Can you read? Elvin couldn't?

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
But I still think that you need it today more than the past, mostly because it getting harder to make a living as a muso,and you need to play everything and read anything put in front of you
Indeed Bos, If you can get a leg up on the competition, then you're already at least one step ahead of those who don't have the skill.
 
M

motojt

Guest
Not to make too fine a point about it, but even being a hobbyist drummer without knowing how to read or write music is like being a hobbyist chemist without knowing anything about the periodic tables.
That's possibly the worst analogy I've ever seen. It's nothing at all like that. At worst it's like a singer who can't read.

I never said it was a bad idea to learn to read music, I just said it's not required unlike a lot of you here. I think you'd be surprised at how many successful professional musicians can't read music. IIRC, George Harrison was the only Beatle who could.

Anyway, looks like we have a new division line. No longer are we Jazzers vs Rockers. From here on we will raise our flags: Notation Snobs vs Illiterate Idiots. Great.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
I'm thinking it may have a little more to do with the application as opposed to the time frame. Moon, Watts, Bonham et al were drummers creating parts for their own bands....no reading neccessary for what they needed to do. They didn't need to notate their parts as they were the ones creating them. I'm sure if they had have been session guys or freelance drummers that were required to sit in at a moments notice, play styles crossing several genres and above all, play music that they were unfamiliar with (a la Gadd, Vinnie etc) then of course the ability to read would have been imperative.

I don't really see it as a "then and now" issue....still plenty of drummers in modern times who's career relies on the ability to read and plenty of others who have no need for the skill, for the purposes of what they are doing.

No doubt the skill will broaden your horizons though.
This thread has been struggling to find a balance between the "If you don't read then you're a joke" approach and the "No biggie, some people play great by ear" approach. PFOG, I think you've found that balance point with this post.

Like Mike and others I'm not a sight reader but I understand most notation. When I was writing music I would jot down the notes and values so I'd remember ideas (the whole point). However, I don't think analogies with English hold up because music is very much about the sounds, whereas English is appreciated in both written and spoken forms. Ive heard of people sitting there, just reading notation and imagining the music for pleasure, but that's hardly common.

Do the serious readers here have any thoughts on how being a fluent sight reader has helped their actual playing? I don't mean in terms of being able to take opportunities (eg. sessions, sit ins), nor do I mean being able to do exercises. I mean helping their actual playing / execution - beyond just understanding note values (since slow readers can understand note values too).

Not asking this with attitude, just curiosity.
 

con struct

Platinum Member
Anyway, looks like we have a new division line. No longer are we Jazzers vs Rockers. From here on we will raise our flags: Notation Snobs vs Illiterate Idiots. Great.
We never were jazzers vs rockers, at least I never was. I love rock music. And I very much reject the notion of "notation snobs vs illiterate idiots."
 

con struct

Platinum Member
Do the serious readers here have any thoughts on how being a fluent sight reader has helped their actual playing? I don't mean in terms of being able to take opportunities (eg. sessions, sit ins), nor do I mean being able to do exercises. I mean helping their actual playing / execution - beyond just understanding note values (since slow readers can understand note values too).
To be honest, reading music has done one thing and one thing only for me: it has allowed me to get gigs that I would never get if I couldn't read. And those were the gigs where the most money was to be made.

Of course I had to able to play but my technique, such as it is, is a thing completely apart from reading notes on a page, just as the way I speak is a thing completely apart from reading words in a book.
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
I would say that I wish I could just sit down with something and read it down. At my level of reading it is slow a painful to learn a new song. If it's too complicated or fast for me to recognize it and figure it out by ear, then I'm in for a lot of work.

As I pursue my drumming more, I realize that I need to knuckle down and get drum notation knocked. So instead of "How does he do that? What was that?" and so on, I can track down a transcription, read it down and go "Oh, that's what he's doing." Now I have something new that I thought was cool added to my vocabulary.

I loved Garibaldi back in the 70's. Watching some of his videos these days I realize that what I thought he was doing turns out to be something completely different. My goal is to be able to get one of his books, open it and play some of the things I love, and get them right the first time.
 

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
Do the serious readers here have any thoughts on how being a fluent sight reader has helped their actual playing? I don't mean in terms of being able to take opportunities (eg. sessions, sit ins), nor do I mean being able to do exercises. I mean helping their actual playing / execution - beyond just understanding note values (since slow readers can understand note values too).

Not asking this with attitude, just curiosity.
I think that reading can hinder your playing just as easily as it can facilitate your playing. Reading is a skill that you need to have to get certain kind of gigs. It also facilitates your playing because you can read through other's ideas and integrate them into your own.

But if all you can do is read, and you have no ease with the material, you can't make it fit for the situation or do something interesting then your playing is going to sound flat.

