"Ear" verses "Note"

by Jim Mathis

The whole idea of playing by “ear” verses playing by “note” is a little divisive. The terms sound as if those who read music don’t listen and those who play by ear don’t know what they are playing.

As I see it, music is a language. It can be played, it can be written down, and still others can play what has been written.

If I could only read words written by other people, my communication skills would be very limited. It might be a real joy to read Shakespeare or other famous writers, but if my whole ability to communicate was limited to reading their writings, it would be extremely limiting.

Being able to say what I wanted to say in my own words would be much more important to me. Being able to write those things down so that others could read them would be even better.

It is easy to see how this applies to music. There have been some wonderful composers throughout history and being able to play what they have written is a good thing. But given a choice, I would rather play my own notes, the way I want them to sound.

It is funny that “playing by ear” or “playing by note” seems to divide musicians into two camps. (We don’t talk about people who can read written words verses those who can speak extemporaneously as being at opposite ends of literacy.) It may be because they tend to be in different styles of music. There seems to be a big misunderstanding between people who mainly read music – classical types – and those who play from the heart – jazz, blues, folk, etc.

Let’s just say there are different approaches to making music and it is all good. Music is music whether or not anybody has taken the time to write out a score.

Jim Mathis
Bob Kaat-Wohlert
Theresa Kaat- Wohlert
Wes Burrows
Charles David Smart

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