Jonathan Wright


By far one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in my life, one that has caused me untold amounts of frustrated, tension-filled perplexity, is this unfathomable question:

Why are there so many “musicians” who can’t even read music?

Actually, the short answer is this: They’ve never learned.

Of course, that in turn begs the ultimate question—“Why on earth haven’t they learned?”

I’ve crossed paths with many music-lovers in my lifetime, people who could play a mean piano, guitar, fiddle, saxophone, organ, or whatever. They go up and down scales, mastering the intricacies of mankind’s most universal language, with the adeptness of great artists.

If you didn’t know any better, you would think these folks could play just about anything. Their versatility is amazing, fascinating their appreciative audiences with wonderful songs and accompaniment that would make any mother and dad proud.

But in the course of my many conversations with these talented folks, I have discovered more times than not a shameful (to me, at least) secret they may or may not share with others:

They don’t read music.


Some admit it freely, almost as a badge of honor. Others reluctantly attest to it when pressed to follow a piece of written music placed expectantly in front of them.

These are mostly people who have spent years, some almost their entire lifetimes, playing wonderful music for the enjoyment of themselves and others. Since they don’t read music, apparently they’ve learn their art by going over and over pieces until they’ve memorized them.

For that very reason the same question always comes to my puzzled mind: “If you’ve invested so much time in music for all these years, if it’s become such an integral part of your life, if it’s added such depth and richness to your earthly experience and has been worth all the practice and time—why, oh why, in the name of all that’s practical and logical—haven’t you ever gone just one step further and simply learned to read music?”

Sure, it requires time, study, and concentration, but by taking it slow and easy, and I’m convinced that most people can be successful at it. Much of it has to do with simple math, and if you can count, you can learn to read music.

People who love creating music owe it to themselves to go all the way and pursue the time-honored, enormously satisfying art of translating written music into audible music. It only makes sense to do so. It will open up a whole new dimension to your enjoyment and will only enhance your talent.

And—may I add—in our incredible age of computer-based knowledge and instruction, it’s easier than ever to gain new skills and knowledge at your own pace. If you have a strong-enough desire, you can do it.

Go ahead—the world is at your fingertips. Learn to read music.

If you genuinely love creating music, there’s really no good reason not to.

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