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Chet discusses reading music

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 10:27 am
by Norm
Over the years little has been said about Chet's ability to read music. He had a stock line "I do, but not enough to hurt my playing." which I always thought discouraged people from learning this valuable skill.

There is a clip of a series called “Yesteryear” on YouTube, a series of interviews hosted by Archie Campbell.
He does a four part set with Chet Atkins

in which he asks Chet if he read music.
With no hesitation Chet said “Yes I do,” and went on to describe riding along with his father, who taught music on piano and voice and picking it up as he went along.

Then he made reference to his brother Jim Atkins working with him to learn to read music. He said he didn’t start reading classical guitar music until the fifties. He discussed the difficulty of sight reading music on a guitar due to the repetition of notes on the fingerboard. He claimed to be a “bar at a time” reader but said just reading melody lines was fairly easy.

At Campbell’s urging Chet explained the “Nashville Number System” and vocalized how it worked by singing the numbers as used in “Wildwood Flower.”

There were little nuggets during this portion of the interview when it was obvious that Chet had absorbed his father’s teaching in voice because he would sing part of a scale to illustrate a point. In his teaching DVD “The Guitar of Chet Atkins” you can hear him singing the chords he is demonstrating. Particularly on the song "The Lady Loves." He sings the melody and sings the chord names as they occur.

So there you have it. Learn how to read music even if only a little... It is a great tool...

Re: Chet discusses reading music

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 1:24 pm
by albertgen
I heard that too from people about reading music but I went ahead and learned anyway. The problem I always had with it is sight reading and playing in time. Thats as far as I took it. I rarely found the need to sight read and play on the spot. I am just a bar by bar guy, lol. Al

Re: Chet discusses reading music

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 2:33 pm
by Norm
True enough but I'll tell you if you want to learn a song right, and by "right" I mean correctly, the ability to read music comes in handy.

I got taught a humbling lesson about playing by ear by a country bluegrass singer. I was young and thought I was a hotshot and this guy was going to use me to back him up on "Little Rosewood Casket." We went through the first rehearsal and he stopped me cold and said, "You ain't playing it right."

I thought I was, I mean how hard can it be to play such a simple song? He stood next to me and told me to play it as he sang it and, sure enough, I was using little "by ear" workarounds we all have used. Once he was satisfied that I played the melody properly he said, "There. Now you can play it and your solo will sound better because of it.
He was right and I never forgot that little lesson in life.

Some years later I was jamming with a friend on "Crazy" and realized I was probably missing some notes. For that one I found an accurate midi version and spent a reallly long time making sure I played the melody exactly as the midi version did because it was obviously based on Patsy's version.

There are some subtle little notes, that if they aren't played right, may fly in a barroom or house jam, but the song suffers a little from them not being in there Some folks say "Awww.... it don't make that much difference!"
...but it does... I was able to make a really nice version with bells and whistles, confident that I was playing it right in the process.

Fast forward... I decide to learn Ashokan Farewell because "everybody" was playing it. But I noticed no two versions sounded the same as far as delivering the melody.

I was fortunate enough to find a simple lead sheet (melody line in notation with chords written above) online for it.

I had the song accurately in short order and was able to make a lovely arrangement from that and I know when I play it it is pretty spot on for melodic accuracy.

One of Chet's fun lines in videos when he's playing with someone is "I'll play it first because that way I know it'll be played right."

Being able to read enables you to have that slight extra edge that your totally by-ear guy might not have.

Am I saying "Don't play anything without reading the notes first?" No. But while I, like most of you, do most of my playing by ear, there are some "classics" that I play with more confidence because I took the time to learn how to read music in a basic manner and found proper lead sheets to get a melodic accuracy my jam mates didn't have but respect because they can hear it.

It also helps sometimes to be able to write out complicated parts just so you don't forget them. Working out things like 'Yankee Doodle Dixie' can be a little easier if you can read or write music.

I play a lot of songs like the rest of us do, winging it by ear, but I really try my best, if I'm taking the first break, to be sure to establish the melody as accurately as possible. Once that is done us musicians can do all the fun things we like to do as we vary a song. Sometimes, though, if I don't think I got it right I try to find a written arrangement of it.

Reading music isn't an "answer" but it is certainly a great tool that comes in handy sometimes.

Of course, like anything else...practice makes it all work better...

Re: Chet discusses reading music

PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:09 pm
by stevek
Hi Norm,

Thank you so much for posting this, it is gold.


Re: Chet discusses reading music

PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2014 6:09 pm
by cettyboy
Become a monster reader.It's worth the effort.