Many music legends, despite their great performance, never learned how to read music. However, their specific recordings created just by heart will always be one of the best.
Here is a list of some of them:
1. Jimi Hendrix was an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Hendrix is praised by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
2. Elvis Presley was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”.
When asked during an interview in 1957 how he writes music if he can’t read it or play the guitar, Presley said, “It’s all a big hoax, honey. I never wrote a song in my life. I get one-third of the credit for recording it. It makes me look smarter than I am. I’ve never even had an idea for a song. Just once, maybe.”
3. Eric Clapton is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. In his autobiography. He mentions about his anxiety while at a guest session with Aretha Franklin as, “I felt so nervous, because I couldn’t read music, and they were all playing from music sheets on stands.”
4. Slash is a former lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. In an interview during Snakepit, when asked if he knows how to read music, he said: “No, I can’t read music, I play by ear. I try to make what I hear (sometimes just in my head) come out my hands into the guitar. When I write music, I usually write on my own at least to start.”
5. Four members of The Beatles: John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. None of them could read music. As told to ‘Playboy’ in a 1980 interview, John Lennon said, “None of us could read music,” … “None of us can write it. But as pure musicians, as inspired humans to make the noise, [Paul and Ringo] are as good as anybody.”
6. Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. Dubbed the “King of Pop”, he was one of the most popular entertainers in the world and was the best-selling music artist at the time of his death.
John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote in a profile of Jackson in GQ, “He starts with tape recorders. He sings and beatboxes the little things he hears, the parts. Where do they come from? Above. Some of the things Michael hears in his head he exports to another instrument, to the piano (which he plays not well but passably) or to the bass. The melody and a few percussive elements remain with his vocal.”
7. Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin guitarist has made a career out of songwriting, but once, music was foreign to him calling it “crows on power lines.” When speaking of his early work as a session guitarist, Page explained, “In the initial stages they just said, play what you want, ‘cause at that time I couldn’t read music or anything.”
8. Tommy Emmanuel is known as a virtuoso guitarist and songwriter. He learned to play the guitar from his mother since he was 4 years old. He has never been able to read music. Nonetheless, performing with the family band as a professional by the age of six, he would not perhaps feel the need to learn it the theoretical way.
9. Eddie Van Halen is a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, and producer. He is best known as the lead guitarist, occasional keyboardist and co-founder of the American hard rock band Van Halen. Eddie could never read music, and he learned by watching and listening, as told in an interview. After hearing his brother play the drums at a performance, he changed from playing a drum-kit to a guitar. Listening to recitals of Bach and Mozart, he tried to reproduce them without any practice. When asked if piano training transferred itself to the guitar, Eddie Van Halen answered, “Oh, definitely, but in a very subliminal way. Because I never learned how to read, really. I used to fool the teacher. I did it all by ear.”