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Steve Howe Interview: Something strange

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Post Options Post Options   Quote npjnpj Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Steve Howe Interview: Something strange
    Posted: May 06 2013 at 09:35

There was an interview with Steve Howe posted here a short while back that contained a passage that I can't really fathom, and I'd like to hear your opinions about it.

As an aside he mentioned that he couldn't read or write sheet music and he memorizes all his material. Now to me that's just weird.

Here is a world famous guitarist who, for some reason, can't or won't learn the basics of his trade. In heaven's name, why? It's not rocket science and he's had about 40 years to learn it from when his career really took off. Surely it would have made life so much easier for him. It's just basic, and any kid learning an instrument like the piano can master it in a relatively short time.

I could possibly understand it  if you're a musician who only plans to stay in the game for a limited amount of time, but in SH's case, somewhere along the line of the last 4 decades it must have struck him that he'd be doing it for a while longer. Even if he should be self-taught, why not make the effort after a while? Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia? Is it just laziness?

I imagine SH's probably not the only one, but he's one of the most prominent musicians, so can anyone cast any light here? I'm baffled.



Edited by npjnpj - May 06 2013 at 09:39
I like the music of any era, regardless of when it was made.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote sleeper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 09:42
It's not a big deal, there are probably a lot of musicians who don't know a thing about sheet music and haven't learned it because they feel they don't need it since they've already got the ins and outs memorised and a well developed ear for what others are playing. I have a friend who's been playing guitar for over 10 years, and he's bloody good these days, who is exactly the same.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Adams Bolero Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 09:47
Jimi Hendrix couldn't read music but that didn't stop him being one of the greatest guitarists of all time and neither does it for Steve Howe.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Padraic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 09:51
George Harrison is another famous example of someone who couldn't read sheet music.

Once you can play your instrument and are a reasonably successful musician, there's hardly motivation to go learn.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Triceratopsoil Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 12:11
You'll probably find a hell of a lot of rock guitarists that are the same way.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote brainstormer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 12:11
I knew a kid who when my age at the time, around 16, could play as fast as Mahavishnu Orchestra's
recordings of John Mclaughlin.  He couldn't read, and I imagine these other guys learned to be good
at an early age, also.  The pain of going back and having to train your brain to do it all from paper, 
and get it all on paper, is probably not worth the effort.  
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Roland113 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 12:20
As a practicing musician, I think I'm qualified to partially answer this.

Let me clarify one thing first, when a musician says that they can't 'read' sheet music, they're referring to the inability to pick out notes in time with the music.  By this I mean just about any musician can sit down and look at a sheet of music and slowly pick out the notes.  People that can 'sight read' or 'read' music for short refer to being able to play something brand new, at the proper tempo and rhythm from the sheet music the first time they look at it.

It's a great skill and something that is almost required from anyone that plays in an orchestra or a session musician.  But not required to be fantastic.  Nor is it an indication of laziness.  In Mr. Howe's case, I'm assuming it's simply a skill that he never felt was important.

There are really two reasons to learn how to read sheet music.

Reason one is to learn to play something that someone else has written.  Mr. Howe doesn't seem to be the type to go start a cover band so much of the learning someone else's wouldn't be a high priority to him.  I certainly don't claim on the same plane as Mr. Howe, but I've managed to play for thirty years with very little sheet music.  Honestly, I've sat down and given it a passing attempt from time to time, but quickly stopped caring, especially when I started creating my own stuff which is so much more personally gratifying.

Reason two is to learn to write sheet music so that others can play your stuff.  In Mr. Howe's case that is easily contracted out.  If he doesn't want to leave it for interpretation, then most modern music composition software will write sheet music out for you, I think I saw this feature as early as the late 80's.

