drummers who can't read music notation

Billy Boy

Junior Member
i'm new to this board and am not sure if this has been a topic that has been discussed before, but... i'm wondering which drummers do not read music. some that i know of include;

buddy rich
art blakey
dennis chambers

also, what are your thoughts on the importance of reading vs learning by ear/feel? thanks!
 

homar_alex

Junior Member
Well, that's strange, as far as I know, Art used to play piano a lot before drumming... Are you sure of him?
 

mikel

Platinum Member
I cant read music, or drum notation and I'm a great drummer. I think so anyway. Ha Ha.
Do you think being able to read drum music would have made Bonzo or Kieith Moon better drummers? I don't think so.
Rock and roll is about being different, not just copying what has gone before.
 

mxo721

Senior Member
do what works for you. I like to learn some things by reading "because" I'm terrible at learning stuff by ear, and seeing it on paper is easier for me. I wish my ear was better. reading is a nice tool to have.
 

rmandelbaum

Platinum Member
reading gives us a common language to share ideas.

if you can't read cool, you don't have to rea to be a great player but how could hurt?
 

swddrummer

Junior Member
Yeah, you don't need to read music to be a great drummer, I personally struggle with it myself. But I feel like its comparable to running a business: Sure you don't have to go to business school to understand how things work, but sooner or later you will have adapted to know things just as peeps do in a business school.

It doesn't mean that every time you sit down to practice you should have a transcribed piece on a music stand in front of you, but why not learn a few licks from a sheet of music so the next time you're flipping through modern drummer, you can look at a transcribed groove and think about the beat in your head (and then put your own unique spin on it?)
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Reading music can only help you. There is absolutely no downside whatsoever to learning to read.
 

johanisu

Member
Bonzo could read music, I remember reading it in an interview.

Lenny White can't. Didn't know about Art, but my suspicions would be that he could, as he was a pianist before he was a drummer, as has been pointed out.

There is a rumour on the rumour mill that Rich could actually read music, just not sight read. For that he had another drum play through the chart for him first time. The story goes that Louie Bellson gave Rich reading lessons. They were great friends and Louie was the only man modest enough not to brag about giving the king of drummers lessons. I learnt this from a source who knew Louie fairly well, though don't quote me on it.

Music is my life and my goal is to learn as much as I can about it. For me reading is essential. Transcribing has proven an invaluable tool.

I feel that musically illiterate geniuses are the exceptional cases. They have/had great ears to make up for it. Buddy could hear a Big Band piece played once before playing it perfectly himself.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
There is a rumour on the rumour mill that Rich could actually read music, just not sight read.
Which raises a useful point in this chat ... distinguishing between sight reading, understanding notation, and not knowing the theory.
 

ddrumman2004

Senior Member
I don't sight read. Most every song I know and play I learned by listening to it over and over again and even then, I don't play it exactly like it was recorded. After all, it's "live" music when I do play at a gig.

I have played behind...still do...some phenomenal guitar players who can't read a lick of music. Then by contrast, our keyboard player is a "trained" musician who struggles to play some of the basic rock songs we do.
No doubt, reading music would have benefited me had I learned to do it in the years past. But at my age, I'll suffice with my two ears
 

Moon4Sale

Member
There is a rumour on the rumour mill that Rich could actually read music, just not sight read.
I personally believe many world class musicians intentionally down play their music literacy and/or education. It's a highly effective marketing tactic;)
 

Typo

Senior Member
I don't think sight reading is too important for a drum set player. Typically, the stuff we play isn't song-specific: a basic backbeat can fit comfortably in a wide range of rock songs. Because of this, we don't have the need to be able to sight read a new part for a new song we are given. However, knowing how to simply read and write drum notation, while not necessary, can be helpful to learn parts by breaking them down and figuring out how they are structured.

On the other hand, I think the basics of music theory should be understood by all musicians. If I tell my guitarist to play an 8 bar solo in 4/4 time, I want him to understand what I mean rather than fumbling with his pick, looking at me for a sign telling him when to stop. Having all players understand rhythm essentials can help a lot and make for a smoother learning and playing process. I think it is also important to learn the "pitched" aspect of theory (keys, melody, intervals), most of which I am still learning. I know intervals due to learning to tune my drums, but that's about it.

So, sight reading? Nah. Reading? Yeah. Listening? Of course.

All that's just my opinion.
 

Duckenheimer

Senior Member
also, what are your thoughts on the importance of reading vs learning by ear/feel? thanks!
Reading work - such as transcribing and sight reading - is one of the best ways to practise learning by ear/feel.

I cant read music, or drum notation and I'm a great drummer. I think so anyway. Ha Ha.
Do you think being able to read drum music would have made Bonzo or Kieith Moon better drummers? I don't think so.
Rock and roll is about being different, not just copying what has gone before.
The guys who can read have a huge advantage in the goal of not just "copying what has gone before"...
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
I don't think sight reading is too important for a drum set player.
To be honest, it's never been too important for me either. But I think guys like Vinnie would strongly argue to the contrary.

Horses for courses. How far do you wanna take it, is the ultimate question.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Reading work - such as transcribing and sight reading - is one of the best ways to practise learning by ear/feel.



The guys who can read have a huge advantage in the goal of not just "copying what has gone before"...

I was not suggesting being able to read drum music was a bad or negative thing, merely that it would not have improved the style of some well known individuals.

If you want to be a session drummer you will have to sight read, but that is another ball game altogether.

Classically trained musicians often have a problem with improvisation because they are so schooled in the "right" way to play, and generally only perform with written pieces, so they tend to play what is expected in any given situation.

Horses for courses I suppose.
 

Duckenheimer

Senior Member
I was not suggesting being able to read drum music was a bad or negative thing, merely that it would not have improved the style of some well known individuals.

If you want to be a session drummer you will have to sight read, but that is another ball game altogether.

Classically trained musicians often have a problem with improvisation because they are so schooled in the "right" way to play, and generally only perform with written pieces, so they tend to play what is expected in any given situation.

Horses for courses I suppose.
Sure, though I would bet there's a greater number of well known individuals whose style WAS improved by this tremendous advantage in developing very wide listening and vocabulary skills, particularly those who innovated on the instrument. And what I was saying that being able to read on a high level is a huge advantage for people wishing to be different and develop their own style.

It's not the only advantage for that of course, and as with the classical example it won't function that way when completely isolated from other factors, but it is a tremendous one.
 

Thud

Senior Member
Certainly at the pub gig level there are a lot of people who cannot read music and are proud of that fact. They point to the fact that many successful musicians could not read music. But I can't believe that people who are doing it professionally can do so without any understanding of notation!
I learned to read very basic music at infants school. We had a little band and guess what? They gave me a drum! So we had this big wall chart with a staff and lots of blobs and when you saw your blob coming up you hit the drum. I was hooked.
I have progressed from there but I can't sight read. The only reading I do is from exercises and people's notes on here. I don't play from sheet music although many people do. I just don't need to work at sight reading but I can pick apart most music and play it back.

Drum notation is not hard to learn. I think people who don't bother are being a bit lazy. There are only a handful of basic symbols to learn at the beginning and you can go a long way with them.
Also if you always do exercises from a written page then the constant repetition helps you to become fluent. That's all it is really ... practice! That's what learning the drums is about too. Practice and more practice.
 
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