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There are frequent posts and replies on this subject but I wonder about something. Are sight readers better at artistic expression? I think NOT. It might be the other way around. "Playing by ear" (whatever that is) doesn't need attention to the printed page or any other distractions. The focus is on the music. And, I guess that plain old memorization also works better for artistic expression.
I have to memorize something and check it out.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
IMHO if you don't have a piece memorized then you haven't made it your own and you are just a "machine" spitting out "information." That's why I prefer watching fiddlers do their stuff rather than seeing some classical performer on stage. Most people can play all the notes just fine (especially on youtube), but there is no feeling to their songs whatsoever. But the second you memorize the piece the feeling you have towards the song and how you feel at that moment in time will come out.
Undoubtedly Oliver. This topic about sheet music strikes a chord (no pun intended) with me because I discuss this with my friends all the time. I have one friend whose band got picked up for a couple million in Hollywood (don't worry, after taxes and lawyers and splitting up the money it isn't as much as you would think) and another friend who plays at bars on the weekends. I considered one of them an artist and one of them a performer. Listening/watching a performer is no fun to me, but being in the presence of an artist is.
We all see people play on youtube and for the most part we see performers. But every once in awhile we come across our favorite song and an actual artist is playing that song. The difference is night and day.
We all want to get a lot of songs under our belt so we can perform for others and impress them. I believe we should all slow down how many pieces we learn and not learn a new one until we have memorized the previous ones. I include myself in this category.
I personally think of reading score (or tab or any sort of reading) and playing by ear to just be ways of getting the notes of a song. One isn't inherently better than the other, and they are both useful and desirable skills. Which one will be more useful in a given situation depends on the situation. But when chosing which to learn, choose *both*, if possible.
However a person learns a song, I feel that it is when you know it "by heart" and can play it without score or without having just heard it, that is when you can start to really work on it. I don't think of that as being formal "memorization" so much as being like getting to know a song well enough to be able to sing or whistle it.
A thing I find useful with most pieces of music that are actually songs is to learn the lyrics. From the lyrics is where I get my phrasing, so I know where to articulate between notes and how long to hold a specific note. I play it like I would sing it, so there are some intentional variations in verses.
But back to the original point, I would agree that the emotion is the thing. Songs and pieces of music all say something, and I take some time and thought to try and play them in a manner that is consistent with the message, at least as well as I am able to understand it.
For example, "Taps" or "Si Bheag Si Mhor" are songs used to honour fallen warriors.. To do them as chipper dance tunes just wouldn't feel right to me. Part of being an artist is that a performer shows their sense of taste in the interpretation of a piece.
Just my 2 cents, your own mileage may vary. LOL
"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman
While I agree that a piece of music isn't truly 'expressed' until it is learned, memorized, and owned by the musician - the way one arrives at that point through either studying the notes or listening by ear has more to do with their individual learning style than anything...at least in my opinion. For instance, a more "right-brained" person is probably more likely to reach this 'ownership' point after taking in a piece by listening and repeating. A more "left-brained" individual will probably reach this point by careful study of the notes, expressions, and timings of the actual written notes. But, in the end, I think it's less about one being more artistic than the another since this is just a means towards reaching this point of 'owning' a piece of music. The method employed to get there just depends on the individual's learning style.
However, it occurs to me that virtuosos must have exceptional ability at memorizing music which to me suggests a link between memory and musical talent.
I like the separate ideas of repertoire plus performance which promotes the best of both worlds.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.