14 Musicians Who Learn and Think Differently

By Lexi Walters Wright
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They have very different musical styles. But Florence Welch, Mick Fleetwood, will.i.am, and Cher have something in common, too: They all learn and think differently. Here are 14 other famous singers, songwriters, and performers who’ve reached musical heights with challenges like dyslexia, ADHD, and dyscalculia.

Adam Levine, ADHD

The singer-songwriter of hit-machine Maroon 5 was diagnosed with ADHD (also known as ADD) as a teenager. Levine has talked about his trouble focusing on schoolwork in high school, and about how his struggles with focus continued into adulthood.

Levine hasn’t let his ADHD symptoms come between him and his music, though. He has worked with his doctor to come up with a treatment plan that helps him manage his symptoms.

Carly Simon, dyslexia

Simon is a chart-topping singer and songwriter. But as a child, Simon struggled to read. She and her two children all have dyslexia. “My family has been given the gift of music,” she has said. “We all take to music because music is something that we can do so much more easily than we can in the reading department.”

Chris Robinson, dyslexia

Growing up with dyslexia in the early ’70s was hard on Robinson, founder of acclaimed rock band the Black Crowes, and singer of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. He didn’t have much support. But his challenges led him to find success as a musician.

“Not having real perspective to understand what [dyslexia] was, music was always something that made sense,” he has said. “There was order in it.”

Solange Knowles, ADHD

Beyoncé’s sister, herself a talented singer, was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. “I didn’t believe the first doctor who told me,” she has said. “I guess I was in denial.”

Knowles said that she suspects many of her fellow musicians also have ADHD. “The symptoms seem to apply to everyone around me in the industry,” she has said.

Eddie Argos, dyspraxia

The lead singer of indie rock band Art Brut has been forthcoming in interviews about his difficulty with speech and coordination. “That’s probably why I’m not so good at singing,” Argos jokingly said in an interview. Still, Art Brut received international acclaim from music fans attracted to the band’s unique sound.

Jewel, dyslexia

The folk-pop singer had an unconventional childhood in remote Alaska, sometimes living in cabins without running water or electricity. At school, she was teased for her family’s different lifestyle and for her dyslexia.

But trouble with reading didn’t keep her from embracing the guitar in high school. “Because of my history, it’s hard for me to learn things, so I practiced 20 times as hard,” she has said.

Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, ADHD

Energetic Aerosmith front man Tyler has called himself “the embodiment of ADHD.” His guitarist bandmate Perry, who struggled in school with symptoms of ADHD, was officially diagnosed with the condition as an adult.

“It was looked at as a discipline problem when I was in school. And certainly, over the years, after I left school, I had forged my way into this thing called rock ’n’ roll and it was less of an issue,” Perry has said.

Joss Stone, dyslexia

Stone became a world-famous singer by the time she was 17. Her dyslexia hasn’t made it easy, though. “With singing, I always forget the lyrics to my songs, even ones that I’ve written myself,” she has said. She didn’t let this hold her back, though—as her numerous international music awards show.

Lou Reed, dyslexia

“I’ve always had trouble reading anything with long paragraphs. I’m a little dyslexic, and I reverse things. I thought I was unemployable,” Reed has said. The musician went on to achieve a degree in English before going on to form the legendary band, the Velvet Underground.

Mick Hucknall, dyscalculia

Most people recall the song “Holding Back the Years” as a 1980s anthem. But few people know that Hucknall, front man of the band Simply Red, has dyscalculia. His struggles with math made school difficult for him.

“I was made to feel stupid,” he recalls. But at 16, he switched to a more innovative program. “Art school opened up the world of creativity for me and I loved it.”

Noel Gallagher, dyslexia

As the lead guitarist and songwriter for British rock band Oasis, Gallagher’s dyslexia has the potential to stump his bandmates: “When I write, I’ll give it to someone else to read, and they’ll say, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’ And then I’ll read it back to them, and they’ll say, ‘Half the words are missing.’ But to me they’re there.”

Ozzy Osbourne, dyslexia and ADHD

The Black Sabbath star struggles with both reading and writing. But the heavy-metal pioneer has found strategies that allow him to pursue his music despite those challenges.

“I am terribly dyslexic and have attention-deficit disorder, so I have to carry a tape recorder everywhere I go. Also, if I get a melody in my head, I have to record it straightaway,” Osbourne has said.

Stewart Copeland, dyslexia

The founder and drummer of The Police, Copeland grew up in Beirut and was eventually sent to a British prep school because of his reading struggles. The new learning environment was a big improvement.

Copeland jokes, “The school told my parents that even though I was like a C and D average student, that there’s a high probability that the kid does have a brain. Which was music to my parents’ ears.”

Tony Bennett, dyslexia

He’s been singing for more than five decades and has won 19 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. But despite being one of music’s most enduring talents, Bennett finds it difficult to read sheet music because of his dyslexia.

“I just have to work a lot slower. It comes a lot slower. But good learning takes a long time,” he has said. “To really learn something, you have to keep doing it until it appears effortless. So it takes time.”


About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

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