At home I use sheet music to learn tunes or maybe give me ideas for tunes to learn. On a gig I will play the tunes pretty much by ear using my own arrangements. I improvise, in that sometimes I will play things a bit differently or reharmonize the tune on the fly (if I am having a good day!) but I won’t be sitting there playing randomly, everything will be based on something that i’ve played before.
I don’t recommend relying on sheet music at gigs. Bad things can happen to sheet music, it can blow away or fall off the stand or something. Also it places a barrier between you and the audience which is not a great thing, even when doing background music gigs.
Both! I’ve learned to my sorrow that if I don’t haul around the music for the stuff I play from memory, it goes something like this: forget to play memorized piece on gig, forget to play it again at next gig, eventually forget I know how to play that piece.
Fortunately, the ipad is very helpful for that sort of thing–just seeing a title in my song list reminds me to play it.
Also, while I’m sure others here are probably better at that sort of thing, when guests at a party want to sing something in a key I don’t normally do, I’m no good at all at transposing with nothing in front of me.
….. it all depends. I happen to memorize everything, but that may have evolved having had issues with my eyes all my life. But, when playing background music (which I mostly do for a living), I’ve always got three or four new songs on my music stand that I am in the process of memorizing.
So, it all depends on the way your brain and eyes are wired. There is nothing wrong with playing from music for background, but it is better to be free and make eye contact and gestures with your audience. I do draw the line with someone flipping from page to page in a fake book…. that is really bad show…
Also, I also don’t like soloists reading music on stage. I heard a great harpist this past summer doing that, so I closed my eyes to hear her beautiful not to be distracted by her reading music in a concert setting…..