Learning Backwards
December 19, 2017
Forget for a moment about all the techniques you’ve learned over the years and ask yourself: What is music?

Essentially, music is a language just like any other, and as such, its purpose is to allow individuals to communicate, it’s a way to expose your ideas so others can understand what you are thinking. As soon as you understand this concept you’ll realize that music, like any language, is only a tool to communicate what you have inside. You may be able to speak five different languages, but they are only useful if you have something to say.

Think about the first language you’ve ever learned in your life. When you were about two or three years old you could probably speak with some fluency, you could improvise and combine words into simple sentences, you had already developed a small vocabulary and you could use it at will. You didn’t know how to read or write before you could speak, and that’s an important point.

When it comes to learning music, for some reason, we are led in the opposite direction. In most music schools, we are taught how to read and write music, along with the basic rules of music theory, and only then we start to learn how to play an instrument. That would be the equivalent of learning grammar before we could even speak. This happens to many musicians and it is the standard in music schools around the world. That approach has created a culture where musicians are led to believe that music has more value if the mind behind it knows exactly what it’s doing, the same way a brain surgeon is expected to know exactly what he’s doing while operating on someone’s brain. That is a problem because music is an art form, and if you try to rationalize it too much, it becomes purely a science. At that point, everything that is abstract, such as emotion, holds less value.

Part of the reason you became fluent in your native language was that you were surrounded by people who could already speak it fluently. You were not called a “beginner” when you were a baby learning how to speak. You were also not told that the weird sounds you made were “wrong”, quite the contrary, people found those sounds to be funny and interesting, and they repeated that back to you, encouraging you to make more sounds and keep trying to speak. When you start your musical journey, you are not only referred to as a beginner, but you are enrolled in beginner classes, where you only have access to other beginners, and you’ll only be able to interact with the experts once you have reached a certain point in your development. Basically, the exact opposite of what made you fluent in your first language.

Think about it. You have read this article with no difficulty so far, you didn’t need to think about the linguistic rules present in the text to read and understand the message. You are most likely not even thinking about the instrument I’m using to share these ideas, I could be speaking to you right now and the meaning would remain the same. That is why the tool you use to express yourself means very little in comparison to how important the actual message is.

There is a natural way of becoming fluent in music, and that is by playing daily, with other musicians, preferably those who already speak that language better than you. Use all the techniques and theoretical knowledge you acquire as tools, they serve a great purpose as such, but always let the message take center stage.
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