Peter appreciated the piece with the minor exception of the idea that he is not fond of reading music. He provided such an articulate written response that I thought I’d share it word for word. So here it is beginning with my attention-grabbing, but not totally accurate, lead sentence:
Dr. Banjo is not a big fan of reading music.
That's not exactly an accurate statement, though I can understand how someone would come away from my workshop thinking I think that!
I would love to be fluent at reading music, and I greatly admire musicians who can sight-read fluently. Classical music, big band music, and other wonderful styles fully and reasonably require sight-reading skills of their musicians.
But bluegrass music is played and communicated in a rather different way: Ear skills (like learning a song just by hearing it) are used constantly and are just as necessary for playing bluegrass as note-reading skills are necessary for playing classical music. Bluegrass is customarily learned only by ear -- although in the last few decades, tablature notation has been used extensively in bluegrass instruction books and teaching methods. Tablature is not a bad thing in itself, but using it to learn to play does not make sense to me any more than teaching a kid to speak English by putting a book in their crib.
I feel that reading tablature to learn the fundamentals of soloing, for example, is misguided. Finding melodies by ear is a skill to be cultivated and embellished, and that's what *all* accomplished players do rather than "looking it up in a book". While novice students can be shown how to reproduce someone else's solo by rote (reading the notes from a page), that is not how bluegrass players ever actually do it. So I try to discourage teachers of novices, and all new players, from using tablature as a principal way of learning, and instead to work on ear skills: finding melodies by ear, "hearing" chord changes, etc.
This type of experiential learning is exactly how people learn language as a child, and both the Suzuki Method and the Wernick Method depend on the human brain's ability to sort out sounds, make sense of them, and reproduce them to make music, similarly to the way we learn to understand and speak our native language.
When I'm challenged to learn something complicated that another banjo player has created and recorded, I'm grateful for the chance to see all the "how-to"s in tablature for their playing. So in those cases, I am appreciative, and yes, a "fan" of reading music. But for learning the basics of bluegrass, no, I'm not a fan.