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  #1  
Old 07-25-2010, 02:32 AM
Gus_Handsome Gus_Handsome is offline
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Are There Many Famous Musicians Who Can't Read Music?

I saw Sir Elton John in concert a few weeks ago and it got me wondering:

His band is so frikkin good, I'm thinking anyone who would play with such a big name must be trained, able to read music, and have a strong knowledge of theory etc.

This is my assumption.

Am I correct to assume the above or are there musician's out there who are self-taught, can't read a note, don't understand theory, and yet they are hugely successful on their own, or they play in a band for someone really famous.

I'd be curious to know some examples of really famous (current and past) musician's who made it big on natural talent alone, and yet couldn't read music or have the most basic understanding of music theory.

Thanks
Gus
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  #2  
Old 07-25-2010, 03:05 AM
usedtobe usedtobe is offline
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I have heard (no cite) that many of the "girl groups" of the early-mid 60's could not read music - someone would bang out ehr melody on the piano, and the "girls' would learn it by repetition.

Any/all blind musicians, obviously.
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Old 07-25-2010, 03:10 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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The Beatles couldn't read music.
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Old 07-25-2010, 03:11 AM
astro astro is online now
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Paul MCcartney

Jazz musicians who can't read music

Last edited by astro; 07-25-2010 at 03:13 AM..
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Old 07-25-2010, 03:13 AM
needscoffee needscoffee is offline
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The BeeGees
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Old 07-25-2010, 03:18 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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I have always had the impression that most rock musicians can't read music (from a stave), and don't know dick about musical theory. I do not in any way intend that be read a criticism of their musical talents.

Actually, most musicians throughout history have probably not been able to read music.

I know Paul McCartney has said that he deliberately avoided learning, as he was afraid it might interfere with his melodic creativity. (I guess his thinking was: it has been working well for me so far; I don't know why; so, better not mess with anything that might even possibly affect it.)

ETA: You don't necessarily need musical training to be good; what you do need, trained or not, is lots and lots of practicing.

Last edited by njtt; 07-25-2010 at 03:22 AM..
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Old 07-25-2010, 03:20 AM
astro astro is online now
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Pavarotti
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  #8  
Old 07-25-2010, 06:33 AM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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Going straight to the OP, I believe Elton John can't read music.
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Old 07-25-2010, 07:11 AM
BigT BigT is online now
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I don't think Pavarotti's manager is the best source to say he couldn't read music. He has high standards. It's possible that the tenor simply couldn't read music well.

And, yes, most pop musicians read chords, not music. This is especially apparent in most piano parts.
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Old 07-25-2010, 07:47 AM
gladtobeblazed gladtobeblazed is offline
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I heard that Metallica, aside from Cliff Burton, couldn't read music. I don't know if it's true or not.


But I suppose it depends on what you mean by "reading music": I'm a guitarist, I can fluently read tabulature, with rhythm markers above the tab. I struggle with the conventional musical notation. Most of the rock musicians I know have a very limited understanding of musical theory. They might know what a mixolydian mode sounds like, but not understand what makes it so.

IMHO, knowing what music should sound like, and understanding why it is that way, are two very different skills. One involves musical intuition, the other involves mental analysis.

I don't really think having a skill at one versus the other has anything to do with musical talent.

Last edited by gladtobeblazed; 07-25-2010 at 07:50 AM..
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  #11  
Old 07-25-2010, 08:50 AM
ianzin ianzin is offline
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In the classical music world, people are trained to read and write music using the traditional stave and dots. It's a thoroughly illogical and nonsensical system (e.g. pitch is conveyed analogously but duration is not) which is only the way it is because of centuries of traditions piled on top of one another.

In most fields of popular music, there is little emphasis placed on reading and writing music because it's simply an irrelevant skill. Nobody needs the stave and dots to create the music or to play it. Instead, everything is based on chords and standard chord progressions, plus an ability to play by ear and improvise within a given structure. For example, if you get a bunch of reasonably proficient rock musicians together, without any rehearsal or written music, and say 'Okay, this is a mid-tempo blues in E', they can happily play along for as long as they want, and it's fun. Of course, for a series of concerts with big money at stake, they would spend a month or so rehearsing so that they can really learn the set list and get the tunes sounding as good as possible.

