I’ve been looking at more non-computer related interests lately and came back to the idea of learning how to play the piano. It was something others in my family did when I was young but I never got around to myself. I vaguely remember getting frustrated as my mother tried to explain the difference between whole and half notes. I couldn’t get my head around it at the time without wanting to know exactly how long they lasted.
I’ve been thinking about going back to it for a few years now and I was tempted to just go ahead and buy an inexpensive keyboard but I have a habit of dabbling in things and then moving on. I’m trying to save money and reduce the clutter so I decided to get a book on music theory and see if I could finish that before getting the equipment.
Matthew Ellul‘s book How to Read Music in 30 Days is a well-reviewed selection that easily fit my budget. I checked it out after being disappointed by Music Theory for Dummies which I’d bought years ago. This is the first of two books in Ellul’s series on music theory and it’s a companion to his online courses. The book also has a support page on the author’s website with audio examples and answers to the exercises.
Overall, I was very impressed with this book. It’s divided into three parts focusing on rhythm, musical pitch and some of the finer points of musical notation. The lessons themselves are short and easily understood with questions and exercises at the end. Each lesson builds on the previous lessons as the material moves from the basics of rhythm to note values and meters and other topics.
The second part on musical pitch focuses on the piano keyboard with some references to guitar tunings and frets. If you don’t have an actual keyboard, OnlinePianist.com has an excellent online keyboard that will be helpful while going through some of these lessons.
My only complaint about the book has to do with the online site and that some of the answers to the book questions aren’t clearly marked, so it’s sometimes hard to check the answers.
Ironically, I feel like my computer programming background actually helped when I was working my way through the book. Music notation is, after all, a type of language that provides an instruction set for producing a musical result just as programming languages instruct the computer in how to carry out tasks. The math involved in timings, meters and individual notes still takes practice but it’s on par with much of the mental calculation I’ve had to do over the years when writing code.
The second book in the series deals with topics such as music scales and chords. I have to admit that by the time I got to Part 3 which shows some of the more advanced parts of music notation such as symbols for dynamics and articulation and tempo changes, I was realizing that I’m probably not going to commit to learning music at this time. I’m not saying I never will. I know I could still buy the keyboard and use the beginner tutorials to learn to play a few songs without actually reading sheet music but that’s not my style. If I’m going to do it, I want to commit to doing it right when I can work it into my schedule.
So, overall, I got what I needed – I’m happy to have learned something about the subject and I saved myself some cash on something I wasn’t ready for. When I am ready, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this book.