Beck’s sheet music only album is out: “It was a struggle for me”

When I first heard that Beck releases an album that consists not of a CD but sheet music, I was torn. On the one hand this could inspire lots of interpretation of all kinds of musicians. But it also excludes all fans who don’t read sheet music but, for example, guitar tabs. I will join the experiment and start interpreting the songs from Christmas on.

Beck: I want to hear how far away they are from the original way they were written. I can play them live, but I’m more interested to hear what people do with them.

“These songs, they’re here to be brought to life—or at least to remind us that, not so long ago, a song was only a piece of paper until it was played by someone. Anyone. Even you.” says Beck Hansen in the Song Reader preface. According to Beck, “not so long ago, a song was only a piece of paper until it was played by someone.” In an interview with Laura Barton for the Guardian he explains his fascination with sheet music: “Sheet music wasn’t something that I was conscious of growing up,” he says. “But it was always on the periphery. I remember being at my aunt’s house, the long summer afternoons looking for something to do, and finding a pile of them in the piano stool. But it was more about the artwork then, I couldn’t play the songs, so it was about the artefact itself.”

The first song is already being interpreted

The first song is already being interpreted: “Old Shanghai”. If you login to you can download the pdf for free and listen to over 40 cover versions. I will write a post about the best cover versions separately. But here are two really cool interpretations.

You might not want to hear these ‘spoilers’ if you’re trying to interpret the song without previous influence!

The reader is affordable, so I’ll join!

I am very pleased that the Song Reader, although it excludes musicians who don’t work with sheet music, is at least affordable for everyone (I had expected for it to be in the 60-80£ range). It’s available for around 20£ and will be delivered sometime in December. Together with my music teacher I will pick a few songs and try to join the challenge of interpreting them. I’m a beginner in sheet music reading (on the guitar), so it might take a while to get from “learning to play” to “interpretation”. But I’m very excited about it!

How Beck came up with the project

For Beck, all this is an ‘old’ project, actually. He got the idea about the project in the 1990s. “It was just an idea then to write some songs and put them in a book,” he tells the Guardian. “When I first thought of the project there was no internet, there were no MP3s or file-sharing. But I collect vinyl and I’ve heard famous songs on their original masters,” he says, “and it’s so different to an MP3 – in recent years I’ve been paying attention to how records are affected by it. Imagine if you were writing an article and someone was to take out half the words and they were going to put them in a really different font. That’s what it’s like. And it’s a problem, I think.”


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One thought on “Beck’s sheet music only album is out: “It was a struggle for me”

  1. Thanks:) I was wanting to learn more about this! PS you should check out this awesome band I found that kinda reminds me of Beck..we’ll his more upbeat songs:)
    “Noreste Caliente” video:

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