I don't know anything about the people Elton John chooses to use, but it would be perfectly possible for him to work with a band not one of whom can read or write a note of music. He would be more likely to choose musicians who have the right technical ability and who seem to fit his style of music.
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Old 07-25-2010, 08:51 AM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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I've seen Elton interviewed and he mentioned his classical piano training. So, yes he can read music. Billy Joel is classically trained too.

I don't know if they actually use sheet music for their pop songs.

There are a lot of Rock and Country singers that play by ear or they use tabs.

Last edited by aceplace57; 07-25-2010 at 08:53 AM..
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  #13  
Old 07-25-2010, 08:57 AM
CateAyo CateAyo is offline
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The blues musician who can read music is the exception in my experience.
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Old 07-25-2010, 09:14 AM
Desert Nomad Desert Nomad is offline
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Yanni can't read it either.
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  #15  
Old 07-25-2010, 09:30 AM
Mk VII Mk VII is offline
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The dance band leader, Billy Cotton, couldn't read music; his son Billy Cotton jr. said that he "just used to stand in front of the band and wave his arms about".
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  #16  
Old 07-25-2010, 09:49 AM
Ximenean Ximenean is offline
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The one that blows my mind is Irving Berlin, obviously one of the greatest songwriters of the last century. Couldn't read music, and could only really play the piano in one key. He had a special transposing piano for different keys.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...did-he-compose
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Old 07-25-2010, 09:49 AM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Irving Berlin. Not only could he not read music, but he only used the black keys on the piano (this is very obvious in a lot of his music). When he got a song where he wanted it, he'd play it for his assistant, who tried out various chords for the notes. When she got the chord he wanted, she'd write it down and go to the next chord.
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Old 07-25-2010, 11:10 AM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Moving from GQ to CS. Also fixed typo in thread title.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator
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  #19  
Old 07-25-2010, 11:17 AM
Pyper Pyper is offline
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Back in high school, our marching band got booked to do a stunt on a radio show with Slash from Guns'n'Roses. The joke was that we would play some marching band classics (i.e. "Louie, Louie") and he would play along on his guitar. I was shocked, shocked, I tell you, to find out he could not read music and just played along by ear.
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Old 07-25-2010, 11:19 AM
Jet Jaguar Jet Jaguar is offline
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RE: Elton John, I recall hearing him comment in an interview on Letterman (about 4 or 5 years ago IIRC) that he used to be able to read music, but he's mostly forgotten since he hasn't actually used it in a long while. Now he uses chord charts but mostly plays by ear.

Does tablature count as reading music? There are plenty of guitarists that can read tab but not standard notation. A Lot of people dismiss tab as some modern invention of the internet, but it actually has a long tradition as well, dating back to the early Renaissance. Tab is more practical since the guitar fretboard isn't laid out in a linear fashion. The same note can be played in several different locations on the neck (for example, the note on the 6th string 10th fret is the same as the 5th string 5th fret, and the 4th string open), and it takes some of the guesswork out of the process.

Anyway, if by "read music" you mean "read standard notation", then it's been my experience that most guitarists can't read standard notation. The ones who can generally learned it on another instrument before they picked up guitar.
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  #21  
Old 07-25-2010, 12:05 PM
Sinisterniik Sinisterniik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ianzin View Post
In the classical music world, people are trained to read and write music using the traditional stave and dots. It's a thoroughly illogical and nonsensical system (e.g. pitch is conveyed analogously but duration is not) which is only the way it is because of centuries of traditions piled on top of one another.
I'm going to nitpick this a bit.

First of all, I disagree with the assertion that Western notation lacks duration. This was true during the earliest days of music notation, but we've had a universal means to notate duration for centuries now.

Further, not all classical musicians are trained to read and write music. Today that is mostly true (probably 99% or more professionals do, if I had to guess), but historically, many musicians did not. In particular, many Renaissance musicians learned everything by rote.

This is also ignoring some folks who are unable to read music notation, in particular the blind. There have been numerous famous blind classical musicians. For instance, blind organist Helmut Walcha recorded every one of Bach's organ works.

To address the OP, even today countless musicians don't read Western music notation (most of whom, I should add, do not play classical music ). I could follow suite with everyone else and name the many, many jazz/blues/popular musicians who do not read music. However, let me just say that in my professional experience MANY of the bands you're likely to hear playing at your local bar cannot read or write music (fluently). And sure enough some of these same folks will make it to the top of the charts.

