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5 Guitarists Who Can't Read Music

Updated on January 25, 2014

The Beatles

Granted, this is an entire group, but it's true! Regarded as one of the biggest bands in history, the Fab Four could not read a single note of music. John let the fact be known in an interview with Playboy in 1980, while talking about former bandmates Paul and Ringo:

"None of us could read music. None of us can write it. But as pure musicians, as inspired humans to make the noise, they [Paul and Ringo] are as good as anybody."



The man who composed the recognizable riffs of "Sweet Child O' Mine" and countless others, Slash of Guns N' Roses is completely fine with not knowing how to read notes. During a Snakepit Q&A Slash is quoted as saying:

"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."


Jimi Hendrix

Not being able to read music didn't stop Hendrix from creating staple songs "Purple Haze" and "Little Wing," among others. His official biography sums it up best:

"Because he was unable to read or write music, it is nothing short of remarkable that Jimi Hendrix's meteoric rise in the music took place in just four short years. Entirely self-taught, Jimmy's inability to read music made him concentrate even harder on the music he heard."


Tommy Emmanuel

It's hard to believe that THE guitar virtuoso can't read music. His biography states that he didn't learn how to read, but he was still able to become a professional at such a young age:

"Tommy got his first guitar at age 4 and was taught by his mother. He quickly learned by ear, with no formal instruction, and has never read music. By age 6, he was working as a professional musician in the family band."


Eric Clapton

Lastly, the great Eric Clapton let the world know that did not read music, while retelling a guest session with Aretha Franklin, in his autobiography "Slowhand":

"I felt so nervous, because I couldn't read music, and they were all playing from music sheets on stands."

What are your thoughts on music reading?

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Can you think of any other guitarists who can't read music? Leave their name(s) in the comments below!


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    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 4 years ago from United States

      It's the passion and a really good ear for music that drive these excellent musicians to improve their craft and succeed. Interesting hub. :)

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 4 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      This is a very interesting topic! I have read and played music from notated sheets and have also played music by ear. Both are fun, but the playing by ear results in the best compositions because you are trying harder to make it sound good. Voted funny!