I need to stop it with the “non-musical” stuff. I’m quite convinced now that there is no such thing.
But I love the irony.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’ve always found it ironic and, frankly, SAD, that my four children are not musicians. Not only are they not musicians, but they are athletes. When I was a kid, I was allergic to sports. Last one picked for any team sport, etc. etc. On any fine day, you could find me buried deep in the air-conditioned band room, practicing the clarinet, working on jazz improv, teaching myself the oboe, or directing the French horn section (I was the French horn section leader–long story there, no, I don’t play the French horn!). I once tried joining the cross country team and didn’t make it through the warm up run. So with four kids, at least one of them should have been musical. Right?
I think if we live long enough, we often find that the gods have been laughing at us all along. I certainly feel quite foolish every time one of my non-musical kids tells me something about music that I didn’t know.
So one of my kids picked up the guitar earlier this spring, and has been diligently working away with a terrific, free YouTube lesson series from Andy Guitar. She can play quite a selection of pop songs now.
I learned something from her today. That learning a song involves getting into the composer’s head.
I’m not sure why this never occurred to me before. Perhaps it’s because I am basically a pianist, and there are a lot of notes involved. When I play the piano, I am usually multitasking to the extreme, worrying about wrong notes, the pedal, and thinking about what I am trying to express. My daughter commented that one of her favorite pop songwriters, Sia, tends to like the same chords. She uses them in different combinations, dwells on them in different ways.
I think the cynic in me would once have suggested that pop songwriters don’t NEED many chords. My daughter had an entirely different take on this. “I understand why she likes these chords,” she said. “I like them, too. I like some chords better than others. I just do. Some are just prettier than others.”
Huh. I actually get that. Chopin likes his black keys. That’s why when I was a kid, I disliked Chopin. I like Chopin a lot more now that my hands are bigger and I don’t care as much about trying to please a teacher by hitting all the right notes. As a grownup I get to savor the moment and not worry about doing things right. That’s exactly what my daughter gets to do when she teaches herself to play the guitar. She’s not concerned about doing things right, just with how it sounds. As she deconstructs Sia’s chord choices, she takes apart the song and puts it back together, almost as if she were creating it herself. Which she is, really.
But as for me, I’ve never practiced the piano that way. If a section were particularly tricky–in terms of fingering or if I had to figure out a complex rhythm–I would break it out and work on it separately from the piece before returning it to the whole. But I tended to address the entire piece as a big, complex canvas, not as sequences that the composer chose to set up in a particular way. It never occurred to me that by writing music, a composer travels an emotional journey from one chord to the next, and that every composer has favorite ways of explaining his or her emotional journey.
Food for thought. Both musical food for thought, and parenting food for thought.