What is being slightly obscured here is that there is more than one type of notation. I presume the OP is talking about modern western musical notation, but there are many other types of notation. For instance, if someone can read TAB, can they read music? It's a universal type of notation for stringed instruments. I would bet (again, this is nonscientific) that a majority of the folks who "can't read music" can read TAB notation. In my personal experience nearly every guitar player can read TAB.

For more examples of alternative musical notation, see Wikipedia's list.
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Old 07-25-2010, 01:18 PM
Jim's Son Jim's Son is offline
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I remember Bob Dylan being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame saying how it was a thrill because he couldn't read a note of music. Afterwards he requested that he be photographed with fellow inductee Dinah Shore, kissing he on her right cheek.

http://davidmcgough.com/photos.php?tags=7&start=21
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  #23  
Old 07-25-2010, 01:54 PM
Lamia Lamia is offline
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As others have said, it's quite common for professionals in the world of popular music to be unable to read music at all, or to read tabs but not standard musical notation. I suspect many popular singers cannot read any form of music at all and learn things totally by ear.

Pete Townshend of The Who has said that his father (himself a professional musician) had advised him early on that if he wanted to be a musician he'd better learn how to read music, but that he never took this advice. Townshend was the primary songwriter for The Who, and shared new songs with his bandmates via demo recordings. The other members of The Who would then work out their parts based on the demo. I believe bassist John Entwistle, who had some traditional training through playing horns in a youth orchestra as a kid, was the only member of the band who could read music. He did write out at least some of his compositions.

I can't cite a specific example, but I've heard stories about rock bands deciding to play a song in concert that they haven't done in a long time and having to quickly buy a copy of their own album before the show so they can hear how it goes. This doesn't necessarily mean that the band members couldn't read music, but it does indicate they don't travel with any sort of sheet music for their own songs.
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Old 07-25-2010, 02:09 PM
Ximenean Ximenean is offline
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Tab(lature) doesn't count because it doesn't include the time component of music (leaving aside the fact that about 95% of guitar tablature on the internet is inaccurate). A musical notation system needs to cover both pitch and time.

I sympathise with ianzin's view that the traditional system is not ideal, having ranted about it myself in the past, but I have come round to thinking that there is no good way of representing something on paper that has both spacial and temporal aspects, so we might as well stick with the established system. There are alternative musical notation systems out there, but none of them are dramatically easier to learn, because reading music from notation is just fundamentally difficult.
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Old 07-25-2010, 02:28 PM
F. U. Shakespeare F. U. Shakespeare is online now
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"Reading music" can mean different things to different people. Many people consider sight-reading - the ability to instantly convert the little 'golf clubs' to melody and rhythmn - the definition of reading music. Others might consider a good knowledge of theory to be 'reading music' - say the ability to name the notes of a V 13th chord in the key of Eb. I can do the latter, but I can't do the former. I know some very accomplished musicians in this same category.

Sight-reading is IMO a difficult skill to pick up (certainly for an adult) and has to offer a payoff that doesn't exist outside of classical music, big bands, session recording and a few other applications. Sight-reading also seems to be something you have to set out to do, whereas you can learn theory gradually over the years, from trying to sound out things (as I pretty much did).

Paul McCartney may not be able to sight-read, but before he starts playing on the first recording of 'Yesterday' (on the 'Anthology'), you can hear him tell George Martin that he's playing in the key of G, but since his guitar is tuned down two frets, he's "playing in F, and the chords are G, F#m, B7, Em"..., etc., (paraphrased from memory). To write a song like 'Yesterday', you need more than "three chords and the truth".
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  #26  
Old 07-25-2010, 02:41 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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I suspect that when rock musicians say they can't read music, most of them mean they can't currently read it well enough to sight-read songs. I say that because most kids with an interest in music these days either take band in school, or manage some private lessons along the way. And guitar magazines are filled with music theory and sheet music, as well as tablature.

And I sympathize with Elton John - when I took piano lessons I could read music and transfer it to the keyboard within the limits of what I had learned. Recently I sat down to play some of the songs I had learned - and was utterly lost. I can read the music, but I can't read it and find the notes on the keyboard fast enough to play along.

I think this is especially true of piano because of the need to read left and right hand parts at the same time. That makes it much more difficult than musical notation for say, a saxophone. I learned to sight-read music for my sax when I was in school, and when I picked up a sax 15 years later, I was surprised at how quickly I got back up to speed.

