The short answer is, yes! While we will definitely dive deeper into this subject in this article, reading and writing music is not necessarily a requirement to be a musician – although the type of music and what you’re looking to get out of your musical experience are important factors.
There are many styles of music in which people don’t read music at all and they can still be very successful. A lot of folk music and rock music is composed and played without the need to write or read music in a traditional way and it doesn’t hurt the overall experience.
With the advent of technology there are tools that have been developed for composers who don’t necessarily write things down. For example, when someone is scoring music for film or TV it might not require writing any music down. A musician could use a keyboard connected to a computer to simply improvise music and play any instrument sounds imaginable with certain programs. They might even use sound design elements that are incorporated into their music that aren’t even musical instruments at all – which would make it impossible to write down “notes” for something like that.
Sequencing programs on computers allow you to plug a keyboard in and they will record everything you play. Whether you are playing with a piano sound or different instruments, everything is recorded in a raw format that allows you to revisit it later and change the sound, instruments, or even the notes however you want. You can achieve all this without knowing how to read music. It can definitely be helpful in the editing process to use notation, however, there are other ways of dealing with notes such as piano roll representations which can be manipulated on the computer screen.
There are some limitations to composing without knowing how to read a score for certain types of production. For example, if you want to add acoustic instrument tracks to your score, being able to flesh out a part, put it on staff paper and having a professional musician come in and record that part would be much more time consuming without the ability to work with musical notation. However, there are workarounds even for this, such as recording the part on a keyboard and having someone learn it from the recording – or having someone transcribe the part to written form for you.
Another possibility is using shortcut notation – such as lead sheets. In Jazz and other improvised styles of music, lead sheets are how musicians generally communicate with each other.
The further your progress in your music, the more important learning how to read and write music may become. It’s not a necessity to get started but it can open up possibilities for your musical creations and collaborations.
I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.