We say reading but as you stated, there is the ability to read notation, the ability to read a chart, sight read, transcribe, or to interpret a piece a score. There are many types of reading abilities.
 
G

gf2564

Guest
I don't know how difficult it would be to learn how to read music after playing for many years by ear.
I began to read music on the first day that I began to play the trumpet when I was about 8 years old. I played the trumpet for about a year and I decided that it wasn't for me.

When I got into drums a few years later I took lessons right from the start. I read music with my instructor on the first day of lessons. I have never played without some working knowledge of reading music.

I try to think about what it would be like without being able to read music, But I simply can't!

I often wonder how the people that I play with that do not read music do it!

I can't understand how they learn songs. I don't understand how they count time!

I think in terms of musical notation when I learn a song. I count time in my head as I picture the musical notations.
Its kind of like memorizing the words of a literary book by picturing the written words in your head.
You later picture the words in your head while recite them as poetry with a meter in your voice while you speak.
That is the best that I can explain it!
Makes sense! I can count time but to be honest with you, this was done subconsciously for many many years. It wasn't until about three or four years ago (while learning original songs in a band I was in at that time) that I really started to do it "out loud" to help expidite the learning process and be able "talk music" with the writer of the songs.I am still more "aware" of it today in another orignal group I am in, especially when we record.
I guess as weird as it may sound, I am the complete opposite from you when learning a new song. I just start in usually after a few bars and "play what I feel". Obviously, I have to learn the breaks and I guess that is where a majority of the memorization comes into play. I realize this approach would not work for some types of music and would be cumbersome/timely in the studio for new and/or unfamiliar music.
I've got be honest with you, for someone who has played as long as I have, sometimes I feel "embarrassed" at my lack of music knowledge! When I talk with others who have this "knowledge" that I have played with, I guess they assume I know it, as well, because of the way I play. I usally just keep my mouth shut and just play and don't try and talk about it! Kind of like the old saying.....better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than to open it and remove all doubts! Anyway, sorry for rambling on Bob; I appreciate your insights!
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
To be honest, reading music has done one thing and one thing only for me: it has allowed me to get gigs that I would never get if I couldn't read. And those were the gigs where the most money was to be made.

Of course I had to able to play but my technique, such as it is, is a thing completely apart from reading notes on a page, just as the way I speak is a thing completely apart from reading words in a book.
Cheers Jay, that's what I was thinking. Guess I was wondering if there was some conceptual benefit ... maybe there is for those with a particular type of visual/aural link?


Deltadrummer said:
We say reading but as you stated, there is the ability to read notation, the ability to read a chart, sight read, transcribe, or to interpret a piece a score. There are many types of reading abilities.
Yep, that's what I was finding confusing, so I liked the balance of PFOG's comment.

Generally I've taken people's interpretations here to mean functional musical literacy - as in you perform a piece of music that you read in the same way as you real aloud from a manuscript. As you suggested, interpretation is all and we'd all rather hear someone who's a bit sloppy but full of expression than someone who reads their lines by rote without understanding.

It seems to me that, in short, reading can expand your musical world but if you're a one-band player or a blues standard specialist then reading is not essential.
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
It seems to me that, in short, reading can expand your musical world but if you're a one-band player or a blues standard specialist then reading is not essential.
That's been my take on it Poll.......I never bothered to learn to read in my younger years, but I do regret it now. For the situations I found myself in, in the past, it just wasn't neccessary. I've always been a 'one trick pony' rock drummer and have just never encountered a situation where I needed to read. That said however, I'm slowly rectifying that and I'm going through basic reading now.....along with a lot of other things I never pursued when I was younger.

However, I fully get the point that those who can read are trying to make here. It's a valuable skill and if you're looking to pursue drumming as a career, it makes perfect sense to learn as much you possibly can in order to pave your own way.

I do dispute the call that those who can't/don't, are "idiots" though....in fact, I don't care for that connotation at all....especially from a teacher, for christ sake.......what message does that actually send? But at the end of the day, I've always marched to the beat of my own drum and care not for what anyone thinks of the path I've chosen. I'm not a pro...never have been, never will be, but I'm experienced enough as both a one trick pony and a human being, not be rattled by sheer elitism, expressed for the sole intent of being elitist.

But like Jay, I'll echo the calls to any younger members who may be pondering the question....yes, learn to read. I didn't and wish I did!!
 
Last edited:

JPW

Silver Member
That's possibly the worst analogy I've ever seen. It's nothing at all like that. At worst it's like a singer who can't read.
Well, I'm almost a master in chemistry and while I agree that music and science have different motivations behind them they do have something in common when you are home _learning_ it. How far behind in development would we be if we could never have read any books on chemistry and no publication of papers either, only way you could learn would be to look at youtube clips of great chemistry Bonhams doing their stuff in the lab and to learn you'd had to do every mistake by yourself too.

