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What Does it Mean to Be Music Literate?

Updated July 19, 2017

Literacy is the ability to read. Music literacy is the ability to read music. Various levels of musical literacy range from a rudimentary understanding of the notes written on the bass and treble clef to the profound understanding of an expert like Bach.

Basic Music Literacy

In many schools throughout the world, children learn to read notes when they are very young. A child who masters this basic music education has achieved music literacy at its most introductory level.

Enhancing Music Literacy

Music literacy will decline if a person totally neglects music after leaving school. But practice enhances music literacy. Learning to play piano or some other musical instrument will result in a deeper understanding of music.

A Relative Term

Expert professional musicians who not only read notes but also understand musical form tend to think that those unable to do so are musically illiterate. Music literacy is a relative term. A person with moderate ability may be held in honour by the less gifted and despised as musically illiterate by experts in music.

Limitation of Concept

In some countries, capable music teachers cannot read music. But they teach well and play an instrument well. The concept of music literacy or illiteracy cannot be satisfactorily applied in such cases.

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