Gene Simmons on how most popular musicians can’t read music: “Music is an interesting thing. You don’t have to get complex about it, just start”

The Kiss bassist also shared a story of jamming with Geddy Lee of Rush, who he recalls “didn’t understand what a blues scale was”.

Gene Simmons of KISS

Image: Kevin Mazur / Getty

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Kiss bassist Gene Simmons has discussed how most musicians in popular music can’t read or write music notation, including himself.

In an age of YouTube tutorials and new ways we can learn the guitar through the internet, numbers of guitarists who can read music are probably on the decline. But though learning an instrument through less traditional methods is much more popular today, some of the guitar greats of the world were learning to play by ear decades ago.

Simmons – who runs master classes on learning bass – spoke to Ultimate Guitar last year, and in a segment of the interview which has been newly shared, he discussed the first-hand experiences he’s has with musicians who play by ear.

“I can’t read or write music. Nor could Jimi Hendrix or Lennon and McCartney or anybody who’s in popular music almost without exception,” he begins.

“Kiss took out Rush on their first tour. They came out to support us, you know, because we liked what they did,” he says. “And this was in their Working Man period, when they sounded kind of like a Canadian Zeppelin, which I still prefer, sound-wise, but obviously, they’ve done very well, and we used to hang out with the guys and joke around everything.

“One night back at the hotel or backstage someplace, Geddy [Lee] and I were sitting down, trading licks, and I said, ‘Do you want to do a blues scale? You go first, and then I’ll continue the chord pattern,’ and he said, ‘I don’t know what you mean.’”

He continues, “At least from what I recall, Geddy didn’t understand what a blues scale was or what ‘1,4,5’ meant. That also bears noting that when you go ‘1,4,5’ to a musician, that means something, it’s a relationship of notes or chords. And so I go, ‘Well, okay then, you hit a G, either octave or low,’ and he said, ‘Which one is that?’ Geddy played purely by ear.”

Simmons concludes, “Music is an interesting thing. You don’t have to get complex about it, just start.”

Gene Simmons is also offering the opportunity for hopeful musicians to record a track with him during December this year. Find out more on his website.


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