A few days ago one of my students finally asked me the one million dollar question: “If one day I want to be a musician, is it really necessary that I learn how to read music?”
My answer was: “No, isn’t necessary…but…”
If we have a look at the greats of music, like Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson, none of them had any idea how to read or write 2 dots on a music paper. Yet, we refer to them as the pillars of pop and rock music. They were so talented, they didn’t need that particular skill to be able to create such timeless music. So why didn’t they and why do we mortal human beings need to learn how to read? What was so special about these legends that we can’t replicate?
I think the one factor that connects them all is their EARS. Yes, what makes these artists so incredibly unique and extraordinary lies in the fact that they could trust their ears and knew when melodies or chord progressions could work or not. MJ used to write music by beatboxing and then adding bass lines and harmonies on top. Dave Grohl did the same on his very first Foo Fighters album, where he played all the instruments. None of these superstars can analyse theoretically what is going on in their songs, but they can certainly hear melodies and rhythms in their heads that fit what their music is trying to express.
Now, even thought these icons were masters of their ears, it’s very important to not forget that most of them were helped by people who could actually READ music: Quincy Jones with MJ, George Martin with the Beatles and Nelson Riddle with Frank Sinatra.
Finally, going back to our opening question about reading. If we have to compare reading to something that is not music related I would say that reading is like being able to drive a car. You don’t need to know how to drive, you can probably ask friends for lifts or use Uber, but once in a while this particular skill can save you time and money. So, it’s not necessary…but…
What do you think about reading music? Is it still a useful skill in today’s music?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one.
‘till next time!
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For me, it’s more akin to riding a motorcycle without a permit, Fast, risky but ultimately thrilling when you reach your destination.
I love that analogy, thanks for checking it out Jean-Noel!