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do you have to read music to be a good bassist

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by haythamehab, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. willgroove2


    Aug 16, 2003
    chicago IL
    Endorsing Artist;Essential sound products,Dunlop, Ergo Instruments
    first off vic CAN read,i know that mess's up some people "he's a natural wonder"idea but the man is a musician,not just a bass player.i tour,record,teach and produce music,this is how i make my living.reading and knowing theory help me do these things.i can walk on a gig cold,not knowing what we are going to play or any of the other player's open up their book, and play the gig.im not a perfect sight-reader although i work at it,but i can nail 80-90% of most jobbing/casual book's.i also play with feeling because i started out playing in church and added theory studies a little later(i wish i started with theory studies from the start)my backround allows me to have a wider varity of gig's to choose from and has never gotten in the way.so my 0.02; learn how to read it won't hurt
  2. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    I didn't even bother reading anything in this thread past the original question.

    The answer is no. Paul McCartney to this day can't read music.
  3. jadesmar


    Feb 17, 2003
    Ottawa, ON
    Can you cite a source for this information.

    I find it hard to believe that someone who could write classical scores in the mid-90s can not read music to this day.
  4. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    Well I can't, it's "common" knowledge around my old college and has been stated by a professor that likes to fancy himself a "Beatles Expert".

    But I know for a fact that when he was with the Beatles, George Martin did all scoring and arranging. Just because a person can't write or read english, doesn't mean they can't speak it.

    There are many stories over the years of master songwriters coming into the studio, sitting down with a person saying "Alright... write down what I play..."

    I don't find it far fetched at all...
  5. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    Scratch that... I did find a source :p

    here's a link to the story the page with the story...


    it's the 5th story down.
  6. Interesting article on the subject of reading music. I hadn't encountered it before today, but I pretty much agree, in particular on the absence of any "cons":

  7. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    Well, if you're an artist and you only want to express yourself, not reading should never be a problem for you. If you want to work as a bass player, not reading can hurt you sometimes. If you're a studio player, you walk in and they slap a chart in front of you... you can't pussyfoot around and have them yell out the changes to you. You need to be able to play what that artist is paying you to play.

    That's not always the case, but you get the point I'm going for. There is nothing bad that can come from learning something new. It's like people that say learning key signatures and scales "holds back their artistic expression" I don't understand that. John Paul Jones did a great article on just such things. Tres from Phish said it best when he said to learn everything you can, then forget it. It will come out of your mind when you need it to. Reading music is one of those things...

    Jsut like the number of strings on your bass, just do what suits you...
  8. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Ornette Coleman said that probably 20-25 years prior to Trey.
    "Practice without memory".
  9. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    and it's still true ;)
  10. Rav


    Dec 29, 2004
    Aurora, IL
    Well I'm pretty positive Ray Charles couldn't read. ( obviously ) That said your not Ray Charles. Just like your not Paul Mcartney. Just beause there are savants born into the world doesn't mean your one of them because your too lazy to spend the time to learn something.

    When I was in engineering school there was a 12 year old kid there who was mentally handicapped and couldn't read or write english and could barely speak. He was creating descrete mathmatics formulas and working on theorms that it took the research staff weeks to figure out all off the top of his head. Me? I had to learn it the hard way and to this day I still can't even figure out some of the things he was working on.

    If I had pointed at him and said see he doesn't need to learn to read or write or even speak coherently to be a mathmatical genius would that excuse really have helped me learn math?

    Stop pointing at exceptions to the rule and pretending its the norm. So 5-10 famous bass players never nearned to read. It doesn't mean you can be 1/100th their skill even if you spend the rest of your life trying so why use their inate talent as a reason not to learn something?

  11. LOL, now look at what you made me do!

    Here's a quote from Victor Wooten:

    So I was probably wrong when I said Vic can't sightread.
  12. Perfect-Tommy


    Mar 28, 2004
    You made a lot of great points in that post. I really don't understand why anyone would choose to handicap themselves and not learn everything that they could, including read music. I am the first to admit that I can't read bass clef, and it's been a goal of mine for a long to time to dedicate myself to doing so. I feel incomplete not being able to read only half the music, especially now that over the past 5 years I decided to pick up a bass instrument.

    The fact of the matter is this. Can you be a great bass player without being able to read music? Of course. Can you live up to your full potential as a bass player without being able to read music? Less likely, especially if you're not in teh group of exceptional players. Can you live up to your full potential as a musician and artist without being able to read music? No.

