Today’s topic will probably tick a lot of music theorists off. The fundamentals of music that were imposed on me as a little child will be severely challenged here. When I first started playing piano as a little boy, my mother “immediately” pushed me into “piano lessons.” The main focus of those lessons was to teach me how to properly “read” music and play it on sight. I was really young and I loved playing music. However, I was not fond of “reading it” from a chart. Each week I would have piano lessons, and I can honestly say that I “hated it.” Every time I was given a lesson on a chart to learn, and when I returned the next week I was supposed to be ready to play it. Well, this never worked out for me, and because of my selfishness I never learned how to read music to this day. However, I will tell you a little story. One week, I was given the assignment of learning an old classic entitled “Home on the Range.” It was a song that I had already heard “many” times in my life so as usual, I didn’t study the chart “at all.” When it came to our next lesson, something strange happened. My teacher put the chart in front of me and I played the song in its entirety without error. She was amazed and complimented me on how well I did picking up the notes off the chart. I had to inform her that I wasn’t reading the chart, but somehow I just instinctively “knew” how to play the song. I believe this was my first official discovery of something called “perfect pitch.” I heard that 1 in 10,000 people have it, and I guess I am one of the blessed ones. Subsequently my mother withdrew me from piano lessons, and I laid off it for years to concentrate on playing basketball, but the ability to play never “left me.” Throughout the years I actually got even “better” at music. Along my musical journey I came across a lot of musical opportunities. I can honestly say that my “inability” to read music actually got me fired “twice” in my career. For one group, I openly admitted that I couldn’t read music, so they didn’t even give me the chance to play the song before deciding not to go in my direction. Years later, the leader of this group came up to me and “formally apologized” because he had heard so many great things about me, and he admitted that he had made a big mistake in his assessment of me. The second time was with a wedding band where they did give me a chart to read, but the charts were written “wrong.” I actually “knew” the songs that we were playing, but I didn’t play them the way the piano player wanted me to, so I got fired. Interestingly enough, one day I did a gig at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center with the New Jersey Orchestra, and they placed a chart in front of me to read. Since I was already onstage, I had “no intention” of telling them that I could not read music. When we performed the song, I pretended to stare at the chart, and used my musical ear to pick up the song “on the fly.” Well, it “worked.” The other professional musicians told me I was great, and they complimented me on how well I played the tunes. The purpose of today’s Daily Thought is not to demean the concept of learning how to read music. I is extremely beneficial for “certain types” of music and musical situations. I have personally performed for some of the world’s biggest artists successfully “without” needing the ability to “read music.” You can check out some of my “highlights” at my web site WWW.Brettjolly.com. It might be considered unfair because I have perfect pitch, but hopefully that still doesn’t lesson my accomplishments. Learning how to read music depends on the “direction” you want to go musically. If you are to be an orchestral player, it should be “imperative” for you to read from a chart. However, I gig a lot more than most orchestra people do, and my career has been just fine. Reading music definitely has its benefits, but to me “having a great ear” has taken me “much further.” I do apologize for those music theorists who say “otherwise” and I wish everyone a great and awesome day.
Billy Paul and Brett Jolly performing in concert in Tunisia