig has gone to the person who made the piano-roll! They don't need you at all.

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Since your last edit, your question went from:

Should piano teachers move away from sheet music and sight reading and instead use new simpler music-reading methods

To:

Should sight-reading be emphasized less for piano instruction with new developments in technology

I can't give you an answer for the first one, but I can give you my point of view for the second.

TL;DR: I think it all comes down to what you (the pianist) want. I never had an actual piano teacher, so I don't know if they tailor their lessons to what their students want or not. But I think it would be relevant to not teach sheet reading to someone who doesn't care and doesn't even intend to play piano to begin with for example. As for those who truly want to get committed, since I don't have enough knowledge on the matter, I'd rather not pronounce myself on which one is best.


It actually depends on what you want. Do you want to learn music theory, being able to transpose what you learnt on piano and apply it when you move on to other instruments? Or perhaps as some mentioned, being able to sight-read a piece that you have never played before? These are only a few examples of situations of when you would want to learn to read a music sheet.

On the other hand, in a somewhat sketchy exampple, if you don't intend to get fully committed into heavily playing piano, and you just want to be able to play something good enough that people can recognise it, then maybe you shouldn't have to go through the trouble of spending months and years in learning how to sight-read, and all you need is to know which key to press, in what order, and how long.

There is an online piano lesson I bought, which describes itself as a "quick lesson to start playing piano fast". It teaches some music theory and some music sheet symbols, but the rest of the time, piano music is taught "by imitation" (each part of the music is explained and played in sections on the piano, so that you know what you are supposed to do). But at the same time, a music sheet is provided. Although they are never used in the video lessons themselves, there is a point when I stopped watching the videos and learned playing simpply by sitting at the piano and reading the printed sheet, because I felt confident enough to learn a new piece on my own.

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Several points occur with this concept.

It's basically learning by rote. When a parrot asks 'Who's a pretty boy then?' it obviously can say it, but hasn't a clue what it means (for most parrots, that is...) and learning a piece this way only gives you that piece - no more. Nothing to help learn the next piece, nothing to build on. In the long term, quite time consuming.

While it probably means one can learn a piece far more quickly than having to learn to sight read first, so again, as above.

The facility to find and read sheet music is so well established over many centuries, that there's a plethora of music available, which isn't the case with this other method.

It does, undeniably, lend itself to piano playing - and would probably work with some other instruments as well - sax, clainet, flute come to mind as well as guitar. However, each would have to have its own separate video, using different technicals, and those would not be transferrable. Rather like guitar tab is of little use to anyone else except a guitarist. Sheet music is far more adaptable. O.k., there's transposing, and the fact that some music doesn't lend itself to other instruments readily, but by and large, it is transmutable.

There cannot be an immediacy involved. Sit down with twenty other musos, get out unseen dots, and they come to life at the drop of a baton. Can't see how any video 'music' could even eventually facilitate that.

Personal interpretation is pretty well denied. Read a book; listen to the same play on radio, watch the same on t.v. The reading is really the only one where one can put his own interpretation on things. Same with sheet music. The video gives one interpretation, good, bad or ugly. O.k., the lines coming down the screen are thicker for more emphasised notes, but that's where it all ends. Getting close to kids 'barking at print'.

Summing up, then, it's a quick fix for some, albeit one-tune-at-a-time, but cannot be part of a structured approach to piano playing - or even understanding music. Used thoughtfully, it could belong in a teacher's armoury, but, like tab, in my opinion, it falls well short. (Tab without timing works if one knows the piece, but if one knows the piece, and can play guitar, why rely on tab?) A lot of players manage with no theory at all - good for them - but with at least some theory under one's belt, there's more to build on, making subsequent pieces make more sense, and the video method is sadly lacking in that department.

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The traditional music notation is more than piano roll, tabs or other graphic notations. It is an art by it self. I agree that many beginners struggle by reading sheet music and many wouldn’t give up if there were a better mix of reading scores and improvising, playing block chords, arpeggios and Alberti basses.

On one hand there are too many sheet readers who have no idea of harmony, improvisation and abstraction of the written music. On the other hand there are maybe 90% of ordinary students who leave the public school as musical illiterates and this after 1000-1500 music/singing lessons, while the normal schoolchild learns reading the mother language and 2 foreign languages in 2-3 years.

It is a question of setting main emphasis how much weight you want to lay on the one or the other approach. Music teachers should be open for different ways and methods and it should be their professional challenge to find out which method is best fitting to which student.

The way to Mount Parnass is not the easiest one. Making music should also make pleasure and be the source of happiness.

Thus the same assignment is valid for singing teachers, choir leaders, conductors. There are too many songsters and members of bands that aren’t able to read sheet and understand sheet music.

Once again: In my opinion it is the art and duty of a music teacher to open the eyes of his students for the beauty of the art of the traditional notation, which can be compared with capability of seeing for blind ones or hearing for deafts - like making music yourself isn’t the same like just listening to the radio.

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This answer may have a few points beyond facts which may be viewed as controversial, I hope positive enthusiasm is used. Sheet music should be a must. Your simply choosing to limit yourself, fairly predictably to only ever playing existing music, and being solely reliant on these "apps" developers/designers to learn music.

Till lately music always involves two aspects. Knowledge, understanding, your ear, feelings, etc. The second is physical ability and developed talent. Today with synthesized music, recorded music formats, this is changing and removing the physical aspect of performing music. But by and large it's always been a part of music till now, and still is mostly today.

What I see their is in no way sheet music. It almost only concerns the piano performance of pre-existing music. While this is interesting in it's own right, it's only half the picture. Piano players are typically very well learned in not only sight reading, but music understanding when compared to almost any other musicians by a long shot. So being a half piano player today, means you will be a very poor one. That will be true sadly. There will be abundant others who can play just as well and probably better in most cases, and also have very good knowledge of music and how to use those physical skills. While other instruments it has become common to not understand music theory, such as guitar. Many times many do understand it, just not typically to the level of piano players.

So when your teacher says he agrees, he either is a midocre to poor piano player, or he/she wishes to throw others off the trail. To confuse and hamper others, giving themselves more of the demand. This is common today.

Site reading works great with piano. Additionally sheet music explains much more about the music. Like what key its in. A piano player recognizes the shapes of notes coming and can perform peices on the fly, having never played or heard before. So the new ways provide no benefit, and lack additional things that sheet music contains.

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  • I think the issues should be made clear. If you think you want to learn piano, it's not a occasional hobby sort of thing like a video game you like. Many take piano lessons and soon realize they don't care. You CAN learn piano but it takes dedication. It takes years, there's no speeding that up. So piano is for those that really did want to learn piano. Or others who just don't mind work. Jan 31 at 12:35
  • Second issue is that there's a lot to music, which means there's a lot to sheet music and music theory. Many do a poor job at teaching it. Also some parts of it are like math, some parts are math. That throws a lot of people off too. It's not magic though. But it will require work and several attempts some times, so again reinforcing the prior comment about piano. Jan 31 at 12:38
  • Final thing, you may suck at first, and there is no quick way around it. But you will get better at with time and again there no speeding some things up. Jan 31 at 12:39
  • I wonder if the people comparing learning an instrument and video games have played Nethack, Dark Souls or even Super Meat Boy.
    – ojs
    Jan 31 at 13:55

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