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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Players who don't read music


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steve davis - Posted - 11/29/2014:  19:20:49


I like to listen to lots of Tommy Emmanuel and just heard him say he doesn't read music...all ear.Does my heart good to hear that.



What other fine musicians don't read music?



Edited by - Bill Rogers on 11/30/2014 01:44:51

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 11/29/2014:  19:44:46


IMO it's much more important to know theory than to read music, from knowing the 3 chords in the key, etc........................



In 50 years of playing the only time I needed to read music is in BIG BAND or MUSICALS.


banjoracle - Posted - 11/29/2014:  20:03:38


I've heard that Django Reinhardt didn't read music.

Jim Yates - Posted - 11/29/2014:  20:39:06


Errol Garner, who "wrote" Misty didn't read or write music (which is why I put "wrote" in quotes).



I don't think reading music will hurt your playing or musicianship though.  I enjoy arranging original or traditional songs/tunes for two or more instruments.  Some of these will not sound good if players improvise, since the parts are written to be played together.  Because of this, it helps if the musicians are readers.  Granted, there are some (probably Tommy Emanuel) who could hear their part played a couple of times and could duplicate it.



Since I'm not a prolific composer, I need other sources for music.  One of these sources is a pile of fiddle tune books which have some super (and not so super) traditional fiddle tunes, many of which get far too little exposure.  If I didn't read music, these tunes would be lost to me.



Edited by - Jim Yates on 11/29/2014 20:40:01

MrManners - Posted - 11/29/2014:  20:47:46


a lot of good ones on either side,

MOUNTAIN GOAT - Posted - 11/29/2014:  21:11:59


Tommy is incredible. No matter how he does it, just amazing. And a goof to boot.

darryl k. - Posted - 11/29/2014:  22:23:27


I heard Bella Fleck say once (or maybe I read an interview) that he doesn't read music !

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/30/2014:  01:43:13


Bela reads, but not fluently from what I've read.  The most obvious non-reading musicians are the blind ones.  Players like Doc Watson and Michael Cleveland always astonish me....I moved this topic to a more appropriate forum.



Edited by - Bill Rogers on 11/30/2014 01:44:29

steve davis - Posted - 11/30/2014:  05:26:53


I can read enough to figure out the notes,but ear and tab are much easier to get right to the heart of the matter,imo.


MrManners - Posted - 11/30/2014:  07:30:55


reading helps me learn from people that hear better than me

MrManners - Posted - 11/30/2014:  07:36:03


you can google folks that don't read and get quiet a few surprises


tokarev_99 - Posted - 11/30/2014:  07:56:38


We have to understand what "he doesn't read music" really means...



I explain...



if you ask me if I read music... I'll answer "No I can't read music at all"... cause I'm not able to play an instrument following a score in real time...



... but I know exactly what there's written...



I suppose that many of the ones saying they "don't read music" don't mean they "ignore musical notation at all"


MrManners - Posted - 11/30/2014:  07:59:22


it could mean either way



i read. but i don't sight read



Edited by - MrManners on 11/30/2014 08:11:20

steve davis - Posted - 11/30/2014:  08:34:29


My Dad couldn't read music but played great pedal steel and was very comfortable with banjo and guitar.He could get a passable tune out of anything after he figured out how it worked.



Lots of "ear only" players around here.


leadbelly - Posted - 11/30/2014:  08:55:50


When I started playing guitar around 1962 there were no written arrangements, tabulature or instruction books relating to old time fingerpicking, Maybelle Carter thumb brush, bluegrass flat picked accompaniment, or any other traditional style. If you tried to take lessons all you were likely to get was a Mel Bay big band jazz or Tin Pan Alley "standards" approach. By the time such things DID become available, I had become so used to playing by ear that trying to relate marks on paper to sounds coming out of the guitar was like trying to interpret dolphin squeaks. Most people who learned to play our kind of music prior to the seventies are probably in the same boat if they started directly with "folk" music. To this day, the only people I know who can sight read started as kids with piano lessons or the school orchestra, not fretted instruments.

steve davis - Posted - 11/30/2014:  10:16:36


I do pretty good sight reading tab once I find my workable speed.


arnie fleischer - Posted - 11/30/2014:  10:57:22


Mike Cleveland is truly amazing, but I think he had classical training when he was very young.