We're probably ready for a new form of music notation - one that is animated and provides tempo and other cues for the performance. For example, Rock Band 3 is transitioning to real instruments - it will have a real MIDI keyboard and a real Fender Squier Stratocaster instead of a plastic 5-button guitar. To support that, they've invented a form of tablature that notates the real guitar part in full detail, but which is animated and flies down the note track like the older versions of Rock Band. A player in that game will be able to plug his instrument into an amp, shut off the audio to the game, and use the game as a form of sheet music to learn songs.

Couple that kind of technology with an iPad, and you've got a device for displaying a completely new form of music notation for use anywhere. I think we're going to see more of that in the future.
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Old 07-25-2010, 04:15 PM
Sinisterniik Sinisterniik is offline
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Originally Posted by F. U. Shakespeare View Post
Sight-reading is IMO a difficult skill to pick up (certainly for an adult) and has to offer a payoff that doesn't exist outside of classical music, big bands, session recording and a few other applications.
Sight-reading skills are how many professional musicians keep getting hired. If you can't sight-read, you greatly limit the number of paying jobs you can take. It's true that most jazz and rock gigs don't call for reading, but they also don't pay nearly as well as the studio and pit gigs. Also, a lot of club dates (wedding gigs) involve reading.

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We're probably ready for a new form of music notation - one that is animated and provides tempo and other cues for the performance. For example, Rock Band 3 is transitioning to real instruments - it will have a real MIDI keyboard and a real Fender Squier Stratocaster instead of a plastic 5-button guitar. To support that, they've invented a form of tablature that notates the real guitar part in full detail, but which is animated and flies down the note track like the older versions of Rock Band. A player in that game will be able to plug his instrument into an amp, shut off the audio to the game, and use the game as a form of sheet music to learn songs.
We may be ready for a new form of notation, but we really don't need it for most music. Despite what you say, there is standard notation for tempo (bpm) as well as performance cues (say, an + for an alternate fingering on sax or ped. to tell the performer to engage the sustain pedal on a piano).

The biggest problem with Guitar Hero-style notation (even the new kind) is that it is very difficult to analyze and understand the larger aspects of a piece of music. It's tough, for instance, to figure out the form of a piece when you can only view one small section at a time. Further, it relies on the musician having good depth perception to determine duration of note.

On top of that, it needs some more refining to allow for a completely thorough notation (like "capo" for instance). I also find it much easier to read chords as G7#11 or V7#11 in C than as a bunch of dots (and that's true for standard notation as well).
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Old 07-25-2010, 04:30 PM
WordMan WordMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
I suspect that when rock musicians say they can't read music, most of them mean they can't currently read it well enough to sight-read songs. I say that because most kids with an interest in music these days either take band in school, or manage some private lessons along the way. And guitar magazines are filled with music theory and sheet music, as well as tablature.
[I never get to use this SDMB knowingly-frustrating trope]

This.

[/I never get to use this SDMB knowingly-frustrating trope]

There's a big difference between picking out Aces High out of the Iron Maiden sheet music your dad got you at Guitar Center vs. being able to cold-read - and swing - some complex pro arrangement.

McCartney can't read for shit. Except compared to you.
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  #29  
Old 07-25-2010, 04:41 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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Adrian Belew is another respected musician who can't read music. That astonished Frank Zappa, who first discovered him in a top 40 cover band at a Holiday Inn.

Normally, Zappa wrote extensive sheet music with extremely complicated notes that he expected his musicians to sight read. Belew had to learn by doing, picking up songs during rehearsals. Most of the time, given enough rehearsal time, he could learn anything.

And on those rare occasions that there WASN'T enough practice time for Belew to learn his piece? That's when Zappa would decide, "Okay, since you can't play your guitar during THIS piece tonight, we'll have you do something weird or embarrassing on stage while the rest of the band plays that song."

During those numbers, Belew would have to do something like sashay around in women's clothing.

Last edited by astorian; 07-25-2010 at 04:42 PM..
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  #30  
Old 07-25-2010, 05:31 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delą Le Ministre de l'au-delą is offline
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Steve Vai, on the other hand, got his job with Frank Zappa by sending him his transcriptions of some incredibly complex pieces of music.

