Arlen Roth on Ear vs. Reading
I was a predominantly ear learner, and it’s never been hard for me to extrapolate any ideas or come up with new ones simply by what I hear in my head. “Hear it, then play it” has always been my mantra, and believe it or not, when I wrote my first book, “Slide Guitar”, I only knew where the “G” was on the music staff when I started to write the book (I certainly wasn’t going to embarrass myself by letting them know I couldn’t read!) But I was amazed at how much knowledge I actually had to impart at the tender age of 20, and it seemed the more I delved into my style, the more I therefore knew!
Reading is a great and wonderful thing to do, and it surely is helpful to use especially if you want to work in the fast-paced world of cutting jingles, commercials, film scores and the like, but it’s playing with real natural feeling and with a true “ear” that almost can’t be taught. It’s true that it can be encouraged for sure, and if the student already has a gifted “ear” it will make the whole entire process that much easier! Not only that, but when a student actually has this kind of ear, it makes the whole learning process infinitely more enjoyable for them!
I guess the perfect “happy medium” exists between the two worlds of reading and ear playing…after all it you can put all this together, you can truly be “well-rounded” as a player, a teacher and generally as a professional. The most impressed I have ever been was to actually witness players who could have a piece of music placed in front of them, and that they could then immediately read and play everything there with real feeling. This truly blew me away! Yet, some of these very same musicians will turn to me and say, “Arlen, we sure wish we could improvise like you!” This is very telling…it shows that many can read very well, and may even possess a virtuosic ability, yet the art of improvising still eludes them, due to years of very rigid training that involved strictly reading and playing, as opposed to hearing and feeling and then playing!
For me it’s always been about feeling it first and then playing it…and I mean with absolutely no delay between the two. So anyway, I think what I’m really getting at here is that you should always strive to be the most well-rounded kind of player possible, and that includes all aspects of guitar playing. But still, and I emphasize still, it’s the feeling that will always count far more than the ability to read or to not read. Do it with “feeling” and it will always communicate, and touching people with our music is the main thing to always strive for! Good luck……
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.