What is the difference between just playing music and feeling the music!
This past week I asked one of my best students to give me a question that he would like answered in my blog.
A) It helps me to know if there is anything we need to go over, so as to better help him, and
B) I get an opportunity to help anyone else with the same or similar issue. Not a bad pay off really.
We'll call my student Jimmy (for anonymity).
So Jimmy wanted to know, “What is the difference between just playing the music and really feeling the music that you're playing?
Now Jimmy is a bit of a freak! He is such a naturally gifted guitar player, with a tone and feel that is mature way beyond his years, and then last year he was given an opportunity to pick up an elective in music at his school that he could graduate in his senior year with, and possibly be accepted into a higher musical institution in the future
Jimmy was a bit nonplussed by the whole thing, because he just loves to experiment & play, but upon discussions between Jimmy, his dad, and myself, it was agreed that he would at least give it a go as it couldn't hurt to be better informed about the concepts of music, after all he loves it so much.
Well, that's when reality struck.
His school music teacher immediately bombarded him with all of the text books, concepts, theories and musical pieces, that he would have to catch up on, in order to graduate the entire 3 years previous that he had not been studying the education boards music course.
Every week in my class, Jimmy & I would go over the work he'd been doing or catching up on, and as we would both soon begin to realize, the teaching of music in this states school curriculum hasn't changed much over the past 30 years or so & is not really much help to those people wanting to learn how to better express themselves through music. His teacher didn't inspire him to be a great musician, and couldn't care less as to whether he was getting it or enjoying it or not. Unfortunately, the musical curriculum is aimed chiefly at a constant regurgitation of concepts, sight reading, and about playing what's on the page, but only if its from the Classical and Jazz world. Oh, and you better bow after your performances at the school recital, otherwise you will fail!!!!
Yes in 2013, Blues, Rock, improvising and any other genre of music aside from classical or jazz, are still very much frowned upon as forms of music that you wouldn't teach your kids. What a shame considering that it has made up popular culture for more than 100 years now, with BLUES itself, being the precursor and the catalyst for Jazz and pretty much every other genre of music that we listen to & play today.
For Jimmy that is not what music is about, and so after a while he decided to forego that elective music class. For him, and a lot of people like him, including myself, music is about the expression of the soul from the inside out, not about what notes are necessarily written down on a page of manuscript that you must follow precisely or else.
For others, it can be the everything they require to satisfy themselves, and that's great. However from an inclusive educational viewpoint, it seems rather narrow minded and elitist, that the education system seems to exclude all else but classical & jazz ( gee, that sounds a bit like religion to me), but like I said, that doesn't seem to have changed much over the years.
Now I don't necessarily want to put the cat among the pigeons here, I love classical music & jazz, in fact Nicolo Paganini, Mozart and Bach are my favourite classical composers, along with Miles Davis, and Alan Holdsworth in jazz or fusion, but I believe that if you love your music and the guitar, you will seek out the all of the information, concepts & theories that are applicable to you and your style.
Learning to read and write music has its purpose, and it's something that i did for myself a lot later in my musical quest, and that is most likely why it is that I get music from a perspective within, rather than without.
In my classes there is a heavy emphasis on theory. Understanding musical notation, time, diatonic harmony, chord construction, the circle of fifths and the Modes, as well as Pitch Axis Theory are all modules that you will learn about, and knowing your fretboard is an absolute must if you want to learn how to fly around the neck. However, all of the theory you can handle or proficient sight reading skills, will NOT make you a better musician or guitarist. The creation of music, just doesn't and will never appear on a page first, it must be conceived within!!
Try telling Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton,Stevie Ray Vaughan & Edward Van Halen (to name but a few) that their influence on music and generations of guitar players since is invalid, because they were not formally educated and can't read or write music.
For instance did you know that Eddie Van Halen's 'Eruption', was cut in one take, and that it's really him just going nuts for the sheer fun of it. Eddie used to play it as part of his guitar solo in the early days at the clubs, and when producer Ted Templeman overheard Eddie playing it in the studio as a warm up, Ted decided that it was out of this world, and too good not to go onto Van Halen's debut self titled album.
I especially try to create a balance in my classes by giving my students the opportunity to make as many mistakes as possible,whilst they are developing the theoretical concepts in their minds and at the same time discovering all about their inner musician, the musician that feels, and knows. And it's understanding the inner musician in each of us that can sometimes take a while.
There! The secret is out kids, you have to make it up as you go, trust your own intuition, and make a heap of mistakes along the way!!!! Sounds like fun to me.
