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Thread started 09/02/17 8:38am

Militant

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Interview where Prince said he didn't read music

Does anyone recall which interview this was?

I seem to remember it was in Australia.
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Reply #1 posted 09/02/17 9:32am

langebleu

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[2003.10.22] Channel 9 Today

with the NPG, before the Melbourne performance.


At the 2'30" mark -


Interviewer:
You don't read music?


Prince: No

Interviewer: Just instinctive?

Prince: Ah, yeah, I would say so - I have a good ...

Maceo Parker (interjecting): Genius, like I said.

Prince: ... I have a good ear

(laughing and turning to Maceo): The pay's the same Maceo.

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Reply #2 posted 09/02/17 9:52am

Militant

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langebleu said:

[2003.10.22] Channel 9 Today

with the NPG, before the Melbourne performance.


At the 2'30" mark -


Interviewer:
You don't read music?


Prince: No

Interviewer: Just instinctive?

Prince: Ah, yeah, I would say so - I have a good ...

Maceo Parker (interjecting): Genius, like I said.

Prince: ... I have a good ear

(laughing and turning to Maceo): The pay's the same Maceo.

Thanks bro - have got the video of it now smile

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Reply #3 posted 09/02/17 10:02am

alandail

It's really unlikely that Prince didn't know how to read music, he did take band in High School.

For ONO - Cleveland, Najee had just flown in to join the band. In the sound check for that, Prince said when he asked Najee if he wanted to run through the songs to hear what they sounded like, Najee said he didn't need to, he read the sheet music on the flight. Prince said he couldn't hear the music by reading sheet music like that.

I suspect that's what he meant, that he had to play the music to hear it, not just read the sheet music, not that he couldn't play music from the sheet music.

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Reply #4 posted 09/02/17 10:19am

PurpleBabied

He probably meant "sight reading." FWIW, maybe that affected how much he practiced especially when he was learning instruments or the way he rehearsed or the people he picked for the bands?

If you do it by ear, running through sheet music does zip for rehearsals. If you've got to hear it to play it, you've got to rehearse endlessly and a lot of that would be Prince teaching each band member their part.

Maybe he said he couldn't sight read because he was paranoid that people might steal riffs or choruses or songs. If you have sheet music you can hand it off to any musician who can read music and record stuff. Plus we know he liked jamming and improvising in the middle of performances. He also pretty zealously guarded performance rights. What does having a book full of Prince sheet music do to that?

My inability to "sight read" didn't mean anything for choir in high school, but it meant I didn't make a college choral group.

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Reply #5 posted 09/02/17 2:29pm

PeteSilas

i always thought it was wierd how people found it hard to believe prince didn't read music, how many rock musicians read at all? Most of them don't. For some reason, Prince, with his gifts just seems to make people think he was soo great that he must have read. He said it, he meant it, he didn't need it. I had a classical music teacher who insisted Prince read, i didn't argue, but did think it was strange how no other rock musician be it elvis, chuck berry or little richard or whoever has that affect on listeners.

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Reply #6 posted 09/02/17 3:19pm

daniorU

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There's another interview that at this question he said "I don't need to".
I don't remember when exactly.
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Reply #7 posted 09/02/17 3:35pm

PeteSilas

he said something about how "it didn't hurt him" or something in an early 80's interview. Like i said, it's kinda strange how often the question was posed to him when no one asked elvis, sinatra or anyone else. I think McCartney has been asked a couple times, but usually, people just assume rock musicians don't read, and it's generally true.

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Reply #8 posted 09/02/17 6:13pm

purplerabbitho
le

I imagine that prince could read what time the song was in, read notes on a bass clef or treble clef and can tell the difference between a quarter note and eighth note when he saw them. Beyond that, he probably didn't read music. The more elaborate sheet music may not have been taught to him in middle school/high school band. I sit in on 6th grade orchestra as a teaching aide every day and the arrangements they are learning are pretty simple compared to sheet music for real adult orchestras.

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Reply #9 posted 09/02/17 6:13pm

purplerabbitho
le

I imagine that prince could read what time the song was in, read notes on a bass clef or treble clef and can tell the difference between a quarter note and eighth note when he saw them. Beyond that, he probably didn't read music. The more elaborate sheet music may not have been taught to him in middle school/high school band. I sit in on 6th grade orchestra as a teaching aide every day and the arrangements they are learning are pretty simple compared to sheet music for real adult orchestras.

