Musicians’ views on the role of reading music in learning, performance, and understanding

Yuko Arthurs, Karin Petrini

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Reading music notation is not an easy skill to acquire and can take years of training to master. In addition, it is not strictly necessary to be able to read music to make music. Nevertheless, music teaching and learning in the West has traditionally centered around the skill of reading music. This study explored participants’ reasons for learning to read music and the reported benefits of this skill for musical activities. We developed an online questionnaire with open-ended questions to gather the views of 64 people, both music readers and non-readers, on their musical activities using or not using notated scores. Their responses were analyzed thematically. The analysis showed that participants believe that learning and engaging with music notation adds to their multisensory experience of music involving vision, sound, and action; that, compared to learning by ear, the visual aspects of notation support the quick learning and improved theoretical understanding of a musical work: and that the skill of reading music is valuable in the context of group music making. They also believe, however, that notation can inhibit expressive performance or improvisation, and non-readers believe that sound technologies can be used as an alternative to notation. Finally, reading music was seen by readers, but not non-readers, as integral to playing an instrument. This may reflect differences between the practices and genres of music favored by the two groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number1
Early online date3 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2024


  • learning to play an instrument
  • multisensory links
  • musical communication
  • reflections on notation
  • theoretical understanding of music

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Music


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