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Reading, writing, documenting and understanding

posted on #21
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What startles me is the following: Most people i played with in a pop/rock context do not read. If i ask them if they might be interested to learn i usually get responses that range from "that would be nice but i don't have the time or talent" to "i have no desire to do that crap". The former being polite, the latter being honest. At the same time these people are not master musicians nor incredibly talented (whatever that is). And in many cases they are stuck in their development, often for a long time. They learn songs from each other or by ear and in the latter case often with help of chord analyses from the internet but development is slow.

If i propose to that learning a new skill like reading or theory might get them unstuck i get the same answers as delivered here. "There are so many musicians that never learned to read that play so well so i don't need to either" etc etc. And that might apply to a few of them having the right prerequisites or being prepared to put a lot of effort in (and they will get unstuck by themselves anyway) but not the vast majority. So the ones needing new skills the most, reject them the hardest. For them all the arguments presented here are just mere excuses not to learn or develop to add to their already large arsenal. And that is truly a sad thing.
Edited by nilton on May 26 2016 22:06
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posted on #22
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Hmm, I have nothing negative to say. Some people just don't care to learn to read/write music, or study theory.Some don't have time due to their life situations, others do want to learn. There are just so many variables when it comes to why/why not someone will/won't, can can't learn. I will say that I admire your dedication, your passion, and your obvious love of the craft. Great topic :)
posted on #23
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A Lovely sympathetic post Sylnch.

This site is supposed to be about fun. Dogma that leads people in a direction that could be harmful is my concern and the only reason I’ve bothered to respond. I’d rather not see dogma preached here so have bothered to give a little fuller response.

People getting into music can have any number of directions they take. That’s their journey. If they have an affinity for a sound or type of music it’s likely that they will follow that by copying or seeking knowledge. Some of those people will have talent, some won’t. That's life and it’s a reality. Doesn’t mean anyone should give up anything. Anyone can play music or pick up a paint brush and paint. How good they become depends on practice and talent. If you practice a lot but don’t have talent it doesn’t mean that you should give up, especially if you love what you are doing. We all have limitations and yes it’s a matter of degree.

A person without talent but a lot of drive and works hard can become good at rendering/painting a scene they see. What they paint may please them and may please others, even if it has no emotional context, compositional ideas or other levels of communication. Does the fact that they have practiced and painted a lot mean that they will suddenly visualize compositions that communicate feelings and emotions when they have never done this before? Unlikely. Talent in the visual arts generally takes having an idea or “vision”. Accomplishing that idea or vision still requires learning the tools and techniques necessary. The tools and techniques are not likely to imbue talent, they allow the student to achieve technique and the ability to copy.

Music is similar, but for us the measure of talent has to do with hearing rather than vision. Can you hear what you want to play or write? If you can hear it, then it’s a matter of developing the skills necessary to bring out what you’re hearing. If you can’t hear what you want to play, then learning by rote and using theory to give you improvisational patters may be the best way for you to partake in music. Music teaching is BIG BUSINESS from the private teacher to Universities. Universities are based on an academic approach, which in most cases is reductionist in trying to find a universal law or method that has measurable results. How does this mesh with someone who has talent in the arts? Does the academic approach move any of the arts forward?

OK now hold on, here comes the controversial bit: If Nilton is correct in his presumption that more learning can imbue more creativity, then University doctorate programs in creative writing, painting, musical performance, and music composition should be giving the world all of its top creative people. There are tens of thousands of these degrees conferred every year. Name a successful novelist who got a PhD in creative writing, how about a painter, musician or composer? I find it hard to believe that all of the people who went into these programs didn’t have talent, so what happened? In the case of improvisation the academics studied and reduced/formulated the elements they heard being played by jazz musicians so that these could be taught to students. Success for a University student is about following the program, jumping through the hoops and acquiring those techniques as taught. Graduate school is more of the same with even less scope for anything that would challenge the academic tradition/foundation. That’s a lot of dogma to overcome, and most never do...they become teachers of the same failed paradigm. Dogma kills creativity. Plain and simple.

For those who like erudite reading, or something that will induce sleep check out this reference:
http://musicweb.ucsd.edu/~sdubnov/Mu206/improv-methods.pdf
Page 12 and 13 give some acknowledgement to how academics have used reductive thinking to formulize improvisation for teaching purposes. It’s a difficult read but if you can get through the whole paper it’s quite fascinating.
Here’s another article that is very even handed and a much easier read:
http://www.iwasdoingallright.com/jazz-improvisation/learn-jazz-theory

In this article is a section that asks the question “Should We Learn Jazz Theory?” The honest answer given is that the author didn’t have the talent, so yes it was good for him.