Now I can imagine some of you out there reading this are in shock, or going bat shit crazy right now. But its true!
Mozart didn't play what was on the page first, he channeled the music first, having an inspirational, and most likely a weirded out moment as he played, and only then, after he started to really get amused, or moved by his own rapturous melody, would he write it down. He would of course refer to the concepts of music in order to create structured movement and harmony, but the spark of inspiration itself, is something you can't learn, you ALLOW, in fact you FEEL it!
Ask any architect from around the world to give you the formula for enabling a building to stand up and not fall over, and they will all happily draw from the same formula. Ask them what sets one building apart from another and they'll tell you that its the artistic sense of the individual architect.
Mozart I'm sure would be the first to tell you that it comes from inside, deep inside, and that most times we are not completely in control of what comes out. We are just like conduits for the music of the universe to find its way through us, and transcend its formless world into three dimensional time & space. Heck, if it wasn't for Thomas Edison, we wouldn't even be able to capture the music sonically in the first place. Nor would there be multi track recording if it weren't for Les Paul. Hundreds of years ago various music notation systems were devised, and tablature in case you didn't know preceded the current form of musical notation. But the notation itself was deliberately intended, whereby the music created by one could be scored for many and invariably for an orchestra to play, so as to share the music with many.
So when someone teaches you every part of all the songs & licks that you know, or your eyes are glazed over because you have watched that instructional youtube video for too long, then ask yourself when was the last time I played or wrote something that I created. And if the answer is I never have, or it was some time ago, then you are probably like most guitar students these days, caught up in letting everybody else tell you what is right and what is wrong, and thus most likely struggling to let go and feel the music that lives inside each of us. Just regurgitating what someone else has told you is truth, and not questioning or exploring for yourself, is missing half the point of music, which is to bring joy to you first and foremost, and then to anyone else who cares to listen.
From a teachers stand point, I believe you have to balance the education of music, the technique according to the instrument, and the art itself.
There of course must be the theorized section where you do learn about structure, harmony & movement, but there must also be equal time spent on nurturing the creative faculties that great musicians always seem to possess, thus improvising and writing your own music is also a must.
Imagine if you were an artistic painter, and you copied everyone else's work, never painting something that came from within, but only what some else has delivered previously, would you consider yourself a great artist, or merely a technician?
I have taught many students over the years that, in one magical moment, can come to a complete understanding of what playing with feeling is all about, and the effortlessness that typifies this state is evident right there in front of me & them. Everything changes in a heartbeat, their demeanour, approach, sound, and song craft all change in that moment , and they literally become the music.
No theory or notation is required, they couldn't care less about which note goes where because what they are playing is absolutely perfect. The music courses through their veins, out of their fingers, onto the guitar and finally out for the whole world to hear their unique and beautiful expression. That's what playing with feeling is about. Playing the music off a page, well, that is more like watching paint dry!
I believe that learning about theory and how play other peoples music is invaluable, but I also think a student should spend time be working out the music they wish to play for themselves, by ear, and as part of their lessons, having their guitar teacher give guidance where required, along with valuable help regarding certain techniques and harmonic approaches used! Unfortunately in today's take-out world, the consumer requires an instant answer to their problems. Many teachers I know, just spoon feed their students song after song, note by note, bar by bar. Sure, the student learns the song ( by rote learning), but never gets it to a point where the student in the moment they are playing the song actually feel like they own it.
It seems that teaching the guitar these days is more about competing with Youtube, or your subscription based online guitar lesson websites, where you are completely spoilt for choice in the number of guitar teachers you can have and even on the one site. All Competing for your business and definitely giving differing & conflicting viewpoints on many of the same topics.
So in summary, playing with feeling is the discovery of the emotional self, without the fear of expression. Playing notes off the page can be a little like reading a book, a boring book, or hiding behind the notes you play, therefore never having to bear your soul.
This weeks exercise, is an exercise we oldies used to do before the net and Youtube. It's an exercise in feeling what you're playing. Close the book, open your inner ear and begin to discover what your emotional states can bring to your playing.
Pick an emotion, a state of mind, happy, sad, angry, blue etc. Pick, pluck, bend, slide, vibrate the notes, and create the chords & a melody that best represent the chosen emotion. Mentally take notes on what Modes, chords, and textures you choose to borrow from in illustrating the emotion you feel, or are wanting to express. Then write the chords/melody down in any form you like and anything else that will help you to recall it at a later point. Then use technology the way its meant to be used, & record it!
Till next time,
Peace & Love