Is Musical Ignorance a Win or Fail? [Good or Bad]

Are there any justifiable benefits to being musically ignorant of scales, music theory, music reading and all around higher  music education? 

After posting my video discussion surrounding "Guitar Players Who Don't Read Music," I noticed an abundance of posts in the comments section saying that reading and even music education is a waste of time. 

In this post I'm going to explore, "Musical Ignorance."

Some guitar players will say they don't need to learn music theory, music reading or scales because the "greats" didn't know that stuff and they are successful. Does this mean that Musical Ignorance is a key to great playing?

Watch the Video:

So, does this imply that mere mortals (like most of us) are different. We're lacking in some "gift" that those players have and we are studying music because we lack their magic?

An even better question is why bother learning any theory at all. In fact let's shut down all of the music schools because after all who needs those places. They're pretty much just a waste of space. Right?

Other guitar players will be quick to say that they don't need to learn any theory, reading skills or learn scales because none of the great musicians knew that stuff either. They'll quote players like; Paul McCartney, Angus Young and Jimi Hendrix. And, they'll point out how those musicians were famous and they didn't know any scales or theory, and those guys didn't know how to read. So, those players and what they knew (or didn't know) is the proof - right there - that learning music is a waste of time.

While these beliefs are prevalent and abundant they ignore the fact that these principles only relate to certain guitarists who play by ear in certain styles. So, this means that the idea of musical ignorance is not true of all skill levels, (from beginners to intermediate to semi-pro, to professional). And, it also means that it isn't true of all musicians across all styles of music.

When we expand the pool of musicians out and add in the Jazz players, studio musicians, pit orchestra players, pop and top-40 songwriters, as well as, classical musicians, it's going to get really hard to find very many musicians who are working in those circles who aren't highly educated and well trained.

While there are a general group of guitarists out there, including some of the legends, who don't know theory, and have no formal training, it would be interesting to look at a large group of successful musicians who are highly skilled in the studies and disciplines of music.

Let's begin with a number of highly respected guitar players. Guitarist, Steve Morse went to the University of Miami for music. Pat Metheny and legendary jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius went there too. Pat Metheny later became a member of the Berklee Music College staff, which is the school where guitar virtuoso Steve Vai attended, and so did John Mayer. And, then there's the guys in Dream Theater they are also very highly educated being made up of both Berekley and Julliard music school grads.

We also can't leave out the winner of the 1985 Guitar Wars competition at just 19 years old, Paul Gilbert who is a graduate of the Guitar Institute of Technology at Hollywood's Musicians Institute, as are a number of other incredible guitarists like; Norman Brown, Frank Gambale and Scott Henderson.

Now, granted that this pool of guitar players may not exactly be household names like Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton, but they are musicians who have done extremely well in their careers and all of them have studied music professionally at colleges, Universities and world renown music academy's.

But, it doesn't end there, many pop and progressive rock musicians also have a fairly involved background in music education and training. This even includes Joe Jackson who was classically trained before moving over to perform pop music.

Members of the band Chicago were music students at DePaul University. Elton John attended the Royal Academy of Music in London England, winning a scholarship there at the age of eleven.

Sheryl Crow is a classically trained pianist, as are the Van Halen brothers. Also, Pat Benatar is a trained opera singer along with Geoff Tate, lead singer of the band Queensryche. Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead studied composition at Mills College. Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock group "Yes," also attended London's Royal Academy of Music.

So, in answering this question of whether musical ignorance is a good thing or a bad thing, maybe we need to look at this on more of a psychological level. Like what would cause a person to buy into the belief that no music training is either okay or might actually even somehow be good.

Maybe it's that players who have never pursued any music training, don't want to admit that they have huge holes in their skill set. Remember the first law of recovery is admission! And, there are a lot of musicians who just don't want to admit that they are really weak in a lot of musical abilities. Even Eric Clapton has admitted there were quite often times when he felt incredibly inadequate during studio sessions because he couldn't read charts.

So, perhaps if you're a player who has never learned to read, or who has never learned any music theory, or who doesn't know their scales, maybe it's time to just admit it. If you can admit it, then 50% of the problem is gone, and you can make room for developing those skills.

After 30 years as a musician, I've never met one educated player who's said that they wished they never studied music. Or, that has said they wished they'd never studied music reading or learned to play scales.

If you think that you don't need to study music, and that musical ignorance is really the best way to go. I'd like to make a challenge to you. I'm going to highly suggest that anyone who thinks that music training is worthless should try meeting with a professional music teacher to just get assessed.

And, I'm not talking about meeting somebody who's running a free ad on Craigslist for guitar lessons at $14.00 per lesson. I mean a serious professional educated teacher with over 20 years experience. You might have to pay them upwards of $100 for their time. But, I'd suggest doing it.

People go to personal trainers, they'll hire a trainer at a gym and they'll experience a lot of physical breakthroughs. So, why not challenge yourself and hire a professional musician trainer and find out more with respect to what your missing.

If you don't have the money, then save the money. And, remember, you tend to get what you pay for so don't go for the cheapest person you'll find. So many people will buy coffee and junk food, but they won't invest in their own brain. There's a lot of pride that comes from investing in yourself and even more from seeing the results.

So, before you settle on believing that Musical Ignorance is a good thing, try meeting with a professional music educator and find out how you might be able to improve yourself. If you keep an open mind and listen to what that trainer has to tell you, I honesty believe that you're going to push your skills up to higher level, much faster than you could ever do all on your own.



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  2. Well done!!! Myself I do a combo of tab and some music reading to obtain what I want musically. I lean more toward learning music theory. I really care less if Paul Mccartney could read music or not. I just want to hear a great song from him and I don't care how he goes about creeating the song. That's my two cents.