I pretty sure Doyle Lawson doesn't read standard notation.



I can play a song from standard notation (3 years of piano lessons as a kid), but I know people who are able to look at a score and hum the written melody.  I can't do that.



I work out everything by ear although when I learned "Mr. Sandman" and "Sleigh Ride" I got the sheet music and then transposed the songs from whatever keys they were written in to G. 


steve davis - Posted - 11/30/2014:  11:56:06


I tried to learn Huckleberry HP by ear,but couldn't keep the parts in the right order.



Finding Alan Munde's tab in Frets magazine put me on the right road.I've taken sheet music to a piano player and then learned what he or she was playing by ear.


Scaggs7 - Posted - 11/30/2014:  14:38:48


I don't read

MrManners - Posted - 11/30/2014:  15:34:21


steve ,i think if you read you would enjoy,checking out old songs and things ,it really is about the same as reading a tape measure.You don't have to take it much further.It is handy .Nowdays you can find so much for free on the net.Of course you don't have to get into the zillion theories that get thrown along with it ,since you already play.

Tom Berghan - Posted - 11/30/2014:  16:02:29


I read but I don't read. 



When I am playing baroque music on lute (another love of mine), I read.



If I am playing bluegrass or old time I do not read. And I don't use tab either. I can read tab and read it well but I NEVER use notation or tab when I play banjo because I think it sounds horrible. This is improvisatory music. For a die hard trad bluegrass fan my personal opinion is that one will never get that freewheeling off the cuff improv sound that Earl or Don had by reading. It has to be spontaneous. I did not say do not practice!  One has to practice hours everyday to execute like that and to be spontaneous like that. 



I do use chord charts when I am on a song that I am unfamiliar with. I do read fiddle tunes to get the tune. Then after I have it in my head I do not refer to the notation again. 



Reading has its place and NOT reading has its place!


banjobilly32 - Posted - 11/30/2014:  16:55:01


I read an interview with Chet Atkins where he was asked if he could read music?  He replied not well enough to hurt his playing!



 



Roy Clark said it best.  In music it boils down to how much "it" you have. You either have "it", or you don't.    He then explained he's had people tell him he was full of "it".



 


John Gribble - Posted - 11/30/2014:  17:15:12


quote:

Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Bela reads, but not fluently from what I've read.  The most obvious non-reading musicians are the blind ones.  Players like Doc Watson and Michael Cleveland always astonish me....I moved this topic to a more appropriate forum.




 



 



But Braille was originally developed as a music-notation system for the blind. So it goes both ways. 



Often people who say they "don't" or "can't" read music actually do know how, but their skills aren't very good. Merle Travis was like that. He knew where the notes were on the staff and on the guitar but it was a really slow process for him to get through a melody line from the sheet music. 



Sight-reading, that is, being able to read a score and  play it up to passable speed with little or no practice, is a special skill, one that needs work to master and practice to keep up. At one time I was OK at it on guitar, but I haven't kept it up. These days, I can "plunk" my way through a piece on any of the instruments I play but it ain't pretty. 



I got my basic sight-reading skills on guitar down in about a month, working at it a half hour a day. I played a page or two out of the Cole "1000 Fiddle Tunes" book without trying to master any of the tunes, just muscling my way through each tune once or twice and then moving on to the next one. 



I can read notes, I can read tab, my ear's pretty good, and I can figure stuff out watching others. I'm glad to have all those ways to learn. 


Banjophobic - Posted - 11/30/2014:  17:19:46


In the world of great musicians, in all genres, you will find a vast majority of them either can't read at all, or read but cannot sight read. I would venture to say most can't read a note.


Paul R - Posted - 11/30/2014:  17:29:35


quote:

Originally posted by steve davis

What other fine musicians don't read music?