Quote:
Vai mailed Frank Zappa a transcription of Zappa's "The Black Page", an instrumental for drums, along with a tape with some of Vai's guitar playing. Zappa was so impressed that, in 1979, he hired him to transcribe a number of his guitar solos, including some on the Joe's Garage album and the Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar series. These transcriptions were published in 1982 in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book.
from the Steve Vai Wiki article.
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Old 07-25-2010, 06:53 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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I mentioned this in the trivia dominoes thread - Tori Amos can't read music. Her first album was titled Y Kant Tori Read in reference to this. (It's also a reference to "Why Can't Johnny Read?" which was a frequent tagline of literacy campaigns.)

Last edited by Little Nemo; 07-25-2010 at 06:53 PM..
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  #32  
Old 07-25-2010, 07:22 PM
Ibanez Ibanez is offline
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Alot of famous guitar players couldn't/can't read music.

Hendrix, Clapton, Slash, Hetfield, Cobain, McCartney.... The list goes on.
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  #33  
Old 07-25-2010, 08:07 PM
Lord Mondegreen Lord Mondegreen is offline
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Stevie Wonder? Ray Charles?
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Old 07-25-2010, 08:30 PM
Sinisterniik Sinisterniik is offline
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Derek Paravicini
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Old 07-25-2010, 09:45 PM
Ajķ de Gallina Ajķ de Gallina is offline
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I recall Ray Charles reading music in "We are the world" and in the movie "Ray".
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Old 07-25-2010, 10:09 PM
Ellis Aponte Jr. Ellis Aponte Jr. is offline
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Barbra Streisand can't.
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Old 07-25-2010, 11:53 PM
squeegee squeegee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Stone
I suspect that when rock musicians say they can't read music, most of them mean they can't currently read it well enough to sight-read songs
I agree there's an important distinction between knowing standard notation and sight-reading, but in my experience I think a large plurality of players really honestly have no idea how to read anything but tab and chords. Seriously. Otherwise, don't you think there'd be a bunch of folks writing transcriptions of rock songs and putting them up online, vs. the existing huge sites devoted to tabbing every song in the universe?

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And guitar magazines are filled with music theory and sheet music
Really? Filled? In my experience they're filled with ads, gear guides 'n reviews intended not to offend advertisers, a few interviews, and then maybe we'd get to a staff article/column here and there on some theory-like aspect du jour, with a dab of standard notation here and there. Okay, I haven't picked up a guitar mag in a few years, but seriously? Filled?
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Old 07-26-2010, 12:02 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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My occupation, when I worked in Hollywood, was made possible by the many musicians that couldn't write music, but had to have their songs written down for (1) copyright purposes and/or (2) so others could learn it quickly. I received recordings of qualities from a cheap cassette recorder to finished, pressed discs, and had to transcribe them to a readable lead sheet page. It was a lot of musicians, some of them quite successful and famous.
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Old 07-26-2010, 12:31 AM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
And guitar magazines are filled with music theory and sheet music
Really? Filled? In my experience they're filled with ads, gear guides 'n reviews intended not to offend advertisers, a few interviews, and then maybe we'd get to a staff article/column here and there on some theory-like aspect du jour, with a dab of standard notation here and there. Okay, I haven't picked up a guitar mag in a few years, but seriously? Filled?
I have to admit to selection bias. -I- buy guitar magazines which are filled with sheet music and theory. I don't generally buy the gearhead mags. So maybe you're right.

I guess I thought that most professional musicians would have expressed an interest in music young enough to wind up in a program some where, at least for a little while. And others would be self-taught using the zillions of public resources out there for teaching you to read music. Every music store has tons of them.

But maybe I'm guilty of bias. That's the way I learned, and continue to learn. But maybe there are lots and lots who just pick up a guitar and noodle around until they can get into a garage band somewhere, then they just get better with all the nightly practice. That's pretty much how the Beatles did it.
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Old 07-26-2010, 01:34 AM
squeegee squeegee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
I have to admit to selection bias. -I- buy guitar magazines which are filled with sheet music and theory. I don't generally buy the gearhead mags. So maybe you're right.
I think my response came off more jeeringly than intended, and sorry if I did. It's just that in my experience the trade press, certainly for guitar-oriented stuff, has been fairly shoddy, but perhaps I'm doing my own selection bias. What mags do you like?