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Reply #10 posted 09/02/17 6:17pm

PRNelson

He could read AND write music to a certain degree because I own a copy of the melody line transcript for 'Bambu' in Prince's own hand.
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Reply #11 posted 09/02/17 7:14pm

SpookyNopetopu
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Yeah, high school band sheet music isn't really all that complicated, and a LOT of students (unless you go to a wealthier school and/or had private tutors) learn a lot of stuff by ear. I'm sure he /could/ read and write music notes and whatnot -- I'd be surprised if he didn't pick that up at some point. But you don't HAVE TO be able to read sheet music to learn an instrument. I certainly didn't, and was a good enough sax player in high school that my band teacher tried to get me into a college of music. Got me admitted, too, without me having to audition.

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Reply #12 posted 09/02/17 8:32pm

purplefam99

Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play?
And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have any idea?
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Reply #13 posted 09/02/17 8:55pm

PeteSilas

purplefam99 said:

Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play? And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have any idea?

in the early days i heard he would show the various bandmembers what to play, pepe willie said so, but.....i'm sure that by the time he'd started working with people like Michael bland, Uhh, that one guy that just passed, i'm sure he let them do what they wanted, at least to an extent. as stated, even if he could write down notation, most of the musicians he worked with couldn't read it.

Prince.org: With fans like these he didn't need haters.
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Reply #14 posted 09/03/17 1:10am

ozone14

Most rock musicians don't read. Unless you are a musician for hire, it's really not that necessary. And if you need sheet music for your compositions, a computer can do it for you.

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Reply #15 posted 09/03/17 4:04am

rogifan

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PeteSilas said:



purplefam99 said:


Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play? And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have any idea?

in the early days i heard he would show the various bandmembers what to play, pepe willie said so, but.....i'm sure that by the time he'd started working with people like Michael bland, Uhh, that one guy that just passed, i'm sure he let them do what they wanted, at least to an extent. as stated, even if he could write down notation, most of the musicians he worked with couldn't read it.


I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?
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Reply #16 posted 09/03/17 5:15am

7teenz

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rogifan said:

PeteSilas said:



purplefam99 said:


Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play? And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have any idea?

in the early days i heard he would show the various bandmembers what to play, pepe willie said so, but.....i'm sure that by the time he'd started working with people like Michael bland, Uhh, that one guy that just passed, i'm sure he let them do what they wanted, at least to an extent. as stated, even if he could write down notation, most of the musicians he worked with couldn't read it.


I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?


He told him to do anything. Just like the Little Red Corvettes guitar solo. He told Dez to play what he felt and then put the solo together from different takes. It is something that he did often, especially with Eric. Who by the way, stated many times that only he and Atlanta read music. Wendy and Lisa were classically trained and could read. Matt can read because he took lessons. But, for the most part he would put ideas down onto a boom box cassette and work with the band, or by himself to flesh out ideas. The "boombox tapes" ,anyone? Prince had a working knowledge of reading and writing and keys. Meaning he could look at a piece of music and at least know the key and progressions. His strength is that understood keys, scales, and chords and had a good ear.

A lot of times he would hum or make some sort of sound to give an idea of want he wanted, or play it for the person, especially horns. He gave his horn players a lot of room to come up with their own ideas and would often add or subtract from them. If you read the tour schedules you would see that he gave the band tapes via an assistant, to learn their part(s), not lead sheets. He could write a nomial melody, but you will also find songs with the chord names written above the lyric.
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Reply #17 posted 09/03/17 5:34am

rogifan

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Phil Lassiter who was the horn arranger for the NPG Hornz told a story once of Prince asking him to write arrangements for Big City and Mutiny. When they rehearsed the songs at PP after they finished Prince told Phil the arrangements were great but could he flip them, put the Big City arrangement on Mutiny and vice versa. On the spot the band did it, Prince loved it and that’s how they were performed. cool
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Reply #18 posted 09/03/17 7:26am

manabean84

Just because he didn't read music doesn't mean that he couldn't read music. A friend of mine who plays guitar only learned to read tab, but he learns a lot of his music by ear.