    I sited Paul McCartney as being an exception, but even though he can write all these beautiful songs and scores, he still has to depend on someone else to write it out for him. It's like a painter having an assitant hold a brush and tellingthem where to move it. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but you get my point. If Sir Paul wanted to sit down in the middle of the night and write out an interlude for a new score he's working on, he couldn't. He would have to get out a tape recorder and then play it, then have someone else listen to it and then they write it out. Or watch him play it as if he was dictating a memo.

    I personally am not sure if I could live with that as an artist if I was of the skill level of Paul McCartney.
  13. NoisemakerD-Lux


    Oct 12, 2004
    This is such a silly question that I just have to answer. What's a good bassist? What's a good musician? Billy Sheehan doesn't read or know much theory, yet he blows away anyone here and pretty much any Jazz bassist as far as "playing". Stevie Ray Vaughan did not read at all. So that answers that question.

    I guess the question that should have been asked is whether or not it is beneficial to learn to read music.

    Well, my answer is that if you want to be a session player then you probably should. If you want to play some of the Jazz pieces from sheet music, then I guess you should as well. But for the vast majority of people who play in a Rock back or a non-Jazz style, reading/writing ability is often - very - useless. If you want to be a cool, mawhawk-sporting, dude in a Punk band, then you most certainly don't need the hassle... get the point?

    Play sessions with (serious and uptight) strangers... learn to read. Play in a cool band with easy-going friends and you don't need to. To anyone here who has ever had a Rock band... did any of you actually swap sheet music among yourselves or did you simply "jam"? ;) :bassist:

    What I'm saying is that reading ability is very dependent on the type of player a person wants to be and the type of music situations he wants to get into.

    And I don't understand the whole argument in the first place. It'll take a person a few days to get the basics and about a month to get very comfortable with all the reading he will need. What's the dilema here?

    Sight-reading is needed by Classical musicians and about 1% of all others.

    People should really stop with focusing on "themselves" when answering these questions and, instead, ask the person what they want to do and what are their long-term aspirations.
  14. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    What you're really asking is "What am I missing out on by not being able to read?" The answer is "You won't know until you can read."

    For that reason I will say just do it. It won't take long to get the basics down and they stay pretty fresh after that. If you really want to play bass outside your own bedroom someday, somewhere you will find yourself starring at a peice of sheet music and going "Duhhhhh what do I do now George?" Maybe that day will not come for a long time, and maybe it will be no big deal if it does, but why wait?

    Better to learn now and get it over with and then you know what you were missing out on, and guess what, you aren't missing it anymore.
  15. If you're pondering the decision to learn how to sightread...ask yourself this question...

    "Would I like to walk into any sheet music store and have the ability to play every song ever written?"

    If you would like to do that...learn.

    If that doesn't interest you...don't.
  16. Surgeon


    Mar 4, 2003
    North Dakota
    With a name like The Beast I think we'd better listen! ;)

    I've only been playing bass for about 1.5 years now, and after spending much of that early time plucking out songs by ear I'm ready for more. I bought a book, and am slowly tackling reading. (played violin and trumpet before and treble clef is no problem, but this bass clef keeps screwin' me up!) I have to believe, from my own short experience, that learning to read will help. Afterall, a lot of what I know in life came from reading something. :p
  17. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    Yea, probably... :rolleyes:

    I was the same way (i played Sax). But think of the notes on a bass clef as a two lines below the treble clef notes. After awhile, you won't even think about the notes.
    I would definately learn to read music and learn to play by ear. Reading music is great for doing warm-ups (Classical cello pieces). And you can become a session player too!
  18. yeah, because anyone that actually knows what there doing is serious and uptight. :rollno: i guess ignorance really is bliss.
  19. um, i think its one line (or space)below the treble, isn't it :confused:

    anyway, i find that although i am not very good at sightreading score, i can handle charts fairly well and still be able to improvise slightly where necessary. im slowly trying to improve my sightreading skills, because IMHO, it can only help me be a better bassist in the long term.
  20. patrickj


    Aug 13, 2001
    Ellicott City, MD
    Endorsing: Spector Bass Guitars
    Same here, haven't read any of it - just wanted to spout my opinion.

    You don't need to read music to be good. It does help, but it's not necessary.

    The only thing you really need to play bass is a good ear. You need to know how you sound and how one note is different from another note. As long as your brain can process those differences (and it suprised me when I found out that as natural as this is to me, it's not a natural thing for most people without training) you'll be fine playing by ear.

    If you have a horrible ear though, you better learn to read music or at least tabs or follow chords. Cuz your gonna sound like crap playing bad notes and not even know it ;).
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