Geez, Steve, that question disqualifies me! (But it won't stop me.)



I don't read music outright, but, in decades of playing music at mass, I could read a song after hearing it. Reading tab isn't a problem.



The interesting (for me) part of reading music is following the italicized notations above the staff, giving the dynamics of the tune.


mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 11/30/2014:  18:21:32


quote:

Originally posted by arnie fleischer

Mike Cleveland is truly amazing, but I think he had classical training when he was very young.




I pretty sure Doyle Lawson doesn't read standard notation.




I can play a song from standard notation (3 years of piano lessons as a kid), but I know people who are able to look at a score and hum the written melody.  I can't do that.




I work out everything by ear although when I learned "Mr. Sandman" and "Sleigh Ride" I got the sheet music and then transposed the songs from whatever keys they were written in to G. 







I was at recording a session with Michael Cleveland and someone said what key the song, which no one had heard before, was in and started saying the chord progression to him and he went off saying "You know I don't like to hear that stuff, let's just go!" He proceeded to make everybody drool over his improvisations, he's like a fiddler from outer space.


1fiddle2play - Posted - 11/30/2014:  22:19:00


I played in school band and orchestra with trumpet and French horn. I could sight read as we are expected too while playing. Right up through college, but it was not kept up and very rusty now at it. Knowing the tune in ur head is great too. In band we practiced songs so much that we did not have to really look at the sheet music before us. We just knew it by then as other players who don't read. Playing by memory is the most fun which non readers do. Bluegrass music has very predictable directions in it musical flow so much so that I can back up a singer to a song that iv never heard before and after just a few bars of the song I can usually with ease follow the song and take the first break when it comes up.

steve davis - Posted - 12/01/2014:  04:47:28


If you spend enough time at it you can get good at anything.


pickNgrin - Posted - 12/01/2014:  05:47:40


I used to be able to read music very well and sight read relatively simple things. But I have lost the ability through lack of use.



I am not surprised by musicians who don't read music, but rather by accomplished musicians (mainly classical) who are lost unless there is a sheet of paper in front of them.



Edited by - pickNgrin on 12/01/2014 05:51:32

steve davis - Posted - 12/01/2014:  06:19:58


My Mom was so fluent at sight reading on piano and so lost without the music in front of her.



Dad only played by ear and would often needle her about needing the sheet music to play,but we played a lot of music together,anyway.


MrManners - Posted - 12/01/2014:  06:24:48


i have had folks visit that could sight read unknown fiddle tunes fairly fast ,but not much emphasis.impressive though.I tend to think some instruments are more friendly for this.Melodic banjo would be difficult,especially above 120 bpm, imo

steve davis - Posted - 12/01/2014:  06:31:41


I love taking the notation of a fiddle tune I want to learn and having a piano player play it while I follow him.


Kenneth Logsdon - Posted - 12/01/2014:  07:05:07


Trying to read music and actually play banjo would be like having to read everything you speak...

tokarev_99 - Posted - 12/01/2014:  07:25:42


I Think Knowledge of Music notation il useful both You Read or Not.
For example it allowed me To Learn songs I never heard. In addition it's IMHO The Best Way To write annotations that most of musicians Can understand.

Tom Berghan - Posted - 12/01/2014:  08:36:47


The original post referenced Tommy Emmanuel.  I was not previously familiar with Tommy, but I checked out a few videos on YouTube. (very good!)



Tommy uses a lot of extended harmonies and substitution harmonies and although he may not read, his understanding of music theory is obviously at a very high level (as was that of jazz pianist Errol Garner mentioned above).



To not read is simply like saying one cannot read the written word, which in no way negates the possibility that they are none-the-less very educated with a wide vocabulary and excellent oration skills.  Tommy is obviously one such musician, and over the span of my life I have met many such musicians, who do not read as well as I read, but who have a technical understanding much higher than mine!  Ergo, I do not find Tommy's statement that he cannot read all that surprising.  He composes, and his music is documented via sound recordings . . . but he does not compose to the written page with the objective that future musicians will play his compositions note for note.



