Music reading is a complex subskill of musical per-
formance that is learned through explicit tutoring. It
includes both the basic skill of deciphering musical no-
tation and the advanced skill of reading and perform-
ing a score in a musical context.
Not all musicians are music readers; some popular musicians,
for instance, may well sustain lifetime careers in
music without being able to read music. However, scores
are the universal means of communication between
composers and performers of classical music. Performing
in professional musical circles requires the mastering of
Music reading differs from text reading in a number of important ways. As characterized by Sloboda (1980), music differs from text reading both in spatial demands
and constraints and in temporal demands and constraints.
Whereas text reading proceeds sequentially (i.e., hori-
zontally) music reading proceeds both sequentially and
simultaneously (i.e., vertically). Unlike text reading, mu-
sic reading involves the decoding of single elements in
sequence (notes) and elements in combination (chords).
Moreover, unlike text reading, music reading involves
decoding the vertical dimension over time. Changes in
vertical distance and direction of the elements indicate
pitch changes; there is no parallel involvement of vertical direction and distance in text reading. Another critical dif-
ference concerns pace. Unlike text reading, the notation
of a musical score contains information about duration
that must be decoded to realize the music as the com-
poser intended; text reading has no such information or
constraints on pace to derive the meaning intended by the
Music-reading deﬁciencies and the brain
Sylvie Hébert and Lola L. Cuddy École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie, Université de Montréal Department of Psychology, Queen’s University 2006
Music an art form whose medium is sound.