Contented Reader

just point me toward the nearest library

How reading words is like reading music

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I play piano, sort of, and I can read music.  When I say “I can read music,” I don’t mean that, if you give me a piece of sheet music and sit me in front of an audience, I will be able to competently perform it.  No, I mean that, the first time I see the music, I will be able to pick out the melody, slowly and awkwardly, and get a sense of what it is supposed to sound like.  And if you give me some time to practice, I can use the printed score to play the music over and over again, over a period of time, and improve each time, until, at last, I can play the music the way it ought to sound, and be pleased with it.

This process of going from haltingly picking out the music to mastering it is the pleasure of playing piano.  If I choose very, very simple music, the kind written for children, I can play it easily on first sight.  But it isn’t any fun to do that.  That’s why I seek out music that’s on my level- not so easy that I can play it with no practice, and not so difficult that I have to struggle long and hard for each note.

Everyone knows that about music, don’t they?  Certainly everyone who sings or plays an instrument at any level, from the novice to the professional, knows it, but even among people who don’t make music, most people know that the ability to read music isn’t an absolute, but something that people do through practice and effort.  Most people know that most people don’t play perfectly on their first reading of music, and most people respect the effort that goes into reading music in a way that results in beautiful music.

But that breaks down when you talk about reading words.

My experience is that reading books is much the same as reading music.  Yes, I can pick up a children’s book and understand it fully on the first reading.  But I seek out books that are on my level, neither so easy that I can know everything there is to know about them with half an hour’s reading, nor so difficult that every sentence is a struggle, but books that I can read again and again, each time mastering more of the meaning that is in them, until at last, after years or decades of re-reading over time, I feel that I understand the book.

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people understood and respected that process?  Maybe. But even if other people are blind to the process of increasing understanding and wisdom by re-reading good books, I can still gain wisdom from the process.  Reading is an art that doesn’t require an audience, or even benefit from an audience.

Do you know… I also play piano just for myself, and not for an audience.


Written by Contented Reader

August 14, 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in Opinions


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