Quote:
I guess I thought that most professional musicians would have expressed an interest in music young enough to wind up in a program some where, at least for a little while. And others would be self-taught using the zillions of public resources out there for teaching you to read music. Every music store has tons of them.
But still others would learn from each other or tab sites. Or it's a mix - I learned to play piano and read sheet music fairly young; in my teens, I took up guitar and just learned that by ear because at that time seemingly all the available sheet music for rock guitar sucked. Really terrible stuff, transcribed for easy piano with some chords above the staff for guitar, and a lot of that was wrong. I'm told things are much better these days, which perhaps says there really are a lot more players who can read notation, so maybe you have a point.
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  #41  
Old 07-26-2010, 07:21 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delą Le Ministre de l'au-delą is offline
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Reading music isn't a binary state, though - there's a whole spectrum of levels of ability, from 'able to sight-read full score with different clefs and transpositions' to 'able to figure out the basic shape of the melody and rhythm in treble clef and fake it from there'.

In other words, I think there's a distinction to be drawn between 'uses written score as a primary means of musical communication' and 'reads a bit, but picks it up better by ear'. I read well, but I don't remotely have the skill set that Musicat has.

An analogy - I'm assuming most of us on the Dope read these messages rather than using voice recognition software. But how many of us would do well reading this thread out loud for the podcast? For the live telecast on MSNBC? I wouldn't describe myself as being illiterate, but newscasters have a skill set that I'd need to develop.



squeegee - you have a good point about 'huge sites devoted to tabbing every song in the universe', but you overlook the fact that TAB can be rendered in ASCII - most folks have a word processing program on their computer that can handle the text and the formatting required, whereas very few people have Finale or Sibelius programs with which to make PDF's of their basic transcriptions...


Ximenean - Published TAB (as opposed to the TAB online) does have its rhythm notated, as did the Renaissance music for lute and its cousins. There were, in fact, two competing systems of TAB - Italian tablature had the highest string on the bottom of the 'staff', French had it on the top of the 'staff'. Lautengesellschaft userguide article on TAB.
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  #42  
Old 07-26-2010, 07:28 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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When he was directing the Broadway musical Two by Two, the newspapers said that Danny Kaye couldn't read music, which lead to interesting musical direction.


Saith Wikipedia:

Quote:
Kaye was enamored of music. While he often claimed an inability to read music, he was quite the conductor, and was said to have perfect pitch. Kaye was often invited to conduct symphonies as charity fundraisers. Over the course of his career he raised over US$5,000,000 in support of musicians pension funds.[5]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Kaye
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  #43  
Old 07-26-2010, 09:05 AM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
I have to admit to selection bias. -I- buy guitar magazines which are filled with sheet music and theory. I don't generally buy the gearhead mags. So maybe you're right.
I think my response came off more jeeringly than intended, and sorry if I did. It's just that in my experience the trade press, certainly for guitar-oriented stuff, has been fairly shoddy, but perhaps I'm doing my own selection bias. What mags do you like?
Sam? Whatcha reading? What would you consider the better magazines, full of sheet music and theory?

And what are the more decent gearhead mags?

Last edited by E-Sabbath; 07-26-2010 at 09:05 AM..
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  #44  
Old 07-26-2010, 11:20 AM
Sinisterniik Sinisterniik is offline
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I agree there's an important distinction between knowing standard notation and sight-reading, but in my experience I think a large plurality of players really honestly have no idea how to read anything but tab and chords. Seriously. Otherwise, don't you think there'd be a bunch of folks writing transcriptions of rock songs and putting them up online, vs. the existing huge sites devoted to tabbing every song in the universe?
There are definitely more TAB transcriptions out there than anything else, but I'd still say there are about as many guitar solo transcriptions as any other instrument.

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Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
But still others would learn from each other or tab sites. Or it's a mix - I learned to play piano and read sheet music fairly young; in my teens, I took up guitar and just learned that by ear because at that time seemingly all the available sheet music for rock guitar sucked. Really terrible stuff, transcribed for easy piano with some chords above the staff for guitar, and a lot of that was wrong. I'm told things are much better these days, which perhaps says there really are a lot more players who can read notation, so maybe you have a point.
The transcriptions in stores are still way off sometimes -especially if it's a whole arrangement (or a piano reduction).

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Originally Posted by Le Ministre de l'au-delą View Post
Reading music isn't a binary state, though - there's a whole spectrum of levels of ability, from 'able to sight-read full score with different clefs and transpositions' to 'able to figure out the basic shape of the melody and rhythm in treble clef and fake it from there'.

