George Harrison couldn’t read or write music, but he loved it that way

George Harrison and his Beatles bandmates couldn’t read or write music. This might come as a surprise to some, considering the band is famous for musical masterpieces like “A Day In The Life” and “Something.” However, they simply did not learn to play their instruments by reading and writing notes. John Lennon, whose first instrument was the banjo, didn’t even know a guitar had six strings when he first met George.

George didn’t think he needed to know musical composition. When a song came to mind, he had to record it quickly, and he didn’t mind.

george harrison | Max Scheler – K & K/Redferns

Paul McCartney explains why the Beatles couldn’t read or write music

During a 2018 interview on 60 minutes (per Global News), Paul McCartney explained that he couldn’t read or write music.

“I don’t see music as dots on a page,” Paul said. “It’s something in my head that’s going on. None of us made it into the Beatles. We still did some good things. But none of this was written by us. It’s basically notation. It’s the little I can’t do.

The Beatles only had to worry about their lyrics. They wrote a song anywhere, anytime. Then they took their songs to the studio, where the band was ready to put music behind the lyrics. So it makes sense that George, Paul, John and Ringo don’t need to know how to write or read music.

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George Harrison said he had to keep the music in his head because he couldn’t write it

George had a straightforward songwriting process. If he found a melody or lyrics for a song, he kept it in his head until he got to a recording studio.

During a 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show (by George Harrison on George Harrison: interviews and encounters), Dick Cavett asked George if he could read and write music. He said no.

The host asked, “So when you say write, if you have a track that strikes you, how do you do it?” George replied, “Just keep it in your head, you know. Just practice it on piano or guitar.

Cavett asked, “But then do you save it, or what keeps it?” George explained, “Sometimes, sometimes put it on tape, but usually you can remember it in your head, if you don’t. I wrote the words and I remember the melody in my head.

George agreed to wait until he could record or play something on an instrument.

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George did not wish he had studied musical composition

For George, reading and writing music was unnecessary. Cavett asked the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” singer, “Wish you had studied composition?” He replied: “No”.

Then he admitted it could be cheaper. “Well, maybe, maybe that would help somewhere,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have to pay a copyist.” Cavett asked if George had missed it. He again answered no.

“Because it’s not really any kind of music, you know,” George explained. “It’s like, uh, I mean, there’s a difference between people writing music, and classical stuff, and big arrangements, in the kind of stuff I do. It’s really, it’s very simple.

Regardless of George’s process, we were always affected after the fact.

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