[Edited 9/3/17 7:28am]

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Reply #19 posted 09/03/17 7:32am

paulludvig

7teenz said:

rogifan said:


I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?


He told him to do anything. Just like the Little Red Corvettes guitar solo. He told Dez to play what he felt and then put the solo together from different takes. It is something that he did often, especially with Eric. Who by the way, stated many times that only he and Atlanta read music. Wendy and Lisa were classically trained and could read. Matt can read because he took lessons. But, for the most part he would put ideas down onto a boom box cassette and work with the band, or by himself to flesh out ideas. The "boombox tapes" ,anyone? Prince had a working knowledge of reading and writing and keys. Meaning he could look at a piece of music and at least know the key and progressions. His strength is that understood keys, scales, and chords and had a good ear.

A lot of times he would hum or make some sort of sound to give an idea of want he wanted, or play it for the person, especially horns. He gave his horn players a lot of room to come up with their own ideas and would often add or subtract from them. If you read the tour schedules you would see that he gave the band tapes via an assistant, to learn their part(s), not lead sheets. ØlyHe could write a nomial melody, but you will also find songs with the chord names written above the lyric.


I think only Eric and Atlanta read music back in the days. Both Lisa and Fink probably had piano lessons at some point, so could perhaps read to some extent. Don't think Wendy could though. And none of them were classically trained. That is a myth.
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Reply #20 posted 09/03/17 2:26pm

bwaaatch

rogifan said:

PeteSilas said:



purplefam99 said:


Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play? And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have

I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?


Seen a link on the org in the past 18 months to a Michael Bland interview. Bland states that Prince told himself what to play for that intro, beat for beat, and that's what he played.
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Reply #21 posted 09/03/17 8:03pm

purplefam99

7teenz said:

rogifan said:


I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?


He told him to do anything. Just like the Little Red Corvettes guitar solo. He told Dez to play what he felt and then put the solo together from different takes. It is something that he did often, especially with Eric. Who by the way, stated many times that only he and Atlanta read music. Wendy and Lisa were classically trained and could read. Matt can read because he took lessons. But, for the most part he would put ideas down onto a boom box cassette and work with the band, or by himself to flesh out ideas. The "boombox tapes" ,anyone? Prince had a working knowledge of reading and writing and keys. Meaning he could look at a piece of music and at least know the key and progressions. His strength is that understood keys, scales, and chords and had a good ear.

A lot of times he would hum or make some sort of sound to give an idea of want he wanted, or play it for the person, especially horns. He gave his horn players a lot of room to come up with their own ideas and would often add or subtract from them. If you read the tour schedules you would see that he gave the band tapes via an assistant, to learn their part(s), not lead sheets. He could write a nomial melody, but you will also find songs with the chord names written above the lyric.



Ok I think I'm seeing it, thx Pete and 7teenz. Good question rogifan.
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Reply #22 posted 09/03/17 8:44pm

purplethunder3
121

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langebleu said:

[2003.10.22] Channel 9 Today

with the NPG, before the Melbourne performance.


At the 2'30" mark -


Interviewer:
You don't read music?


Prince: No

Interviewer: Just instinctive?

Prince: Ah, yeah, I would say so - I have a good ...

Maceo Parker (interjecting): Genius, like I said.

Prince: ... I have a good ear

(laughing and turning to Maceo): The pay's the same Maceo.

lol That's great! I saw Maceo Parker last year and hope to see him again this year.

Free your mind...and your ass will follow.
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Reply #23 posted 09/03/17 9:18pm

PeteSilas

bwaaatch said:

rogifan said:
Seen a link on the org in the past 18 months to a Michael Bland interview. Bland states that Prince told himself what to play for that intro, beat for beat, and that's what he played.

i imagine a lot of it would depend on his vision for the song, Bruce Springsteen, a guy who's also been called a control freak, can be seen in a dvd about the making of born to run, singing the sax riff for Jungleland to Clarence Clemmons that he wanted, painstakingly and irritatingly as Bruce admitted, hours and hours of that, on the other hand I'm sure lots of clemmons solos were spontaneous and totally his. Prince did the same i'm sure.

