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there's a lot of great players who can't read... or is it not?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jj.833, Aug 12, 2019.

  1. fluently

    105 vote(s)
  2. if I get the sheet a day before

    149 vote(s)
  3. chord signs only

    98 vote(s)
  4. I don't read

    88 vote(s)
  1. Hi,
    As a newbie bass teacher, I'm looking for arguments for/against the training to read and write the notes. I believe the general consensus (ouch!) goes something like "reading is a must for professionals, because you can play with anybody on instant" combined with "you should play/hear/feel first, then you can dive into theory". I understand the statemend above is bold, open to doubt and badly stated. This is not what I want to discuss.

    Sometimes, people add "there's a lot of great players who can't read" in this kind of discussion. I don't know any. Do you know some bass giant who can't read, meaning who didn't train/wasn't trained in reading through his carreer, or at least to the point where he became famous?

    EDIT: great players who can't read I learned about so far in this thread:
    Paul McCartney
    Pino Palladino
    Rocco Prestia (?)
    Tommy Emanuel
    George Benson
    Jimi Hendrix
    Eddie van Halen
    Stevie Ray Vaughan
    Dave Grohl
    Elvis Presley
    Dennis Chambers
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  2. You can play with anybody if you have the sheet music. I run into a lot of situations where a song and key is called and counted,in that situation big ears is a must.
  3. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    The pros that don't read got lucky and were at the right place at the right time and connected with a band that let them get by in spite of this skill not being in their tool chest.

    Of course that is IMO and I played with good ole boy bands where everyone had a day job and only the keyboard could read. The rest of us would fake it if given the chord progression.

    If you are going to make a living playing music you need to know how to read the language. Again, IMO.
    jamro217, Bob_Ross, jdwinva and 4 others like this.
  4. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Before discussing further I think it's important to distinguish learning theory from learning to read and write standard notation. IMO learning at least basic theory is extremely valuable, but you can do that without reading. The debate will be more fruitful if it's not characterized as learning theory and reading versus learning neither.
  5. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    I voted chord signs as that and ear is how I’ve played for the last decade. However, for the first 15 years of playing I could and did read fluently.
    Pauly 4001, Dabndug and bigjames like this.
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    As a sweeping over-generalization, I think a player who can't read but has a great ear (like McCartney) has a better chance of success than a player who can't play by ear but is a great reader.

    But for a student who is motivated to take lessons and put in the practice time, might as well learn BOTH skills so you can be a versatile player.
  7. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather Supporting Member

    I can read music but I can't sight read for a gig or anything like that. I can read a chord chart pretty well though. Prefer to learn songs by ear.
    EagleMoon, Ronzo, funkytoe and 2 others like this.
  8. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    I probably fit somewhere between the top two: fluent but rusty.

    It definitely is a use it or lose it type of skill, and aside from my actively working on brushing up on it every now and then, I haven't actually needed to read anything since college - everything has been by ear. I do feel bad about letting it go so much, but I've also found that it comes back pretty fast when a need arises.
    DJ Bebop, Fun Size Nick and The Rage like this.
  9. Fluently.
    DJ Bebop and BOOG like this.
  10. nnnnnn


    Oct 27, 2018
    I can't think of any good arguments why learning to read is a bad thing. The fact that not everybody needs it isn't really an argument against it.

    In my opinion reading music barely qualifies as music theory. I know people who can play from sheet music because they got as far as learning the notes and rhythms, but they have no idea what keys they're playing in, what notes make up different chords, etc.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
    kreider204, egarcia, MVE and 10 others like this.
  11. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Following up on my previous point: I never learned to read/write, because I don't really have any practical use for it given my musical situation and goals. On the other hand, I've invested a lot of time in learning music theory, which I find extremely valuable for learning songs more quickly, communicating with bandmates, and improvising.
    wboyd68, MVE, lancimouspitt and 8 others like this.
  12. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    The one valid "argument" is one regarding opportunity costs: The time spent learning and practicing reading/writing is time not spent learning and practicing other important things. Given an infinite amount of time I'd like to learn and master everything, but given the reality of a limited time budget everyone needs to prioritize relative to their personal goals.
  13. CBBass123

    CBBass123 Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2005
    I'm purely by ear and feel. I would say i'm pretty damn good. I see peeps with sheets or tabs and I think to myself... cheaters. J/k. No, but seriously some people really don't have an ear for things.
    Kipp Harrington, DrMole and mexicant like this.
  14. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    What the lobster said.

    There is a school of thought that "if you learn to read your playing will become cold and mechanical" but personally I've never believed that for a second.
    climber, BOOG, DrMole and 2 others like this.
  15. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
  16. Bodeanly

    Bodeanly Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2015
    I started reading. A few years of piano, then guitar and then I started gigging and no one, to this day, has ever handed me any sheets or charts or anything. You do not need it in order to be successful, but I’m a firm believer in knowing all the rules before justifiably breaking any of them.
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    What the mushroom said. That "argument" makes about as much sense as fearing that learning to read and write in English (or Spanish, etc.) will hamper your ability to express yourself in spoken language.
    davidprice, BOOG, dkelley and 2 others like this.
  18. vanderbe

    vanderbe Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2006
    I was listening to Marcus Miller’s jazz program, Miller Time, on XM while I was driving home from a rehearsal one Sunday. He was discussing this topic and his view was that if you’re an incredibly talented genius, you might get by without reading, but for most of us mere mortals, it’s a good idea to learn to read. He gave an example of George Benson coming in to do a session with Quincy Jones where Quincy handed him a chart and George responded, “What do you want me to do with this?”. Marcus closed by saying something like...“If you’re a genius like Benson, you don’t have to read, but for most of us, it’s a good idea. I’m 67 and a hobbyist bassist since I was 16. I played trombone, in bass clef, from 6th to 11th grade where I learned to read at an intermediate level. I quit trombone in band and started playing bass my Jr year in high school. I didn’t read at all, except chord charts, until I retired at 57. I’ve been retired for 10 years now and have become a reasonably active bass player. Reading has afforded me the opportunity to play in a jazz big band as well as playing concerts/programs at church where reading is required. It’s afforded me many opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. They say that music helps your brain...and my brain needs all the help it can get. I’m thankful that I learned basic reading at an early age which is paying dividends in ways I never imagined.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
    Julian G, MVE, DJ Bebop and 7 others like this.
  19. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    Poll needs another option. I learned to read notation as a kid, but I'm really lousy at it because my ears are way faster than my head at this, so I am not very practiced at it. I can use a chart to figure out whatever my ears might be missing or fill in the blanks (if I'm learning something that's already recorded) or I can sit down with a chart of something new and very painstakingly work it out, but it will probably take more than one day to get there and polished, if the lines aren't extremely simple. That's mainly because I just do so little reading, period. Once I've read it and gotten it figured out, it ends up being ears and memory and I won't keep reading it over and over.

    By all rights I should have said chords only, but I think that doesn't quite convey the situation for those of us who have very weak reading skills but can read.
    DrMole, rd2rk, Tony In Philly and 5 others like this.

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