30. A Coach, a Map, and a Compass
The reading of a music text is based on the knowledge of the organization of sounds in a system. Knowledge of this system is just as important in music as knowing the multiplication table is in mathematics.
Speech is the most natural focal point for the understanding of the system of music sounds. Giving each sound a name, we rely on speech and articulation to familiarize ourselves with the relationships between pitches. Simply speaking, at first we should memorize the names of the sounds. Playing them and singing them aloud, we adhere their names to their absolute pitch.
After learning the sequences of notes one way and the other, one step at a time, skipping steps, and skipping two steps, we look upon the Grand Staff with different eyes. It is no longer splattered with various notes on lines and on spaces. We see it as the framework of the entire system, where each note can easily be found so long as you know the rules. Seeing a note, we find its tonal equivalent in a fraction of a second, regardless of whether the melody is moving up or down, whether it is smooth or jumpy.
In such a music staff, it is just as comfortable to find things as it is at home, where everything is familiar even in the shadows. A systematic perception of notes is the single path to competent sight-reading. Seeing how it all is built, a person can easily understand the world of music. The music language becomes a part of one’s daily creative thoughts.
The music alphabet is especially important for playing the piano. The keys follow the very same system of music. Outside of the system, they seem to be “unknown space,” where it is dangerous to be because of its unpredictability. I still remember that tension and inner fear – what if I press the wrong key? This didn’t just interfere with practice; it made it impossible to think about music at all. Don’t assume that this is an exaggeration. We know that the fear of making a wrong step hinders the movement of a person. Playing on the piano involves the coordination of our 10 fingers in a vast auditory space, separated into thin, multiple pieces. The fear of falling into the wrong place is the main cause of the clenching up of hands. The space will only become yours when you know precisely where you are and what is around you.
Constantly practicing a bunch of works, etudes and exercises, and especially scales, learning harmony and Solfeggio, professional musicians usually work out the Music Alphabet on their own. Yet I am sure that one’s music education should start precisely from the alphabet. Only then will all students understand how the system of music is built, and will easily learn the language of music.