A Matter of Style

My career has given me the opportunity to play in a smattering of musical situations. There was one week recently in which I got to play a jazz gig, a Latin music gig, a musical, a classical concert, and a contemporary worship service. Something I run into often is a certain type of animosity in certain musicians towards those of other genres. The jazz guys think classical “cats” are too stuffy. The classical players think anyone who can’t read music is not a true musician.

So, what styles are best? Are any more “authentic” than others? My opinion is that these are worthless arguments that exist to divide us and create a greater sense of self-worth. Since that’s a topic for a psychology blog somewhere, let’s talk about reading vs. playing by ear, or classically trained vs. self-taught.

I think any school of thought is fair game when it comes to music. It’s art. It’s not science. Sure, there are tried and true methods for producing the absolute best tone on your instrument, but you may find it better to express yourself in a non-conventional way.

That being said, what are your goals? Do you want to make a living as a musician? Then, yes, you need to be efficient at producing perfect tone on your instrument. Yes, you need to learn how to read. Think of it like a foreign language. Maybe you can speak enough Spanish to order a taco, but you want to make a living in a Spanish-speaking country. You’d certainly need to be familiar with the dialect, the grammar, and common phrases of the region. Each musical style has its own “dialect,” its own common phrases, and it’s own grammar. It’s certainly possible to become a successful musician by becoming an expert of one style, but any pro will tell you that knowing a few things about other styles will help you be even better at your main style.

If you only play classical music, try studying a little jazz. Jazz takes your brain off the page and gets you thinking about melody, harmony, and rhythm in the moment. If you only play by ear, learn to read basic music. You’ll grow as a musician once you know why things sound the way they do. Music is such a broad art, with so many different possibilities and outlets. We do ourselves a disservice by sticking with what we are comfortable with and not branching out a bit!

Could someone with Dyslexia have trouble learning to read music?

KarinVagyok asked:

I have a teenage girl coming to stay with me who has Dyslexia. She wants me to help her learn to play the piano and to teach her to read music. I have no idea if Dyslexia will prevent her from understanding the staves, notes, etc. Does anyone have any experience of teaching someone with Dyslexia to read music? If I should post this somewhere different for a better chance of help, please let me know! I really would appreciate any help! Thanks.
Thanks for the advice so fast! Just to add, I have endless patience when it comes to music anyway, and the girl has been a family friend for ages, so she knows I’m very patient with her and I understand her dyslexia ‘problems’. The advice so far has been quite encouraging!
And I emailed the British Dyslexia Association for further information.

Posted in Special Education by David. 8 Comments

Play Super Fast?

Want to Play Super Fast?

Everyone seems to be most impressed by the guys that play the fastest. We all want to hear ourselves blaze through notes as our fingers flail and fling across the keys or strings. Since music is an art that exists in time, obviously, the faster we move through that time, the more impressive, right? Although playing slowly and passionately actually requires more skill, nobody seems to care. So, let’s talk about playing fast.

You’re dying to play with lightening speed, aren’t you? I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, you certainly can learn to play fast. And, here’s the bad news: You can’t play fast until you play slow. I just lost half of you, I’m sure, but those of you who are still reading will end up playing much faster and much cleaner than everyone else.

When you were young, I’m sure you probably learned to roll over, then crawl, then walk, then run, and eventually began to run very fast. What would’ve happened had you decided to start running very fast before you could barely even walk? You’d fall on your face every time. You might feel super fast for a minute, but anyone watching you would see past your façade.

Playing music quickly requires tons of attention to detail. The only way you can approach those details is by SLOWING DOWN to hear everything. It’s one thing to slap your fingers down on a fingerboard, and it’s another thing for every single one of those notes to be in tune and articulated accurately.

Take a fast passage, or scale, and set your metronome at 40bpm. Play it with pin-point accuracy every time, gradually increasing the tempo. For more effective practice, play the passage three times at each speed. If you can play it three times at a certain speed, chances are that you are ready to move on. Play until everything falls apart.

The next day, start 10-15bpm slower than the speed at which you fell apart the day before. Repeat the exercise, increasing the speed gradually. Hopefully you will reach and exceed your limit, continually increasing until your fingers fly. You’ll notice that not only will each note sound clear and controlled, but you’ll actually be able to hear specific notes and how they need to be adjusted. As you increase your fingers’ ability to play fast, you are also exercising your brain’s ability to recognize and adjust your playing quickly. When your brain is able to stay a few steps ahead of your fingers, then you’re on the right track to instrument mastery.