I’ve always been amused by conversations (mostly guitarists) regarding learning to read music vs not learning to read. It usually goes something like this… “Dude, I don’t need to learn how to read music. I can get tabs off the internet and besides that I just play by ear and learning to read music will make me less creative…” Wow…If there was ever a perfect definition for ignorance that would be near the top of the list.

Tabs on the internet… I prefer to call it “paint by numbers and connect the dots music”. Great artists/painters do not use numbers to guide them on what colors to choose,  just as a great architect wouldn’t use connect the dots to design a house. It’s just amateur at best and there is very  little skill involved in figuring  out  the basics of tab. Tab also does nothing to help you learn the names of notes and play rhythms.

“I play by ear”… I love this one. All great musicians play by ear. Using this statement as an excuse for not learning how to read music is just silly. Great musicians that read music also use their ears. Therefore I would say that musicians that read music and “play by ear” have big a advantage in getting work over those that do not read.  Music is a hearing art. We all have to listen to play better.

Reading music would make me less creative… Bach, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Mozart, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Jim Hall, all the great musicians in orchestras and film sessions, Steve Via, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, I could go on all day. All these people are very creative and read music at a very high level. Oh… and guess what… they can all play by ear. (-:

We are also not say here that there are not great musicians that do not read music. Quite the contrary. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles. BB King and many more have been very successful in the music business without having music reading skills. However, if you’ve ever read any interviews with these artist, most have expressed an interest in learning how to read music. Did know that BB King took guitar lessons from the guitarist in his band and also clarinet lessons to learn how to read music?

Basically the point is, if you want to further your understanding of music, study theory, arranging, composition, take advanced level lessons etc… Reading music will only make it easier for you. There are tremendous advantages to learning how to read music and more doors will open for those that can.

John Mizenko

Program Director Join the Band