Music is not notes on a page. Over the years, I've met so many people who had that evil piano teacher. You've heard of her. She's German with blue hair and she insists her students learn to READ before they do anything. It says so in the piano book, so it must be right! Right?
Don't get ME wrong. Reading is important in some situations but it's only one small piece of an enormous pie. I just read The Music Lesson by virtuoso Bassist Victor Wooten. In his book he says that there are 10 elements of music:
Nowhere in this list does he mention reading. Reading is discussed in the book, but it's not the book's main focus. Wooten compares learning music to learning one's native tongue. When we learn our native language do we learn to read before we can speak? Of course not. So why is it that so many music teachers and method books still want to teach students to read at the very beginning? At this time I have no idea. I'll be exploring it later.
I've also met so many musicians who can't really play anything unless they have a page of printed music in front of them. Ask them to improvise over a chord progression and most of them can't do it. Have you ever met someone who can't offer anything to a conversation that isn't written down on a page?
When we speak, most of the time we're improvising or jamming. Victor Wooten says that we learn how to speak by "jamming" with all the language masters around us. We make tons of mistakes, but the masters gently correct us while making us feel comfortable. We learn to read later when it's appropriate.
Most musicians I've met fall into 2 categories: Those Who Can Jam and can't read so well (if at all) and Those Who Can't Jam and can read well. It's much easier to teach a student how to read if they already can jam. It's very difficult to teach someone how to Jam who has had years of reading drilled into them.
As music teachers we must realize that music is a language and as such mirrors our spoken languages. Why not teach them in the same way?