Edit: ( And you propably don't know this but synthetic chemistry really is an art form in itself. It's more like cooking than mathematics. You HAVE to be creative to get it done. )

Why reinvent the wheel? Learn to read, learn your rudiments, tab out those favourites of yours and take it further. Why use the word art as a synonym for random?

In the originals band context it's a fast visualisation and memorisation tool. Why does it make you cooler if you refuse to use those tools? For example we had this jam session last night where we drifted into this really intense groove pocket that got me and our bass player in a trance like state, we didn't want to even start to do any variations on it. It was soooo good. But since we weren't able to record it and didn't tab it right away we now don't know what we played that was so great. And it was lost. =(
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
In the originals band context it's a fast visualisation and memorisation tool. Why does it make you cooler if you refuse to use those tools?
Why do you think it's about being cool? No doubt a minority get off on the anti-intellectualism of it all and probably scoff at all intellectualism as part of the tall poppy syndrome. I don't think all non-readers should be tarred with that brush.

Some groups simply follow the old rock'n'roll rebel path in all aspects of their gigs, not just reading. Some have a strong preference for kinaesthetic learning and don't relate well to maps or plans etc either.

For others, reading is something they're planning to get around to :)
 

JPW

Silver Member
Some groups simply follow the old rock'n'roll rebel path in all aspects of their gigs, not just reading. Some have a strong preference for kinaesthetic learning and don't relate well to maps or plans etc either.
But even if you are the most 'truest' punk rocker or whatever rebellous, how does being able to read hinder that? And tbh, why even ask them. How would they possibly be able to form a serious argument about a thing they don't know anything about? So they are trusting someone elses opinion about it's necessity. Who is that? And it seems like they want to be cool in this persons eyes.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
But even if you are the most 'truest' punk rocker or whatever rebellous, how does being able to read hinder that? And tbh, why even ask them. How would they possibly be able to form a serious argument about a thing they don't know anything about? So they are trusting someone elses opinion about it's necessity. Who is that? And it seems like they want to be cool in this persons eyes.
I don't see the problem. If a full-on rebellious band has no interest in studiousness, their lack of reading skills hardly matters to their fans. They are selling attitude along with their music. Not my scene but I see no need to judge.
 

mrchattr

Gold Member

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
And tbh, why even ask them. How would they possibly be able to form a serious argument about a thing they don't know anything about? So they are trusting someone elses opinion about it's necessity.
I don't need to understand the inner workings of the combustion engine in order to see its benefits.

As for why ask in the first instance? That's a matter for the OP.
 

mrchattr

Gold Member
Do the serious readers here have any thoughts on how being a fluent sight reader has helped their actual playing? I don't mean in terms of being able to take opportunities (eg. sessions, sit ins), nor do I mean being able to do exercises. I mean helping their actual playing / execution - beyond just understanding note values (since slow readers can understand note values too).

Not asking this with attitude, just curiosity.
I can read something (in a magazine, book, online, whatever) and keep a mental picture of it, and then play it live. I do this all the time. I am so used to reading regularly, that I'll be playing a song with one of my bands, and incorporate new concepts that I have read live, without having to work on them, etc. Sometimes I actually close my eyes for a second and picture the music. I do this quite regularly.
 

mrchattr

Gold Member
At the end of the day, it comes down to this:

I have never seen a post in one of these threads (and this isn't the first one) where a person said that reading has hurt them in any way. The more you are able to read, the easier it is to learn stuff due to the amount of books out there. Even though there are plenty of other ways to learn (listening, DVDs, etc), there is nothing quite as quick as reading. It saves time so you can work on more stuff in the same amount of time, thus being able to get further in less time. The only semi-real argument I have seen against reading is the concept that you can become too reliant on reading, and not be able to just play by ear without the music...but that doesn't happen because you learn to read. It happens because you don't learn to listen. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, reading will help you develop more efficiently as a percussionist. And it's EASY to learn. Most of my students who have never touched an instrument before their first lesson with me are reading quarters, 8ths, and 16th notes (the basics of what you need for rock) within their first half hour. Most of them get it within ten minutes of working with me. Who wouldn't invest that little amount of time for all the benefits, with no setback?
 
M

motojt

Guest
...they do have something in common when you are home _learning_ it. How far behind in development would we be if we could never have read any books on chemistry and no publication of papers either...
Which is exactly the point. You don't have to read music to learn a song. You can listen to it. Hence they are different. Also, you don't have to read music to play a song you "wrote." You just play it. I know a lot, and I mean A LOT of people who "write" or have "written" their own music. I know exactly four people who can read music. Well, five including myself.

Also, think about all the poor people and kids who can't afford to buy song books? Are they now banned from learning to play those songs? Or can they just play along to them on the radio? If you found out your favorite musician could not read music, would you think less of them or their work?
 
Last edited:
Top