In other words, I think there's a distinction to be drawn between 'uses written score as a primary means of musical communication' and 'reads a bit, but picks it up better by ear'. I read well, but I don't remotely have the skill set that Musicat has.
Since the OP concerns professionals, in my mind the bar is set by the other musicians. If you can read well enough to get hired again, then you read well enough.

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I recall Ray Charles reading music in "We are the world" and in the movie "Ray".
I doubt it, since he was blind before he started to learn how to play music.
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  #45  
Old 07-26-2010, 12:08 PM
squeegee squeegee is offline
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Originally Posted by Sinisterniik View Post
Since the OP concerns professionals, in my mind the bar is set by the other musicians. If you can read well enough to get hired again, then you read well enough.
Well, the OP referenced "famous" musicians, which encompasses professionals, but not all professionals are famous. In that light, I think my comments earlier about "most players" was probably too broad. Not necessarily wrong, mind you.
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  #46  
Old 07-26-2010, 04:22 PM
antonio107 antonio107 is offline
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[QUOTE=Sinisterniik;12724883]
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Originally Posted by ianzin View Post
Further, not all classical musicians are trained to read and write music. Today that is mostly true (probably 99% or more professionals do, if I had to guess), but historically, many musicians did not. In particular, many Renaissance musicians learned everything by rote.
This is in part because of the history of notated music. Notated music in the European tradition emerged with the church, and came out of the desire to memorize tunes, of which a given monk or learned person may have known hundreds, if not thousands. Thus, if you look at a neumatic manuscript from the 9th century, it resembles little more than a few messy scribbles atop a line of poetic verse. These were not the complete performance instructions we understand notation as today; they were more akin to crib notes.

Notated music gained prominence because it greatly facilitated the use of polyphony, and because it was a marketable commodity - a composer in the 18th and 19th century could sell an organ fugue he wrote down as sheet music. The same could not be said for an equally virtuosic improvisation, which was gone as soon as it was performed.

Fast forward to 2010. This hasn't been the case for decades. Much of this, I would opine, has to do with the nature of the music being performed. "Musically illiterate" is as misleading a title as, say "lactose intolerant." Most of the world is lactose intolerant, and its in fact only a minority of the world that isn't - primarily in parts of Central and Northern Europe, which ironically enough are the same people that are supposed to be musically literate.

Back to my point. For large polyphonic works such as Palestrina and Bach, notation makes sense. It becomes virtually impossible to conceptualize four or five voices moving in contrary motion without notation. If you're doing a chord progression, you can give other musicians in your group hand gestures, or even say what you want to do out loud. Notation would just make it more complicated!
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  #47  
Old 07-27-2010, 10:10 AM
ianzin ianzin is offline
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[QUOTE=Sinisterniik;12724883]
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First of all, I disagree with the assertion that Western notation lacks duration.
I didn't make that assertion. Nitpick all you like, but don't accuse me of asserting something I didn't.
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  #48  
Old 07-27-2010, 11:20 AM
Duke Duke is offline
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For example, Rock Band 3 is transitioning to real instruments - it will have a real MIDI keyboard and a real Fender Squier Stratocaster instead of a plastic 5-button guitar. To support that, they've invented a form of tablature that notates the real guitar part in full detail, but which is animated and flies down the note track like the older versions of Rock Band. A player in that game will be able to plug his instrument into an amp, shut off the audio to the game, and use the game as a form of sheet music to learn songs.
Well...sort of.
Quote:
Mad Catz will be producing a new guitar controller, based on the Fender Mustang for the game's Pro mode, where instead of five colored buttons, there will be 6 buttons across 17 different frets, for a total of 102 buttons; the player will be required to strike the corresponding buttons on the right frets similar to guitar strings.
So it's going to be closer to actually playing a guitar, but not precisely. Doesn't mean I'm massively looking forward to it, though.
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  #49  
Old 07-27-2010, 02:01 PM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
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Actually, Duke, that's the simpler of the two. The more complicated is a Squier Stratocaster.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vILhdwHHHdw
I can't hear it, at work, but I think that's White Stripes he's playing. The Mustang is the cheaper of the two 'pro' variants, and the only one currently priced. The Squier is a 22 fret full on guitar.
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  #50  
Old 07-27-2010, 02:09 PM
Khaki Campbell Khaki Campbell is offline
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On a side note, this plastic guitar video game is not that bad, as it draws more and more kids away from the real instrument. In the 90's and 00's, the world was indeed full of kids strumming away on their Korean strat and taking themselves for geniuses.
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