My final project/presentation is on the relationship between musical and academic literacy. I’m finding in my research that the two are closely tied. The larger question that I want to explore is whether or not being musically literate is necessary for a successful career in music. I’m running into some issues when it comes to my personal bias; I took classical vocal lessons for nine years, was a Vocal Performance major, and really value the technical side of creating, reading, and performing music. However, most of my sources point out how multifaceted musical literacy is. True to other forms of literacy, the music version does not have a cut and dry definition, but a common trend amongst those who have tried to put it into words is the emphasis on the complexity and fluidity of what it means to be musically literate. In addition to being able to recognize notes and rhythms, musical literacy involves expressivity; it takes into account being able to bring a piece of music to life. This is where the dilemma presents itself: many beloved and well known artists do this extremely well without a technical background. The popular example is The Beatles, none of whom could read or write music. Did that prohibit them from touching millions with their music? Far from it.
I guess it’s just difficult for me to fathom creating a musical empire and living out one’s career without the very basics of the craft. To me, it would be similar to being a respected author who never learned how to read or write (okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea). In today’s digital age, however, the need for musical knowledge is being edged out by programs like Ableton and Pro Tools. The software writes rhythms and melodies for the “composer”, no longer requiring a songwriter to necessarily know how to form chords or even identify the key of a piece. Personally, I automatically respect an artist who writes their own content or can play an instrument. Perhaps it’s a dated mindset. Because musical literacy includes more abstract ideals, can people get by without any theory classes or piano lessons? (Hint: Eric Clapton, Elvis, and Van Halen seemed to get by just fine.)