If you love music and you want to participate in it’s making, then make the effort to learn to read music, at least to a basic level. I come across many singing students who can’t read music and believe it to be too time consuming and difficult to learn. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t know how they come to that conclusion. It’s a very easy and logical language to learn, and there are many and varied tools available to help you. One method that I recommend to all my students is the “Essential Music Theory” course by Gordon Spearritt. It’s extremely well devised and you can work through on your own without any problems. It’s available in most music stores in Australia, or easily found online. You can also find online courses for free, or some for a small fee, and there are phone apps and computer programs available to help you as well. It’s fun and empowering to discover how quickly you can get the basics down and immediately apply them to the task of learning new songs. You don’t have to go into advanced music theory unless you’re interested, as the basics are all you need to get you going well enough.
Another area of musicianship that is a valuable skill is the ability to sight read. The best way to learn to sight read is to do it, so once you have enough basic skills to confidently read music, try sight reading a different song every day. You only need to spend 20 minutes a day at this task, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your skill improves if you keep it up.
When I started my professional singing career in 1978 as a member of The Leonine Consort, I was a good enough musician, but I couldn’t sight read very well. I’d never sung choral music, so I was thrown in very much at the deep end and received a nasty shock when I realized how hopeless I was compared to the other members of the group. On the first day of rehearsals we started with Britten’s 5 Flower Songs, which are horribly difficult to sight read, and I was totally at sea. Spurred on by my embarrassment, I studied all the repertoire I was given at home in the evenings and made rapid improvement. After 6 months of this I could read anything that was put in front of me, and my sense of competence was thankfully back again. This has stood me in good stead for my entire career, given me confidence that I could learn anything, no matter how difficult the music, and also given me the reputation of being a reliable and good musician; an accolade not often associated with singers.
To reiterate: it’s not difficult, so get stuck into it today!