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 



 


steve davis - Posted - 12/01/2014:  09:59:50


Tommy plays by ear and constructs what sounds good.Pretty simple not to read music and do that.



I bet he has a great understanding of chords.He may know nothing of theory,but simply have a truckload of experience(what sounded good yesterday) to call on.



It's perfectly fine not to read music and play real good.



 



Edited by - steve davis on 12/01/2014 10:03:29

spoonfed - Posted - 12/01/2014:  11:52:29


the Beatles could not read a note between them but, they wrote some of the best melodies of the 20th century !


rockyisland - Posted - 12/01/2014:  13:11:27


Vassar Clements. Also the BeeGees (I remember that from reading internet posts about a lawsuit concerning the authorship of "How Deep is Your Love").

Tom Berghan - Posted - 12/01/2014:  19:25:01


I hope everyone realizes that being musically literate (able to read and write music) has NOTHING to do with being knowledgeable about music. One can have (and many do) have a deep knowledge of music theory, chords, counterpoint, modulation, and on and on and not able to sight read even very simple melodies. Reading is not an indication of understanding, technical ability, or education. 



I am sure all of you know many people who can read words but are not what you especially consider well educated. And perhaps you have met people Who cannot read but can repair complex machinery or have the ability to retain vast sums of information. It is not different for musicians. Reading is just a tool. A good tool - but one needs a LOT more than being able to read. 


Paul R - Posted - 12/01/2014:  21:37:11


quote:

Originally posted by pickNgrin

I used to be able to read music very well and sight read relatively simple things. But I have lost the ability through lack of use.




I am not surprised by musicians who don't read music, but rather by accomplished musicians (mainly classical) who are lost unless there is a sheet of paper in front of them.







I'd suspect that truly accomplished classical musicians (such as members of major symphony orchestras) can swing pretty well without sheet music. I think we stereotype them as being one-dimensional.



And I doubt you've lost the ability to read music - it ought to come back with practice, should you feel the need.


steve davis - Posted - 12/02/2014:  05:49:58


Good ear players have a good musical memory to draw on.


Banjophobic - Posted - 12/02/2014:  06:39:49


quote:

Originally posted by Paul R

quote:


Originally posted by pickNgrin

I used to be able to read music very well and sight read relatively simple things. But I have lost the ability through lack of use.




I am not surprised by musicians who don't read music, but rather by accomplished musicians (mainly classical) who are lost unless there is a sheet of paper in front of them.








I'd suspect that truly accomplished classical musicians (such as members of major symphony orchestras) can swing pretty well without sheet music. I think we stereotype them as being one-dimensional.




And I doubt you've lost the ability to read music - it ought to come back with practice, should you feel the need.







I do not  think Pickngrin is stereotyping all classical players. He is just saying he is surprised by someone who reads exceptionally well, but who is a 'slave to the staff'. As stated earlier in this thread, learning to read notation is not a golden ticket to being a great ear player.  smiley



Edited by - Banjophobic on 12/02/2014 06:40:23

steve davis - Posted - 12/02/2014:  06:57:06


I love how it is possible to play some of the best music on the planet and not know how to read music.



That just tickles me to no end.


Corwyn - Posted - 12/02/2014:  07:37:55


 



A musician who can't read/write music is in the same position as a story teller who can't read/write words.  Not hampered significantly in the direct performance of their craft, just unable to communicate with other artists in many ways.  Not exactly something to be proud of, IMHO.


spoonfed - Posted - 12/02/2014:  08:03:35


for what it is worth to this discussion, I have on at least four different occasions had to turn down musicians  from joining my touring band because they cannot play without the dots in front of them, making them unable to "play on the fly" which is an insuperable handicap when audiences ask for requests and, makes learning new tunes tough without written notation in rehearsal situations, at least two of them were accredited "grade 8 " music teachers ! one of my biggest no no's  being that I will not tolerate sheet music propped up on music stands on stage with players glued to the spot staring at them, for my way of working these music stands represent a huge barrier between band and audience !


