Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

If Paul McCartney Can’t Read Music, Why Should I?

1 Comment

I hear this often from students and guitar fans.

And I am into a 2nd Venti at Starbucks.

I am Venti-ing.

I get very disturbed when a young student tries to “shirk”  away from the work because one of his or her heroes can’t read music.

Often, accomplished musicians who can’t read music will “put down”  musicians who can read – and bolster their own position  of illiteracy with the voodoo of…

I know something’ because I don’t know nuthin…and if I learn too much, I might lose the sumthin’ I gots….

I have played with many great musicians who thought their illiteracy made them special.

It’s their musicality that made them special – not their inability to read!!!

Let’s review the options….

  1. Yes, you can be a great musician and not read. DISCLAIMER:  Some of my favorite musicians couldn’t or don’t read music.
  2. You can be a musician who reads and misses the point of music, YET strays from the “feeling aspect”…not good!
  3. But – how’s about option 3? – Be a GREAT musician AND READ!!!  Like Bach, Mozart, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Beethoven, Chopin, Andres Segovia….yeah, all those dudes and dudettes! (the list goes on….)

Why Learn to Read?

(By the way, I will always include tabs on my DVD’s – so don’t worry…I’m just trying to push you to new heights….)

You have to be able to “see music”  in your inner vision. Stevie Wonder is a perfect example of a guy who understands the HECK out of harmony & melody without reading (for obvious reasons.)

Back to the Beatles…..Paul McCarntey and John Lennon have (and had)  a super-duper musical IQ, and PLAYED THE PIANO.  And they heard and sang melodies with shapes, arcs, and that told a story.

So – Why is playing just a little piano important?

Once you play chord voicing and harmonies on a piano – you’ll start to see them moving as “melody lines”  not chord grips the way a guitarist would normally think of.

Listen to the backup vocals that the Beatles use.  That’s the piano influence!

The piano can cure many many ills – and your music will have an intelligence in it.

You should strive to know music on all these levels:

  • Your Ears
  • Your Voice
  • Your Eyes
  • Your Touch
  • Your Intellect

Can Adam Walk the Walk?

Hear for yourself – and you be the judge!

I did not “write”  this arrangement on paper  – but this is highly informed by the ability to read and understand music – and understand harmony in a pianistic way.  A typical “guitar chord approach”  would never produce this result.

Please compare the sound of these 2 videos shown below.

I was able to listen intently to the Beatles original, hear the melody, the band orchestration, the backing vocals – (and by the way, there are choir harmonies in just the backup vocals, each verse with a different chord inversion!  Those pesky Beatles!)

Many people with can of course sing along with the original Beatles melody in their car, or even strum & sing this one….but if you want to be the nutty professor of fingerstyle (like I do) ya gotta dig, dig dig deep and pick apart the “parts.”

Reading music is just a way to have a “birds” eye view of what’s happening.

What Should You Do Next?

  • Find a piano or keyboard  and start plunking on chords – ASAP.  Don’t try to be the best, or perfect – just get started.
  • Get an easy reading book and just do 5 minutes a day.
  • Keep making music that sounds and feels great.

Now…git to work!!!


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

One thought on “If Paul McCartney Can’t Read Music, Why Should I?

  1. I can’t say for sure with the back-up vocals on You Won’t See Me, but Paul and John did have the assistance of George Martin in the studio. Often, they would tell Martin what kind of sound they wanted, and Martin would guide them to the result. So, even if they couldn’t read music, they had a first rate translator for them. When they wanted something to sound like Bach in the break (In My Life), then Martin would help them out in figuring how to get the result they wanted. And, unlike lots of people, when they heard what they wanted, they knew it right away.

    Great post here. Only thing I might consider changing is the recommendation for people to start plunking chords on the piano. Guitar players think too much about chords as it is. Plunk out a melody line on the piano. Then sing the melody, and try to plunk out the bass line at the same time. Then plunk the two of them together.

    By the way, I love your YouTube videos.

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