Grammy-Winning Instrumentalists Who Don’t Read Music

A response to a FaceBook post by Tom Marcellis

I like to engage in thoughtful dialogue and debate with other music instructors, like myself. I welcome comments, and encourage discussion, and the free exchange of ideas. I want to create a space where serious-minded professionals can compare notes about the best approaches and methods for teaching music.

In that spirit, Tom Marcellis, a fellow music instructor from Florida, got the ball rolling with his gracious response to something I wrote on my Get The Most Out Of Music Lessons book page on FaceBook.

Whoa! Hold up there, pardner. You got me confused with someone else. I never said you weren’t a good musician. And I also never said your students don’t appreciate you. In fact, I’m going to disregard that part of your post out of courtesy, because I’m not sure I’m the intended recipient.

As to the second part, you’ve got the right guy.

In a post on FaceBook, I did write a list of Grammy-winning instrumentalists who don’t read staff notation, and don’t use it during the composition or songwriting process. They were Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE, Prince, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder. Tom thinks my list is BS? Let’s see.

(1) First, does Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE read and compose in staff notation?
The answer is ‘No!’

(2) Does Mariah Carey read and compose in staff notation?

The answer is ‘No!’

(3) Did Prince read and compose in staff notation? Langebleu, one of the moderators at Prince.Org (independent and unofficial Prince fan community) posted this in 2003:

And we have this from Prince’s middle-school music instructor:

So unless Tom can produce some documentary evidence to the contrary, the answer is ‘No!’

(4) Finally, does Stevie Wonder read and compose in staff notation? The answer is obviously ‘No!’

Does Stevie Wonder read and compose in music in braille? There’s one reference to Wonder possibly reading braille. But I can’t find any reference to him using it in the course of his daily life as a composer, or as a musician, and I’m betting you can’t find it either. I personally remember an interview with him on the old KZEW, in the really old days before Labella and Rody, where he talked about carrying a cassette player with him all the time so he could record musical ideas as he got them, no matter where he was.

So the answer is still ‘No!’

Looks like my list of non-reading Grammy-winning instrumentalists checks out after all. Looks like Tom was just trying to spread a little “fake news,” but we headed him off at the pass.

Of course, the point of my post was if these Grammy-winning instrumentalists can’t read the officially-transcribed sheet music to their own songs, then maybe it’s time for us to all take a fresh look at the traditional definition of “musical literacy,” so that well-meaning instructors like Tom don’t mislead their students into thinking thatĀ  “musical literacy” is nothing more than just “the ability to read and write music.” Because that’s the way just about all traditional music teachersĀ  define it – at least up till now.

Next time, we’re going drill down a little on that third part of Tom’s post …