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Dot reader or Make-it-up merchant?

Taz

Busking Oracle
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3,623
Location
Rugby UK
Let me clarify that statement.
I was at a gig the other night, playing with a friends band. I was a guest appearance as was a blues harmonica player (he was awesome!) Anyway, we took it in turns to do solo's and on one piece we did a sort of "question and answer" thing. In other words, he played a bit and I copied it, then I played a bit and he copied mine.
I was gobsmacked, when a lady came up to me during the break and said that she really admired what I was doing, just playing whatever came into my head. She then dropped me in my tracks by telling me that she used to play alto with the Belgian National Orchestra (I hope I've got that right as I'd had a couple to drink) and could only play if she had the dots in front of her.
So this got me to thinking, how many people on this site either "Read the dots" or "Make it up" as you go?
 

jonf

Well-Known Member
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3,612
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Betelgeuse
Both. well, either is what I think I mean. I was first trained in the classical style on the clarinet, then got bored and picked up the sax and learnt to improvise. I'm not great on chord theory though, and can't handle all this augmented thirteenth with a flattened ninth cobblers. Don't know my myxolydian from my myxomatosis. Simple major and minor chords, pub rock style, no problem.
 

RedBottom

Member
Messages
191
I'm a dot reader and in the eyes of my band colleagues, a rather good one. They marvel at my ability to play a piece of music on sight with relative accuracy and very little panic - and some of them are very good improvisers. I think it's because, when I was learning clarinet, my teacher - a pit player - would plonk an unseen duet on the stand, tell me which part to play and then count me in and let me get on with it. If I stopped, he'd play on until the end, expecting me to catch up as and when, after which we'd dissect the piece and learn it properly. Good practice, I reckon.

As for making it up - I've tried, I really have. But I just can't get the hang of it. I understand a bit about chords, scales and keys but I can only 'do' them if I get a pencil and work them out, very slowly, note-by-note. I once went to a weekly jazz improv workshop run by my current MD. He's a great teacher and very patient, but there came a time, six weeks into the term, where I went home almost in tears because I just couldn't do it. In fact I was on the verge of never picking up the saxophone again.

Now I don't bother even trying, preferring instead to pride myself on my sight-reading ability.
 

wemeetagain

Member
Messages
91
Location
stratford on avon, warwickshire
I prefer improvising, its so fun and i always feel amazed that i just made something up! But saying this i do do a lot of 'dot reading' and a lot attempting to play transcribed solos, but a lot of the time after attempting to play the solo I then just end up improvising in that style! Similar to 'jonf' i learnt clarinet first got a bit bored of classical stuff so learnt sax and played jazz and improvised!
 

DaveW

Member
Messages
163
Location
Stockport, Cheshire
I suppose the other question to this is, how many can hum, whistle, sing, an improv on a tune they are listening to?

I suspect those of us who can 'only read dots' can't do an improv with voice which suggests we don't have the skill (or whatever) to improvise rather than being able to improvise in our head/voice but unable to translate that into note on the sax.
 

wemeetagain

Member
Messages
91
Location
stratford on avon, warwickshire
HAHA i do do that! i just think this song needs a sax! and then improvise a sax solo or sax part in my head or hum it! i just try not to get too many glares of disapproval in public :) I find the more music to listen to and the more solos you play the easier improvising becomes, if you 'can't' do it you just need practice!
 
OP
Taz

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,623
Location
Rugby UK
HAHA i do do that! i just think this song needs a sax! and then improvise a sax solo or sax part in my head or hum it! i just try not to get too many glares of disapproval in public :)
I do that all the time! The biggest look of disapproval is normally from the wife, and normally when I should be concentrating on "Does my bum look big in this?" type questions, especially when I've just created a great solo to some mundane tune, I'm really pleased with myself and answer rather mindlessly, "Of course dear, it looks big in everything!":blush:
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,406
Location
Daventry
Both, luckily. Learnt to read as a kid and Dad being a musician and a big modern jazz fan, I somehow never had a problem with improv. Quite often find myself noodling an improv in my head while driving - always a lot better than I can manage on the sax sadly. I don't get the technical theoretical stuff either - it's all seat-of-the-pants with me. Although I think I enjoy the challenge of reading more - banging out solos to the old standards is easy-peasy compared to some of the stuff I've got sitting on my music stand!
 

stefank

Member
Messages
368
Location
Hobart, Tasmania
I suspect those of us who can 'only read dots' can't do an improv with voice which suggests we don't have the skill (or whatever) to improvise rather than being able to improvise in our head/voice but unable to translate that into note on the sax.
No.