Prince.org: With fans like these he didn't need haters.
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Reply #24 posted 09/05/17 9:54pm

coldasice

rogifan said:[quote]

PeteSilas said:



purplefam99 said:


Question, So Prince would Prince physically show the drummer what to play? And then they would just learn the drum part that way?? Please explain if you have any idea?

in the early days i heard he would show the various bandmembers what to play, pepe willie said so, but.....i'm sure that by the time he'd started working with people like Michael bland, Uhh, that one guy that just passed, i'm sure he let them do what they wanted, at least to an extent. as stated, even if he could write down notation, most of the musicians he worked with couldn't read it.


I’m curious with a song like Shhh, did Prince write that drum part or did it come from Michael Bland?[/quot
Prince wrothe the drum part, i think youre meaning did prince come up with the fills.
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Reply #25 posted 09/06/17 12:16am

sfinky1

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Remember prince was all about working FAST, as fast as possible, and stopping to take time to notate music on paper would probably slow his process.. Then You lose the groove!
David Z said in interview that in the early days Prince had a small handheld tape recorder and would hum the bassline or drumbeat of a song into it
.. recording his ideas that way instead of on paper
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Reply #26 posted 09/06/17 7:42am

savagedreams

alandail said:

It's really unlikely that Prince didn't know how to read music, he did take band in High School.

.

where has it said he took band in high school?

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Reply #27 posted 09/06/17 7:43am

savagedreams

manabean84 said:

Just because he didn't read music doesn't mean that he couldn't read music. A friend of mine who plays guitar only learned to read tab, but he learns a lot of his music by ear.

[Edited 9/3/17 7:28am]

.

reading tab is NOT the same as readng music.

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Reply #28 posted 09/06/17 8:38am

Polo1026

PeteSilas said:

i always thought it was wierd how people found it hard to believe prince didn't read music, how many rock musicians read at all? Most of them don't. For some reason, Prince, with his gifts just seems to make people think he was soo great that he must have read. He said it, he meant it, he didn't need it. I had a classical music teacher who insisted Prince read, i didn't argue, but did think it was strange how no other rock musician be it elvis, chuck berry or little richard or whoever has that affect on listeners.

I agree with you, I find it very strange as well. I think Prince's composing ability throws people for a loop. It never really mattered to me tbh. I think it became more of a thing when a segment of Prince fans wanted to use Prince not reading music to show how vital certain band members were to Prince's work like Lisa and Wendy. Lot's of opinions are that Lisa and Wendy made Prince's compositions more interesting and since Prince was essentially a funk musician at heart, Lisa and Wendy added the layers of interesting melody on that funk. But any musician will tell you it's the exact opposite. I learned by ear as well so you muddy up your songs by replicating things you heard, certain vamps or breaks or funk lines etc when the song presented straight forward works well enough. Take a song like 'I'm Yours' for instance, prolific fucking musicality and ability on that song but it's filled with moments that are only meant to highlight ability, not to make the central melody the focus. It's one of my favorite Prince songs just because it's a clear indication of his otherworldly talent. Lisa and Wendy and other collaborators who could read were vastly more instrumental in editing Prince and keeping him only on the central melodic line with very few deviations. That was their gift to his music, making Prince as simple as possible melodically while maintaining the core funk of his songs. I think once Prince knew he could lay down drums and bass and a lead line and give tracks to Lisa and Wendy to finish, he probably had massive inspiration to create because his brain doesn't edit, it keeps going which is why so many vault songs sound similar. The are other underlying issues here but let's stick to the music.

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Reply #29 posted 09/06/17 9:34am

crimesofparis

savagedreams said:



manabean84 said:


Just because he didn't read music doesn't mean that he couldn't read music. A friend of mine who plays guitar only learned to read tab, but he learns a lot of his music by ear.


[Edited 9/3/17 7:28am]



.


reading tab is NOT the same as readng music.


Yeah, seriously. It's paint-by-numbers.

I would argue that chord charts are barely reading music. And I'm not a snob; I can barely sight read on my primary instrument, but chord charts are my jam.

But can't vs don't, I think it's probable that he could read when he had to, but with a sharp ear you don't have to unless someone is handing you something and telling you to learn it without a recording or sight read on the spot.
[Edited 9/6/17 9:40am]
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