Music Is Not A Visual Art
In some ways, music is counter-intuitive to the way we perceive the world. We use our eyes to gather most of the information that we use to get around and since music relies on the ears instead, many people try to make it harder than it is. Many programs focus on using your eyes to play an instrument and treat your ears as things to be trained rather than trusted. My goal is to help students trust their ears and make the visual things like charts and diagrams what they should be: tools to help you learn rather than instructions to follow.
Playing only with the eyes makes it difficult for musicians to play in situations where it might not be practical to have written music; or to play in any situation where there could be room for improvisation; or to unlock the nuances within a piece of music. The clip below demonstrates this concept quite nicely:
Watch the student’s reaction when Mr. Holland closes the book. That look of terror is very common because so many music students are taught to play only with their eyes. I feel that sight, like all other skills and resources, is just one tool of many that can be used in making music.
All Music Is Your Music
No matter who composed the songs you choose to play, when you play them they are your songs. They should reflect the way that the music makes you feel or the feelings that you want to express to others through your music. Anyone can learn the physical skill of playing the notes, even robots can be programmed to play notes on musical instruments. But it takes much more than physical skill to be able to make the music. While it is true that you need to develop physical skills in order to play an instrument, I believe that the goal of making the music should be present from the first moment.
There are certain methods of playing that are important to execute properly. They allow a musician to create pleasing musical tones and to interact with the instrument in ways that allow for broadest possible palette of emotional expression. However, just as each song you play is your song, so the instrument you play is your instrument. I encourage students to experiment with different ways of approaching notes or chords and to listen to the music they are playing so that they are constantly discovering new perceptions of the sounds contained within the music that could lead to other ideas.
Musically, I am still hooked and just hypnotized by the sound of the guitar itself. I mean, a guitar sounds good if you drop it on the floor. – Leo Kottke
Fun Is What It’s All About
Playing an instrument is not a basic survival skill. It’s something we choose to do because we want to, not because we have to. Because of that, it’s easy to put off practicing in favor of other things.
I feel it’s very important to get students making music that actually sounds like music as quickly as possible. Playing a scale can be very useful, but it’s not very interesting by itself. Being able to pick up an instrument and play something that you (and others) recognize as music is a magical and joyous experience, and a powerful motivator to help students want to practice.
We say “playing music” because it’s a lot of fun, but that implies it’s a simple thing that anyone can do. Playing music is not simple. You can’t be a great musician in 30 minutes, no matter what the infomercials may say. It takes a lot of practice and commitment to play well, and the more in-depth one’s musical studies get, the more complex the concepts become. It’s very easy for beginning musicians to be overwhelmed by the enormous amount of complexity in music.
Does that mean it takes years for someone to make music? Not at all! Playing music isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can count to 8, you can make enough beautiful music to last a lifetime.