Learning Music As A Language
Originally posted by David Arnold on June 27, 2016
Music is a language and it is important that as musicians we take time to learn music in the same way we learn to speak. From the moment we are born, we are listening to masters of the language we are going to be speaking. From a young age, we are listening to our peers experimenting and exploring with new ways to communicate. We also learn by example as our adult mentors absorb some of our young ways of speaking. All around us, day and night, people of all levels are communicating with each other.
Imagine how long it takes a child to master their language… 2, maybe 3 years and they can communicate with any adult. Now contrast that with how music is traditionally taught, and how long it takes someone to master an instrument. It typically takes many, many years to reach that level of playing in our traditional music education settings.
These ideas are not new. In fact, there is a whole school of music education pioneered by Shinichi Suzuki called the Suzuki method. This method of teaching violin is largely based on learning music the way children learn to speak.
The jazz bassist, Victor Wooten also has influenced my views of learning in this sense as well. Victor Wooten hosts clinics and camps to share this knowledge to musicians of all ages. I witnessed a master class he presented once, where he stated his greatest musical influence is the English language.
One of Wooten’s ideas is that we get good a speaking because we are constantly improvising, or “jamming”, with masters of the language. He states that if we had the opportunity to jam with the masters of music the way we do language we would all be much better musicians, in a much shorter time.
Below is a link to a video from one of his nature bass workshops. Many of the ideas discussed here are from this very lecture. You will also see and hear him play a solo version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”.
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