Laurence Diehl - Posted - 12/02/2014:  08:43:12


Except for learning melodies to songs or fiddle tunes, I just don't see the need to sight read for our kind of music. Can you imagine a Scruggs solo notated out, with every filler roll included - that would really take away from the improvisational nature of this music. Likewise, melodic style would be a bit weird with so many different places to fret the same note. Whether reading becomes a crutch or not might be a separate discussion. I often see jazz players locked in to their chord charts and I often wonder - wouldn't it be better to just memorize those changes? I guess I am a big proponent of playing by ear, but I wouldn't want to reject reading music as it is a useful tool to have available to you.


mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 12/02/2014:  09:30:19


quote:

Originally posted by Laurence Diehl

Except for learning melodies to songs or fiddle tunes, I just don't see the need to sight read for our kind of music. Can you imagine a Scruggs solo notated out, with every filler roll included - that would really take away from the improvisational nature of this music. Likewise, melodic style would be a bit weird with so many different places to fret the same note. Whether reading becomes a crutch or not might be a separate discussion. I often see jazz players locked in to their chord charts and I often wonder - wouldn't it be better to just memorize those changes? I guess I am a big proponent of playing by ear, but I wouldn't want to reject reading music as it is a useful tool to have available to you.







Here's all of Down the Road in standard notation, yuch!!!!



Rawhide Creek - Posted - 12/02/2014:  09:39:10


quote:

Originally posted by Paul R

quote:


Originally posted by pickNgrin

I used to be able to read music very well and sight read relatively simple things. But I have lost the ability through lack of use.




I am not surprised by musicians who don't read music, but rather by accomplished musicians (mainly classical) who are lost unless there is a sheet of paper in front of them.








I'd suspect that truly accomplished classical musicians (such as members of major symphony orchestras) can swing pretty well without sheet music. I think we stereotype them as being one-dimensional.




And I doubt you've lost the ability to read music - it ought to come back with practice, should you feel the need.







lot of us who are classically trained can improvise rather well.  For soloists, this is where (and why) cadenzas originated!--and many of us can still extemporize a cadenza.



A respectable number of us can transpose on the fly, too.



Edited by - Rawhide Creek on 12/02/2014 09:48:11

Rawhide Creek - Posted - 12/02/2014:  09:52:42


quote:

Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

quote:


Originally posted by Laurence Diehl

Except for learning melodies to songs or fiddle tunes, I just don't see the need to sight read for our kind of music. Can you imagine a Scruggs solo notated out, with every filler roll included - that would really take away from the improvisational nature of this music. Likewise, melodic style would be a bit weird with so many different places to fret the same note. Whether reading becomes a crutch or not might be a separate discussion. I often see jazz players locked in to their chord charts and I often wonder - wouldn't it be better to just memorize those changes? I guess I am a big proponent of playing by ear, but I wouldn't want to reject reading music as it is a useful tool to have available to you.








Here's all of Down the Road in standard notation, yuch!!!!







But sitting here, alone, in my living room, I can read that PDF and hear the music in my head!



I've been reading music for so long (almost as long as I've been reading print) that I absolutely cannot imagine being unable to do so.



Edited by - Rawhide Creek on 12/02/2014 10:06:06

steve davis - Posted - 12/02/2014:  10:11:50


quote:

Originally posted by Corwyn

 




A musician who can't read/write music is in the same position as a story teller who can't read/write words.  Not hampered significantly in the direct performance of their craft, just unable to communicate with other artists in many ways.  Not exactly something to be proud of, IMHO.







I think Mr. Emmanuel has plenty to be proud of.



What's the importance of communicating in formal musicspeak if you already play brilliantly?I don't think Tommy has any problems communicating with other musicians.The instrument does the talking,don't it?



I have no problem communicating enough to sit in with all kinds of different musicians and no problem communicating with recording engineers.That covers it for me.



Edited by - steve davis on 12/02/2014 10:16:18

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