Score Reading

Translating a traditional musical score; simplifying and understanding it.

Reading the score

Now I’m going to show you how to use a simple trick to make a music score readable
– and it’s a trick that every musician should know.
Like changing keys on a jammer, this trick is easier to do than it is to describe, so if you prefer to skip the description and theory part, just page down to Highlighting the Root Line. 


Jammer Navigation
The jammer key layout matches the way the ear hears music: there’s a root (key center) and associated notes; there’s a “secondary key center” called the dominant (and indeed it does sound like it dominates over the root) and it’s buddies; and the octave above the pattern repeats.
(I’ll get to the sub-dominant later).

Music often seems to do a little dance around the root, then tease one’s ear with a little dance around the dominant.


 How musical notes relate to the score.

First here’s how the piano, score and jammer notes inter-relate, shown above.

You can see that the white-keys-only keyboard came first, while the score, second, and the black keys (“accidentals” they labeled them – one can just hear the craggy old musicians’ contempt for these strange and exotic new notes dripping from the word) came last.

But the underlying pattern is totally simple: 3 root-key notes, then a jump to 4 dominant-key related notes.  This pattern is the same in all keys, it’s just the notation (and the keyboard) that makes it look hard; it hides the pattern.  

The "learn by rote" school of music

This notation forces musicians to play by rote, that is, to indicate the key is in G instead of saying the key is G, a mark that says “when you see a F in the score, play the F# just above. Only after  some music significant theory is the key known.  

Here you can see the pattern revealed. 


My friend MusicLearner has been writing about how to adapt a score to the same common notation and Jim Plamondon of thummer fame has suggested a better music score. This is a good approach for the future, but we still have to deal with the vast body of existing scores.



Highlighting the Root Line

So below I’ve shown how to markup a musical score for easy jammer playing, using only a ruler and a few highlighter pens of varying widths. I suggest you expand the picture for clarity.


Note - there is an error in the last score - the flat should be on B, not F

In effect this is a way to reveal the underlying structure; to convert it to standard notation.

Step 1) Naturally, you’ll first have to find your root. Count the flats/sharps in the score, and use the  playing-in-any-key technique.

Step 2) Mark the root with a squiggle.

Step 3) Highlight the root line and the 2 lines above it. Highlight all parts of the score you think helpful.

Step 4) look over the music, and visualize the fingering. Perhaps this will help:

Jammer Chord fingering examples

Do you need to always do this?

No, this is just a handy bridging technique, especially if you are playing just melody, you won’t need it for more than a month. It's still very handy when playing chords, as it shows where the line jumps are and tells you the chord shape, as shown here: (to be completed)