Reading or Listening
In this chapter, we discuss sight-reading, playing by ear, and recalling of memorized performance, because all three skills rely on our ability to store and retrieve information from memory, albeit in different ways. In classical music learning, reading music plays a role for sight-reading and provides a basis for acquiring new repertoire that will be performed from memory later. In jazz or popular music genres, as well as in most non-Western cultures, music is often handed down in oral traditions that by definition rely exclusively on memory.
Playing by ear and sight-reading both occur in the learning of a piece, whereas performance from memory follows later. Compared with sight-reading, playing from memory conjures for the listener the illusion that the performer owns the piece. Yet the demands with regard to perfection differ in many respects. When sight-reading, the musician can get away with some mistakes and a rather sketchy interpretation, whereas a memorized performance usually is note-perfect and conveys a unique interpretation. In sight-reading, which often takes place in the context of accompanying, the specific preparation for the performance is minimal, if not absent. Thus sight-reading happens “online,” a fact that the performer has to cope with by using appropriate strategies. In contrast, memorized performances are extensively rehearsed “offline,” allowing the performer more leisure to optimize the performance.
In Western music history, notation emerged with the advent of polyphony and the need for different singers or musicians to coordinate (see Sadie, 2001, “Notation”). Useful graphical representations of music have existed since antiquity and functioned as more or less precise memory cues. A common example may be tabulatures, that is, graphical notation that captures movements or hand positions and that were used for lute, guitar, or Chinese zither music. Our current music notation developed in the sixteenth century and was also used to