Teaching and learning in the arts is difficult. Teaching motor skills/technique and understanding the history of your art is all good stuff. Dogmatic approaches to style, composition/improvisation can cripple......with the best of intentions.

Nilton you can ramble on if you wish....I’m going back to listening to music and partaking in the fun that this site should be about.
Edited by Wade on May 27 2016 01:29
posted on #24
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Well wow lol... I saw this thread going off in a direction and I didn't think it was healthy. I thought I would chime in with the intent of putting some reality on it by saying "some do, some don't, some will, some won't". I do hope that no offense was taken by anyone. I just felt that the topic (being what it is), is a great topic to discuss, and in this instance, I think I saw it moving away from personal preferences to imposing opinion. Good day to you all. Peace, love, and happiness :)
posted on #25
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It makes me incredibly sad (to say the very least) to see so much advocating against learning and development.

Wade, please describe to me what talent is. Are we born with it? In that case why should we bother at all? If it was genetic and/or predetermined there would be absolutely no point in putting any effort in at all. And that word is mostly used for a extremely lame excuse for just that, not putting any effort in or even trying. It divides people in two groups, those who have and those who don't.

But the truth is the exact opposite. There are no examples at all where so called "talented" have not worked their ass off in order to get where they are. Instead in all cases the factors i mentioned determination, ambition, the ability to accept challenges and also challenge yourself, and amount of chance. This amount is often fairly large and poorly understood so it is attributed to the concept of "talent". There are two major contributing factors to that.

Firstly chance is hard to control and works in a non linear fashion which is hard for us to understand. But it is controllable by preparing yourself as much as possible. Secondly our brains also work in a non linear fashion. We have all experienced coming up with a solution to a problem popping up almost instantly and effortlessly. But that is the result of your brain working long and hard in the background.

So why do some people seem more talented than others? Because they were prepared when they encountered impulses, other people or other phenomena. And that is exactly what creativity is about, identifying and capturing the right impulses and developing them in the best possible way. But this, as i said before, does not work in a linear manner. Its not that if you spend a certain amount of practice your creativity (don't know how to measure that) will increase by a certain amount. Instead thorough and varied preparation will give you the means to handle opportunities when they arrive.

One other fact that deserves mentioning is accepting en embracing failure, repeatedly. If you are not prepared for this, fear will stop you from acting on opportunities and fulfilling yourself.

And universities certainly do not teach you these things. Far from it, and it is doubtful that they ever will.

To me this is a far more plausible and logical explanation than "talent". You could as well say "blessed by god" or something similar stupid. And what you are doing by saying this are two very bad things: You actively discourage people from growing and developing themselves and in addition to that you are promoting a way of thinking that promotes laziness and conformity. Is this really what you want to do?
Edited by nilton on May 27 2016 06:57
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posted on #26
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Wow, you really didn't understand any of what was written. Nobody is being told to give up. Do you really think there is no difference between people? Everybody has the same intelligence, physique, eyesight, hearing, ability to write, create art, or be an athlete? It's all just a matter of trying and education? To be at the top in any endeavour takes lots of time and energy. The world is full of people who didn't make it to the top, and it wasn't always for lack of trying or education. Should the reality that some people have abilities that are better than our own stop us from achieving what we can? Most here have music as an avocation. It's for fun. What sort of idiot doesn't want to have fun because somebody else is better at it?
Man, what are you on about?
My rant (which you don't address and is far more controversial) is that those special people who have talent are in many cases NOT achieving success due to educational dogma. You're shadow boxing here against yourself, nothing I've said or even hinted at.
Hopefully we all wish for everyone to have equal opportunities. That's not the same as everyone being equal in their abilities.
You and I, having all those opportunities open to us and can pick any field of endeavour then rise to the level where we become incompetent. I'd immediately reach my level of incompetence if trying to be an athlete. Not far behind in the incompetency stakes would be diplomacy (should be obvious). The trick in life is not in giving up, it's knowing yourself and accepting yourself. Finding meaningful work that you like is a pretty good challenge. Will you be the best person to have ever done your job? Does it matter? Once again...music (for most here) is an avocation, it's not our livelihood. We do it for fun. Some here are talented, some not, but it doesn't stop anyone from trying, and it shouldn't. Most of us are capable of improvement, but that again requires self knowledge. Suggestions, especially if rounded by alternative ideas could help some people. Dogma that presumes to know what will improve everybody is not needed. It isn't working in Universities, why should it work here?
Edited by Wade on May 27 2016 10:32
posted on #27
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wade wrote:
Suggestions, especially if rounded by alternative ideas could help some people

I do agree on that, and if we perceive Niltons excellent posts about the benefits of "real" reading of music (the ahead reading issue struck me, good point) as such an suggestion, then there is no need to question that. One could discuss this suggestion dogmaticly, but Nilton himself showed that there is no linear connection between being a great reader of music and becoming a successfull musician.

I really enjoy the high level thinking that does show in this thread, and would like to contribute some thoughts - we should not be aiming to fight over the most important suggestion here, and we certainly do not want to keep any reader to try out something that may help them on their learning path, right?

So, please understand the following as additional thought, not as reasons for not reading music.
If I got Wade right, then he elaborates on something which I have also observed:
Musicians who learn priorily by reading sheet music,
and who are not able to read ahead enough to put some life in their playing (yet)
do have a huge repertoire advantage compared to non readers like me,
but often the playing sounds rather stiff and technical.

On may say this "stiffness" will be lost once the reading ahead has been achieved, which gives the player the needed time to not only play what is written, but also put some playfull emphasis on certain notes, and even more importantly get some groove going on.

I have been wondering what is needed to improve these two aspects "groovieness" and "creating a mood by playing a certain way (regardless of played note)".
To me, these two skills are at least as valuable as great theoretical or reading abilities.
If you'd have to pick a jamming partner, I'd always look for groove and communication first.

Thinking about all this, it occurred to me that learning to record is probably one of the equally worthy suggestions next to learning to read, because listening to yourself playing will give you feedback on your timing and the effect it has on the perception of the musical piece - in a way that no teacher or written music will be able to.

Like I mentioned above, Niltons explanation about the benefits of fluent reading did open a new view on reading for me, regardless of my personal motivation to try to reach this level.
What I'd like to do is to give an explanation about another ability really advanced players and composers will develop - my intention is to prevent a common misperception by players who are not aware of this, simply because no one told them.

You may be listening to some admired player, thinking: "Why can't I play like that?", and as a beginner, your answer will be: "My fingers are too slow, and I have no idea about the notes and harmony the guy is following!".
So you'll start practising your brain-to-hand coordination and memorize some basic harmonies or play some sheet music.
Maybe you'll manage to do a cover of a piece by your admired player, but if you record it and listen to it, you'll find it doesn't reach the musical experience of the original.
Most people will spot some timing issues when listening to their recording, and will think: "If I get the timing right, it will be as good as the original" - and start working on that, which is definetly a good thing to do.

What I am aiming at is: There is an aspect that goes way beyond (or sits right next to, to avoid the "most important" battle) finger skill, theory knowledge and solid timing, which is quite difficult to explain and has little documented educational ressources.
I can't think even of a known name for this aspect, so I will have to come up with one here - I'll call it "meta-music" for now.
I'll hazard a short definition of what this is, but will explain the idea in detail in a seperate post.
Mastering "meta-music" includes the ability to create emotions like "makes me smile", "can't sit still", "inner silence" or "feeling touched" thru music. I hope most of us will have experienced such feelings when listening to some music, what I'm trying to emphasize here is that there are players out there who can do it deliberately.

Too many people will believe this ability falls into the "Talent" section Wade has mentioned, but I do believe there are quite a lot of things anyone can achieve in this field once he or she deliberately aims to improve this aspect.

I'll elaborate a bit in a new post, hope you found this worthwhile so far :)
posted on #28
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Very worthwhile. Thanks.

Yea, lots of aspects of music that make up the whole and are worth considering and concentrating on so that we can improve. Recording (if you're not delusional) can certainly sort all kinds of stuff out.

Not sure why the idea of talent makes some people upset. Everybody accepts talent in athletes, artists, actors, and nearly every striving in life. Why would the fact of differences in levels talent in musicians make anyone react so strongly? Are some people playing music with unrealistic expectations? Music (especially jamming) is about being in the moment. IMHO (and experience) having any kind of ego when playing is a sure way to crash and burn. The music flows through you. As soon as I try to "own it" (boy I'm great), it disappears. Doesn't matter if anyone thinks your good or talented least of all yourself. You're only as good a musician as what you can communicate to people from moment to moment through your music.

We've all experienced musical egos that pummel their audience with thousands of notes and technical hammering that tries to demand attention. To me they seem like a three year old demanding attention (watch me mommy, watch me!). They are not GIVING their audience anything...they are trying to TAKE recognition and approval. IMHO a good musician (talented?) Doesn't take, they GIVE to their audience by communicating through music. They don't OWN it, it's shared.

Wikiloops is a special place that can embody the real essence of that sharing.
posted on #29
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Very worthwhile. Thanks.

Yea, lots of aspects of music that make up the whole and are worth considering and concentrating on so that we can improve. Recording (if you're not delusional) can certainly sort all kinds of stuff out.

Not sure why the idea of talent makes some people upset. Everybody accepts talent in athletes, artists, actors, and nearly every striving in life. Why would the fact of differences in levels talent in musicians make anyone react so strongly? Are some people playing music with unrealistic expectations? Music (especially jamming) is about being in the moment. IMHO (and experience) having any kind of ego when playing is a sure way to crash and burn. The music flows through you. As soon as I try to "own it" (boy I'm great), it disappears. Doesn't matter if anyone thinks your good or talented least of all yourself. You're only as good a musician as what you can communicate to people from moment to moment through your music.

We've all experienced musical egos that pummel their audience with thousands of notes and technical hammering that tries to demand attention. To me they seem like a three year old demanding attention (watch me mommy, watch me!). They are not GIVING their audience anything...they are trying to TAKE recognition and approval. IMHO a good musician (talented?) Doesn't take, they GIVE to their audience by communicating through music. They don't OWN it, it's shared.

Wikiloops is a special place that can embody the real essence of that sharing.
posted on #30
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Wade wrote:
Not sure why the idea of talent makes some people upset. Everybody accepts talent in athletes, artists, actors, and nearly every striving in life. Why would the fact of differences in levels talent in musicians make anyone react so strongly?


No, obvously not everybody. And i am not not alone, believe me.

And you still fail to address the most important question, what is talent really, and where does it come from. Is it genetic? Does it represent an upper limit to your abilities? Once you start analysing these questions the whole thing starts to fall apart.

To me the concept of talent is as flawed as the ideas of miracles in the dark ages. And yes, everybody accepted the idea then, although it seems ridiculous to us now.

Why does it upset me? Because its illogical, because it is used as an excuse, because it is used as a means of oppression and because it is frequently used to pit people against each other (especially kids). To me no good whatsoever comes out of that concept and frankly speaking when somebody calls me talented i take that as an insult.

The explanation i gave why some people seem more talented than others is perfectly logical, and it can be used to encourage people. It gives the opportunity to measure improvement in well defined ways instead of using very diffuse concept as "talent"

And i am in no way promoting educational dogma. On the contrary that might be one of the least effective ways to improve on yourself. What i am talking about is preparing and challenging yourself so that that you are ready when that moment comes. So you can hit that note. Or so you can understand what that guy at the workshop is trying to tell and explain. And it would be no instant miraculous change but a small step on a never ending path of development. And everybody you call super talented has walked that path.

As for fun, to me it seems closely related to love. The harder one tries to get it, the more miserable the outcome.
Edited by nilton on May 27 2016 14:15
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posted on #31
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Talent is the ease with which a person can reach a learning objective. There is nothing fuzzy about this phenomenon, and it can be observed in any school class.
Those who are talented can not tell you why it takes them so much less effort to learn something, and it is not always possible to find what pre-trained them.
Talent does not learn for you, but it makes it easier once you start.

To tell someone he or she is lacking talent to achieve something is indeed ridiculous, to tell all students they were created equal and any difference in learning speed was their personal fault is equally ridiculous.

Maybe the term talent is outdated, in modern psychology people talk about different kinds of intelligence instead. There obviously is a lot of measurable data to describe the "talent" phenomenon, so I'm really surprised to see it so strongly rejected.
posted on #32
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Yes it can be observed and statistically analysed. But that does not tell anything about its cause and effect. Do some kids learn faster because they have previous knowledge or is it innate or is it affected by external factors not actually related? And are we talking of specific or general learning abilities?

I still recall an episode from my very early childhood. I just had cracked the code of counting in ones, tens hundreds etc, and this before i started school. So naturally i was boasting about this until a some years older guy decided to take me down a pinhole or two. He said how many numbers i claimed to know he could prove that he knew more. I claimed that was impossible since i knew all the numbers there where. So then he mentioned negative numbers. The concept seemed so unbelievable so i had to check it out by asking my father and every other adult that possibly could bring clarity into this. I had no choice but to accept that there indeed was such a thing as negative numbers. I still recall that i was pondering this for moths until i got a hold of it. Later it turned out that i had a very good ability for math.