I've seemingly "always" been able to do what you describe, but it's only since I turned fifty (almost seven years ago) that I started to develop real confidence improvising on an instrument.

I was raised as a musical note reader, that's my home base, my comfort zone. One of my ploys to get away from this was to go and play in a band where it was not appropriate to be reading everything - so for the first few years I allowed myself only a list of song titles, keys and maybe some notes on structure. That worked.

(Plan B - imperfect memory results in improvisation!)

I think (as I have said elsewhere) that we use different parts of our brain when we read as opposed to playing aurally, and if you've neglected one it's just a matter of getting used to it (this is easier for some than others).

On a side note, it's interesting that for over thirty-five years now my braib no longer "stores" music it reads. If I want to remember a tune a need to play it without the dots in front of me, otherwise it just doesn't stick. I used to hate the times in choral rehearsals when the conductor would say "put down your scores", because if I was reading a part I was lost without it.
 

rudjarl

Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM
Messages
657
Location
Løten, Norway
I used to read dots when it needed to have a certain level of quality (like playing in public), and doodle along happily without when just for fun. Nowadays I seem to struggle whatever I do.
 

visionari1

Senior Member
Messages
1,606
Location
Out in the Countryside of Nelson NZ
I can do both however the best stuff is off the cuff, which means for me just doodling fliting between tunes I know and sort of make up.
Taz I think this is really common among classical players even very good one's, who are terrified of playing without the dots, which does make you stay in time, however then you are bound to what's written on the page. Playing between the dots is much more fun!

Ciao
Jimu
 

Nick Cook

Member
Messages
862
Location
Wokingham, Berks, UK
I read the dots. I've tried to improvise, but it just comes out as a tuneless jumble of notes. For the improvisation section of the ABRSM grades I've done, I've been heavily schooled by my teacher about what to play. Not that I've learnt it exactly, but approximately a sort of rythm and what notes to play - so perhaps I'm getting somewhere!!!
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
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4,416
Location
brighton by the sea
I can read dots but I'm never comfortable having to do it- always feels like work and detatches me from the act of playing and impairs my delivery....
 

Rogerb

Member
Messages
766
Location
Costa Blanca, Spain
Reading is still like trying to decipher Japanese, but there is just one tune which I play by ear differently every time ...probably because I know it so well that, whatever note I play, it just seems natural to 'know' what should, for me, follow it .... I guess that's 'improvising' ???
I hope you can understand that .....it's hard to explain, as I don't know quite how it works!
I certainly haven't a clue about 'music theory', and the more I read, the less I understand it ...there are just too many 'terms' and assumptions about 'prior knowledge'.... for a start I have always thought a 'chord' was a number of notes played simultaneously !!
(Please don't try to explain it!)

The problem I have with reading is that it demands that I do too many 'new' things at once .....it's counting which inevitably leads to 'overload'!! Too much multi-tasking for my old, male brain!!
 
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gladsaxisme

Try Hard Die Hard
Subscriber
Messages
3,357
Location
manchester
Oh now isn't this the crux of the whole music thing.How I envy those who can pick up a tune by ear, to just listen and work it out, I truly believe these people are musically gifted.

I have to have the dots or I can't get anywhere, but I can't do this counting notes business but rely on a natural sense of timing mainly by listening to other peoples renditions of the piece I'm learning.Having learnt the dots so I can play without them I can then shape the piece to my liking and even play it lots of different ways but always using the original notes without adding or taking away.

when I listen to the cd's that come with my music books I can mentally add notes to enhance the piece(sort of do do be do stuff) but I am totally unable to convert that to fingering the additional notes when playing the tune.

I quite often just play about with the sax kind of attempting to make up a tune as I go usually very loudly and brash and not very good but find improvising on a tune practically impossible

Here's something I have wanted to play unforgettable for some time but haven't been able to find the dots, so I thought it's not a complicated piece have a go at transposing it yourself,I can get about three notes then can't find the next one, and I'm not sure if I have started on the right note in the first place how bad is that I can only hope that somewhere along the road something is going to click and everything will fall into place.

In truth it doesn't really matter because I get so much enjoyment from playing my sax it is just part of the desire to improve
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Just north of Munich
My oldest, who'd had some of recorder lessons got hold of his first clarinet. Up till then he'd been playing real kiddy stuff on the recorder - not much more difficult than 3 blind mice. He started messing with the clarinet - no problems getting a note - and then started picking out March of the Toreadors from Carmen. He was 8 at the time. Wish I could do something like that. But it's coming - if the tune's in my head, I can play some of it given a starting note. I get fooled by the intervals sometimes. Especially unisons which sound as if there's movement.
 
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