Thursday, February 14, 2013

Learning From the Music You Love

Sometimes it's just plain irritating, but most of the time I simply smile and gently tell them the truth.

The music you love and want to dance to may not be the best choice for learning about the music. 

"What? But I love SalsaTangoBachataHipHopDiscoSwing music! It moves me."

I totally relate. My original drum instructor wanted me to learn all those boring foundational skills, and I wanted to play "Taking Care of Business" (Link below.) "Taking Care of Business" seemed cool to me, but he held his ground and taught me an excellent life lesson. With his ideas I learned to play "Taking Care of Business" and hundreds of variations, in less time that it would have taken me to just learn that one song.

Sometimes the learning path to what I wanted was best served by going another direction first. 

Fast forward 35 years, and now I'm working with someone struggling with the timing or music phrasing, not able to find the "1" or the breaks in their music. They ask me for help, then are bothered that I don't start with "their" music.

"No, but I said I love SalsaTangoBachataHipHopDiscoSwing music and we're using an R&B song. Show me how it works in SalsaTangoBachataHipHopDiscoSwing music."

Sorry, I hate to be the one who breaks the bad news. Your first love may be too rich, too intense, too many layers, just too much goodness for digesting the details unless you have a solid grounding.

It's OK to start with other music!

For the record, it's often better to start someplace else. We will get back to your love soon, once the principles are solid with "more accessible" music. Note that more accessible music may be simpler, but complexity doesn't necessarily make great music. Complex music may be excellent, but less complicated music is often just as interesting, but different.

Simpler music can be a huge learning win, used to expose people to new ideas faster, then we move on to your music.

Anybody who dances to slower music appreciates the skill required to dance slowly, there's less room for "sloppy" and the same applies to music.

When handled correctly, don't get bothered if your mentor chooses other music styles short term to accelerate your learning. I've long ago said, "If you can't find the '1' in most popular music, you'll rarely find it rich, complex music."

Let me know your thoughts via the comments or the other contact info below.

"Taking Care of Business" Live version (they are a bit older than when I was a teenager.)

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  1. What an excellent advice and great article! I remember having to play scales on the piano and not enjoying it at all ... I wanted to play fun songs. It is only years later that I understood what a great foundation it provided. AC

    1. So funny, yes I can relate. That's similar to me not wanting to learn to read music either. It sure helped me grow faster than most of my peers, but I disliked it at first.

      I wanted to quit the guy in the first few weeks, but my mom encouraged me to stick with him a few more months. Clearly I should listen to my mom more! It turned out really well, and I hope this helps others too.

  2. So true. I also think many people need to step away from music the love for the lyrics. It wasn't until I listened to instrumental music that I finally got the beat - I was too wrapped up in the lyrics.

    I think we also bring too much baggage with the music we love too. We might love it because of memories it brings up or because we were raised on that music. This makes it easy to listen to and we might 'get it', but not necessarily easy to learn from or dance to.

    1. Clint,

      Great insight. Sometimes when we listen to things we've heard before we assume we are hearing it all, when we are often missing some details.

      I hadn't thought about the lyrics and the existing connection, that's a great point.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero