Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bach Was a Hack

Playing by ear is perceived as a hack skill.  You may not be able to sightread a technically-written concerto but still be able to play it by ear.

Knowing chords, you can play anything and that puts you right up there with the top players in the world.  What?  You and Herbie Hancock in the same league?  Maybe not skill-wise but I guarantee, Herbie knows his chords.

Knowing the chords is just your foot in the door to the Hidden Universe - the minimum plateau of membership.

I’m Better Than You

There’s no “who’s better or best” comparison between the classical pianist and the play-by-ear hack.  They both wish for the talents of the other but what they want most are the skills of the hack; to understand the instrument and be able to play by ear.

Embarrassment and Snubbery

A“hack” is one that lacks technical training.  Therefore, it is far easier for the classical pianist to master the hack’s skills than the other way around.

But it’s so embarrassing for some classical players to admit they lack in this area.  They can’t concede to learning anything of value from the rogue musicians on the other side of the tracks.

Instead, they snub and shudder at the very thought of even associating themselves with the word “hack.”  After so much academic breeding, to lower themselves to the teachings of a hack feels somehow demeaning.

Everyday, “Classical Rebels” are shedding their pride to become “closet” hacks. BUT WAIT!  You really don’t have to cover your face!

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and all the longhairs were hacks too!

Hacks First and Composers Second

Imagine the music scene back then.  You’d go to a Mozart concert and he’d play variations of all his hits.  We tend to romanticize and marvel at Mozart's amazing abilities but how was he any different from the modern day rock star? 

Just like today's solo artists, all he was doing was jamming  an 18th-century-jazz style.  That's all it was, classical improvisation.

The composers of fame were far more than hacks but without that basic command of chords, they couldn’t have written anything.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

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