I would say that laziness is not the case as much as it simply isn't a priority.  There are so many other things that you can do with your time, why waste it on something that you don't want or need to do.

ed. replaced Hackett with Howe  Embarrassed


Edited by Roland113 - May 06 2013 at 15:28
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Post Options Post Options   Quote zumacraig Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 12:28
i can fake reading music, but i play by ear.  i taught myself piano and guitar and have been playing for 20 years.  music education can be quite helpful though...but it also could be an obstacle.  there was just no way i would ever have played an instrument if i wasn't able to do it my way.  i heard songs i wanted to play and i busted my ass every day to play them.  this was not work though...i loved doing it.  that being said, i did grow up in a home with two classically trained musician so basic stuff came naturally to me.

to me, i could care less if someone is classically trained or not.  if it's good, it's good.  

what's interesting to me these days is the shredders who post on youtube.  they learn note by note a petrucci solo via watching his video and then can play it themselves.  no musical knowledge at all.  at the same time, you cannot teach touch, dynamics etc.  most people just don't get 'playing music'.  the pound away like idiots.  lots of that on youtube too.  my friends who teach music are always complaining about windshield wiper guitarists and banging piano player


Edited by zumacraig - May 06 2013 at 12:32
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Post Options Post Options   Quote brainstormer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 18:30
Originally posted by zumacraig
what's interesting to me these days is the shredders who post on youtube.  they learn note by note a petrucci solo via watching his video and then can play it themselves.  no musical knowledge at all.  at the same time, you cannot teach touch, dynamics etc.  most people just don't get 'playing music'.  the pound away like idiots.  lots of that on youtube too.  my friends who teach music are always complaining about windshield wiper guitarists and banging piano player
[/QUOTE



It's like how you say a sentence.  You can say it with love and affection, or you can say it like a robot,
or somewhere in between!  I always liked the idea that music is a lot like other forms of language, although
I know some don't like that idea.  I think Stravinsky said he didn't.  

It's like how you say a sentence.  You can say it with love and affection, or you can say it like a robot,
or somewhere in between!  I always liked the idea that music is a lot like other forms of language, although
I know some don't like that idea.  I think Stravinsky said he didn't.  
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Horizons Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2013 at 18:45
Isn't Peart the same way?


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Post Options Post Options   Quote Slartibartfast Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 02:21
I'm baffled that you are baffled by this, npjnpj.  I played around with sheet music many years ago and still have some books of it.  When you can do music in your head it gets in the way more than it helps.  The advent of recorded music renders it kind of obsolete...


Edited by Slartibartfast - May 07 2013 at 02:22
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Post Options Post Options   Quote chopper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 04:08
McCartney can't read music and he's written classical pieces including an opera, he just gets someone to write it down for him.
You could argue that when you're a full-time guitarist you have got the time to learn to read/write music but Howe's career doesn't seem to have suffered too much.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Blacksword Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 04:34
Do you think Steve Howe would have made a more valid contribution to rock music had he been able to read/write music?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote M27Barney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 06:44
Steve Howe composed and played in some of the best symphonic progressive rock that has EVER been produced - The fact that he cannot read sheet music is probably just as irrelevant as the fact he couldn't / wouldn't have wanted to make himself an electric/acoustic guitar.........
Play me my song.....Here it comes again.......
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Gerinski Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 07:16
I think Roland113 made the good point. I honestly believe than Howe and most other professional musicians can understand written music, I would find it really surprising if that was not the case. I am not a musician but I can play some instruments at amateur level and even myself understand the logic of music writing and with big effort and patience I can decipher a score, or (again with big effort and patience) I could write the score of something I composed (which indeed, as long as I can play it, software can do for me saving me the effort).

A completely different thing is mastering the subject at such a high level that you can be given a score, put it in front of you and start playing it. This requires huge training and for a musician playing mostly his own music it has little if any value.

I believe that most musicians work at an 'in between' level, in order to play something from another musician they need to learn the piece first, but unless they really master it by heart, having the score in front of them can help them playing it through. 

Question Incidentally, I have always wondered at Jordan Rudess having the tablet with the score on top of his keyboard for playing his DT material. Is it just to make him look a cooler, more classically trained musician? Does he really not master the material by heart thoroughly enough that he needs the score guidance? Does he really look at it? Does it really help him to play along? Would he make mistakes had he not have it? Question
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Post Options Post Options   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 08:59
Originally posted by npjnpj

There was an interview with Steve Howe posted here a short while back that contained a passage that I can't really fathom, and I'd like to hear your opinions about it.

