When I first arrived at the studio, Tim was about to give a guitar lesson to a new student. Since it was the student's first lesson with Tim, they spent a good deal of time figuring out what was left to teach. This guy had a lot of experience playing by feel and by ear, but he never learned to read music very well. This encounter reminded me of a thought that had been bouncing around in my head for the last few weeks: the difference between playing by ear and feel as apposed to playing from sight and sheet music.
I honestly think this is one of the main ways you can classify musicians. Not a way to judge them, because each side has extreme strengths, but put someone's style into perspective. Obviously there are a huge amount of people who fall right in between, but there are also a vast amount of musicians on either extreme. For instance, Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder both play by ear with no music. Lang Lang could take a Beethoven sonata and play the whole thing through on his first try just by reading the music. You can't deny that these musicians aren't some of the best in the world, but their skill sets are quite different.
I had also been thinking about what the smartest approach for a musician is. When you look back into our history, our American history, we see a deep and rich tradition of playing from one's ear, and from this tradition spawned jazz and blues, the single greatest art that America has given birth to. This music, which came simply from people's ears lays the backbones for almost every single sort of music we hear around us. Look at almost every single fifties or sixties song and you will find that it is based on the simple I-IV-I-V-IV-I chord progression, also known as the twelve bar blues. The foundations for modern music were laid by musicians who couldn't read music. But in today's music scene, people communicate through much more technical means than feeling. That's why I think it is critical to be able to read music. If you are a professional musician, it would be expected of you to receive a chart and understand what is happening. It's probably impossible to make a living as a ear/feel only musician these days.
We spent the rest of the day working with the same musician who was in last week on producing another song with the same feel. Tim did the same thing where he laid down a rough draft of each track that will eventually go on the actual recording. It shocks me every time I see him work so easily and quickly to make such a professional sounding piece of work.