You Only Have 12 Notes, Do What You Want With Them – Eddie Van Halen


Eddie Van Halen is known as the greatest guitarist of all time. He learned classical music but improvised it to make something new from the 12 notes of the piano. As a result, he was an early musician to stand out. Eddie and his brother Alex left classical music behind and started a rock band named Mammoth which was later changed to Van Halen. However, Eddie reinvented the rock music genre for years to come.

Eddie Van Halen

In this quote “You only have 12 notes, do what you want with them”, Eddie Van Halen suggests that if you are unique in some way, then you might not be considered ideal by society. However, if you know your work and you love to do it, then there is nothing on earth that can stop you. Furthermore, he gives an indirect message from this quote that you might not be having all the resources but even with few resources, you can make a difference to stand above all.

Who Was Eddie Van Halen?

Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum

Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, born on January 26, 1955, was an American songwriter and musician. He was the lead guitarist, backing vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter of Van Halen, a rock band. In 1972, Eddie and Alex formed the Mammoth band whose name was changed to Van Halen after two years. The band became a staple of Los Angeles playing at well-known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go.

Eddie Van Halen is ranked one of the greatest guitarists in rock history. He is known for his two-handed hitting technique on the guitar which gave a unique sound to their heavy metal rock band. To play standing up with free hands, Van Halen invented an adjustable support system for the guitar or any stringed instrument.

Eddie Van Halen never learned to read music, instead, he used to watch Mozart or Bach recitals and improvised. From 1964 to 1967, at Long Beach City College he won first place in an annual piano competition. However, their parents wanted the children to be classical pianists but Eddie and Alex turned to rock music.

Eddie was influenced by British Invasion bands such as The Dave Clark Five and The Beatles. Therefore, Eddie bought drums and Alex started playing guitar. However, after hearing a performance of Alex in the song Wipe Out, he gave drums to Alex and began to learn electric guitar.

According to Eddie, he often practiced electric guitar by walking around his house with a guitar strapped on. Also, he used to practice it in his bedroom for hours with a closed door. Eddie Van Halen had a career of more than 40 years in rock music and he died on October 6, 2020, at the age of 65, due to a stroke.

Origin Of The Quote

This quote “You only have 12 notes. Do what you want with them” by Eddie Van Halen comes from an interview with Denise Quan, a music journalist. He was asked if he ever took formal lessons to learn to play guitar. Eddie answered the question that he did not take any lessons to learn the music and it is not taught by anyone.

As a counter question, the interviewer asked Eddie if he had some other approach if he had taken guitar lessons. Eddie’s reply to this question was “Probably, but you only have 12 notes and you can do what you want with them”.

Meaning Of This Quote

This quote from Eddie Van Halen focuses on the aspect that if you like something and you want to make something out of it, you should be able to think out of the box. If you have a basic idea, you can recreate or re-invent new things. However, we can interpret important themes from Eddie Van Halen’s quote.

Thinking Out Of The Box

Thinking Out Of The Box

Thinking out of the box might be an overused jargon but those who can think out of the box are known as innovators which is a desirable quality in general life and business. However, if you know your thing and you can create something new for the world, then you don’t have to follow a flow.

As Eddie Van Halen says in this quote, he could not read music but he was able to create his music. He was able to make some difference with just standard notes and he succeeded in it. Even at an early age, he used to do harmonics and tried different things with the piano. 

He was enrolled in an annual piano contest at Long Beach City College where he won two years in a row. The judges responded that it was an interesting interpretation but he was just playing it with his techniques.

This quote from Eddie Van Halen motivates us to think out of the box which means we should be having different approaches to problems in our lives. As Margaret Mead suggests through her quote, unique is beautiful. Even at work, we are always motivated to think out of the box which means that we should come up with innovative, efficient, and effective solutions.

For example, you have 12 resources to solve a problem, if you can think out of the box, you can come up with a lot of solutions with only those 12 resources. 

Do Your Own Thing

Do Your Own Thing

There are over 7 billion people on this planet Earth with an amount of competition. We all are among the crowd but standing out from it can make a difference. Many of us get an education to have a job and we start playing this game which is called life. Bob Marley suggests from his quote that he did not have an education but an inspiration that helped him to stand out and make a difference.

This quote of Eddie Van Halen suggests that he did not learn music because he could not read music but observe and implement new ways to make new music. He did not learn the music from the book, instead, he wrote his own. The music he has created throughout his career was not possible if he had taken lessons to play the guitar. He reinvented the music because others could not.

Eddie Van Halen was creating his music with years of experimentation which he did not know if it was right or wrong. All these years he opened up the amplifiers and tore apart the guitars which helped him to reinvent the music. However, he was trying to stand out from the crowd which helped him to become a pop culture icon across the globe.

Do What You Love

Do What You Love

An indirect message that comes from this quote by Eddie Van Halen is that you should do what you like to do or you are passionate about it. You cannot live a life that seems right in the view of others. If you do, you end up living an unhappy life and have regrets. All the options of professional life work on the basic principles or standards. However, if you like to do the exact thing but, in your techniques, you will love what you do.

Eddie Van Halen was not able to read music but he reinvented it by using his techniques. He always pushed things past where they were supposed to be by tearing up guitars as experimentation and necessity. The first track that went into public was due to years of experimentation. He made the rock music genre to be among the top charts when only punk and disco were famous.

Some people opt for careers in their lives that are not a perfect fit for them. As there goes a Chinese proverb “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn”. If we take the example of Van Halen, then he learned to play guitar on his own rather than guitar-playing lessons. He used different techniques to play the music that made rock genre music fans crazy. So, if you love what you do, you can stand out from the crowd.

Eddie Van Halen – A Greatest Guitarist Of All Time

When it comes to a list of the world’s greatest guitarists, Eddie Van Halen stands at the top. During his more than 40 years of career, he took playing of guitar to a different level than Jimi Hendrix. As a rock guitarist, he redefined the use of electric guitar in the rock music genre. The most famous technique is two-handed tapping, pull-offs, and hammer-on. Furthermore, he used artificial and natural harmonics to make a piece of different music than ever.

In an interview, Eddie Van Halen was asked a question about his learning of music. He responded that he never learned or read music. Instead, he tried different things with piano and then guitar. As he says “You only have 12 notes, do what you want with them”. It means that you can think out of the box, be unique and do what you love to do. Instead of going with the flow, you can try something new and stand out from the crowd. 


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