As an aside he mentioned that he couldn't read or write sheet music and he memorizes all his material. Now to me that's just weird.
...

The clue here is ... "to me that's just weird" ... which you yourself stated.
 
Check out some of the music things being taught in the internet about music these days ... by simply using mathematics ... and not music, or the notes themselves. You might not necessarily know the notes, or their names or that blah and blah is blah and blah ... but you can still play it.
 
This is the side of "music" and its "academic" knowledge, and styles, that is difficult to make folks understand ... there is another side of music that has nothing to do with a DAW, composition, and any academic information that you and I know, and Steve Howe is not the only one ...
 
It kinda makes sense to me, as I always thought that his playing was designed sort of like stairs ... you go up and down and sometimes sideways ... and it works ... and as long as he has the freedom to move on it, it's not an issue. If he does NOT have the freedom, I think a lot of folks would have problems playing with Steve Howe.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote chopper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 07 2013 at 09:16
I have a friend who can pick out a chord from a song and play it exactly, but if you ask him what the chord is, he probably won't know.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 08 2013 at 08:50
Originally posted by zumacraig

i can fake reading music, but i play by ear.  i taught myself piano and guitar and have been playing for 20 years.  music education can be quite helpful though...but it also could be an obstacle.
...
 
I have the same issue in writing, and it also happens on stage with actors.
 
There is a point when/where what was written has nothing to do with anything that we think, or understand, and (for example) this was important and very valuable, when discussing "modern theater" since the 1950's because no one could tell ... where it came from ... it wasn't just an idea ... it was something else ... and finding a good enough understanding to work with is the difference between a good performance of "Waiting for Godot" or one that will have you asleep in 15 minutes!  This same thing, also happened in film (Godard and Truffaut) and also happened in music a bit later ... which was the tougher "process" to crack, until "popular" music busted the whole thing with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the like!
 
The saying, often is, you have to "unlearn all you know", in order to find something new. And, of course, this is not something that goes very well with the logic that permeates a database. However, the database volume and information also brings something to the table, and credit must also be given there.
 
Originally posted by zumacraig

...
 interesting to me these days is the shredders who post on youtube.  they learn note by note a petrucci solo via watching his video and then can play it themselves.  no musical knowledge at all.  at the same time, you cannot teach touch, dynamics etc.  most people just don't get 'playing music'.  the pound away like idiots.  lots of that on youtube too.  my friends who teach music are always complaining about windshield wiper guitarists and banging piano player
 
I always have said that the worst part is that if Petrucci was playing a violin, he would get invitations to the Met and the Scala and Beyruth ... but because he has an electric guitar ... he's a thrasher and who cares! It's so bad, that we can not even tell  when someone DOES know what they are doing and when they don't ... we continue to support "favoritism" and we never know when musicianship is at play!


Edited by moshkito - May 08 2013 at 08:52
... none of the hits, none of the time ... you might actually find your own art, or self, and forego lousy heroes or Guru's!

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Earthmover Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 08 2013 at 12:22
I certainly think that knowing music theory has many benefits, but I've also heard tons of artists who know absolutely no theory but are making much better music than the artists who are musically educated. Maybe knowing theory can be somewhat restrictive in some cases.

Edited by mister nobody - May 08 2013 at 12:23
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Post Options Post Options   Quote infandous Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 09 2013 at 07:29
If Wakeman, who can obviously read scores and write his own, had no problem working with Howe then I don't see why he really needs to know that himself.

I've played for 20 years, and I did learn to read many years ago, but I've never had any use for it as I have always played with people who play mainly by ear.  For myself though, I think I might have been a better song writer had I learned some theory, but I'm happy with what I know and can do.  For us hobbyists, it's just really not that important.

At the level of someone like Howe, I guess it really depends on what you want to do and who you are working with.  He obviously hasn't needed formal training, or even to be able to read and write music.  It's hard to argue with success, no matter how it is achieved.  I find that highly trained musicians often lack their own "voice", their own unique sound.  There are, of course, exceptions (Wakeman, for instance), but for the most part that has been my experience.
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