Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning to Play
Now vs. Then

I saw an excellent blog post recently where the author postulated about the experience of a young person learning to play guitar verse learning late in life. The post was based on the tools available now in 2009. Ultimately, the author decided that students learning late in life might miss the joy of learning whilst playing catch up while in contrast the author concluded that the young person might enjoy the process more than an adult. To me that supposition is a dangerous generalization. The dawn of the World Wide Web and Integrated Circuit Chip has brought about a tremendous amount of resources that where unrealized in the past. People can down load songs to their house. Look up tablature that is relatively accurate depiction of recorded songs. Images and home recording can be shared in seconds. There are many methods for creating more informed musicians today. Therefore, the student needs guidance to be able to use the learning tools in a manner that will keep practice and performance fun.

Furthermore, like the amount of News available, we must learn to use this information in a useful manner while not over saturating our learning curve. To try to catch up against a perceived pool of skilled players is foolhardy at best. I use the following quote to make my point, "It's a very hard instrument to accept because it takes years to start working with it - that's first - and it looks like everybody else is moving on the instrument except you. Then when you find a cat that's really playing, you always find out he's been playing a long time. You can't get around it."
Wes Montgomery comments on playing the guitar c. 1960.

I don’t think it could be said better or by a better player. With Wes Montgomery’s quote we realize that time is important and as adults we are acutely aware that time is finite. The ability to separate psychological time from present time is where the true secret to fun could lie. I might define this as non cognitive time. I believe the adolescent reaches this unbridled space without thought in a pure manner while the adult has spent most of his/her life trying to be there; now, present, in which the adult often over looks the gift of non cognitive thought, zero thought parameters or lack of dynamic forces on the mind. I postulate that the adolescent can use any tool can have more fun only because young people lack the social pressures (However the pressure is increasing - another topic...)of being judged while the adult has many years of trials and tribulations which condition their responses.

In my humble opinion learning to playing the instrument or any musical instrument does not become easier due to the vast educational resources available. In fact, some of those resources could limit some skills such as interval recognition because the individual may not be as dependent on their ear. Conversely they might have a better grasp of reading sheet music but these tendencies have been the same tendencies that may have been acquired prior to technological advances due to specific teaching methodology. Learning to do anything well requires time and patience. A great college professor of mine, Joe Davis used to say, “Stay home and practice or stay home.” Joe used that expression to imply that practice is important. If he was wrong then ‘wrong’ sure worked well as Joe’s son, Mike Davis has lead the brass section for the Rolling Stones for more than a decade. As a student of music for most of my life I have gathered some gems in terms of quotes. Learning is something that doesn’t stop and I have learned to deal with the process and be comfortable in the fact that I will play a few clams but remain resolute. Plenty of music theory is under my belt but as my teacher once told me, “learn it all then forget it and break all the rules.” It might be that a young person is less critical and therefore easier to please therefore finding practice more enjoyable and fun while the older person tempered with years of critical listening would be more inclined to be critical of ourselves. In summary, it is my profound belief that playing can be a ton of fun no matter what your age is but this condition is dependent on the player’s ability to find peace with time, technology and personal criticality.

Focus on these three points:
  • Repertoire – Choose it and stick with it while avoiding vacillation between genres.
  • Technique / Theory development – Work on fundamentals.
  • Memory – Remember, this is all about fun!
  • Ultimately it's all about - Time, pitch and sound.

Having said all the aforementioned, if you want to start out late and play with the best, your intensity and perseverance is essential.

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