So, where did this ability come from? Was my exposure to an entirely concept at an early age but where i was old enough to grasp it. Or was it my trait of personality of accepting challenges. Or was it innate curiousity? Or some undefinable and unmeasurable affinity for math? For the last alternative seems the least likely and non of the others would qualify as a specific math talent.
Edited by nilton on May 27 2016 14:22
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posted on #33
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Dick, I'm glad you chimed in. I found your posts very well thought out, and I enjoyed the reading. I started reading this topic because I was truly interested in hearing other views on it, but as I stated earlier in a post, I saw this thread going places... I thought my comments could help ground the conversation back to what the topic was, but it didn't. Thanks to all that have commented on this thread. I've opened my eyes on a few things that were posted. I've also realized that "healthy debates" are hard to come by when people don't respect each others point of view, or try to shove their views down others throats. People can agree to disagree. Sometimes people's passion can get in the way of a good discussion, or debate, and that's just a shame... Anyway, thanks all..it stated out great, but this thread is no longer of use. Peace, love, and happiness.
posted on #34
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I'm truly sorry if this "discussion" has upset anyone. The questions about "talent" are an unfortunate situation. Whether it's "god given" vs. environment, genetics etc. have been investigated without a clear picture that says definitively that any one thing = talent. Maybe we should use the word "ability" if that goes down easier?

Environment can contribute to musical ability in the same way that children growing up in multilingual families can more easily learn other languages than children who haven't. Something gets turned on in the brain. Then there are great musicians who are born to families where music was not very prevalent and no previous musicians.

There are also numerous accounts of autistic people or savants who have incredible ability although otherwise totally disabled. Here's a link that some may already be familiar with:
https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_paravicini_and_adam_ockelford_in_the_key_of_genius?language=en
There is no easy answer, but that does not negate the fact that we are not all equal in our musical abilities.
The best that I can describe as the "cut" between musical ability and those who may need to play by formulae or just read music, is the ability to hear what you are going to play. It should be obvious that the savant as well as top notch improvisers are not just following rules or reading music. They hear what they are going to play and their instrument is an extension of themselves. How this comes about can also surprise:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7ywpFqsp9o
For most of us (with or without ability) it's a matter of learning and practice.

The “talent” word has obviously upset Nilton, and possibly others. Intimating that some people will never achieve fame or stardom in music, no matter how hard they study and practice, flies in the face of those who promote music education and sales of gear. This is odd if it's strictly a misconception for people with musical aspirations. Is this the musical version of the Emperor's new clothes?

The fact remains that it shouldn't matter. Each of us will achieve what's possible for ourselves given our abilities and dedication. Music, especially in this place, is about enjoyment, cooperation and sharing. Egos that need more have already judged themselves as not good enough and may wind up with self-fulfilling disappointment. Suggestions on how to become a better musician can be helpful as long as they aren't presented as dogma. The above videos are extreme examples of how different we can be. There is no "one size fits all" in music. We are each unique in our abilities, goals and what methods of learning suit us.
Edited by Wade on May 28 2016 03:40
posted on #35
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Great post! :D
posted on #36
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I totally agree with Wade that there are a number of musicians that seem to be a result of imbalance over-emphasising aspects like technique, (non applied)theory etc.

But that was certainly not why i started this thread. As i see it we must actively and constantly work on our own improvement by setting goals, learning new skills, challenging ourselves and accepting challenges, fuelling our ambitions, interacting with others and so on. And learning to read for those reluctant to it will definitely make them better musicians. Adding a new skill will improve your abilities no matter what. Not instantly and not in a linear correlation to the effort spent, but it will.

Im am strong devotee to the concept of life long learning. And by learning i mean acquiring useful, applicable skills and knowledge. Not something that is delivered by an educational system whose main function is to pigeon-hole people.

And no, we will not reach our full potential, no one does, most of us will not even come close. Those that Wade labels talented come a lot closer by a combination of means including hard work, preparation and chance. And for me that is a good thing since it makes it meaningless to compare ourselves to others but instead lets us focus on our own improvement.

Let me bottom line the subject of reading. Functional reading includes two separate basic skills:
Decoding pitches which is quite easy.
Decoding rhythm which is a bit harder but once you cracked the code by thinking patterns, division and reading ahead its fully doable for anyone.
Once you have learned this you will be able to read music in a functional way, just like you would read a manual and not in real time. And this is a very useful and highly valuable skill that will help you improving
Edited by nilton on May 28 2016 08:07
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posted on #37
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Amen!
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