Learning the Language of Music

Information per se is useless unless put to use. That is axiomatic.  However, publishers continue putting out the ‘latest’ in learning …whatever.  It makes them and the PhD’s that write the texts wealthy.  The consumer is only too willing to put out cash for those ‘latest’ learning texts. When one system fails, the pianist looks for another… and another… and another. Language texts and CD’s are another example. New texts have better, more attractive graphics, or promote different organization of the same material. Still, the lack of an ability in learning a language; spoken or music, persists.

The imbalance of the pragmatic to the academic is extremely apparent yet no one seems to see or understand the imbalance. Academic may be defined as information. Pragmatic may be defined as its use.  But it’s not there.  Memorizing information such as parts of speech is fine. But without an ability to put parts of speech in sentences leave the students with only a grade in their language classes.

A three or four-year-old in any country in the world speaks and understands the language of his/her country.  But the adult student only understands information. Putting a sentence together with basic syntax of subject-verb-object is beyond the language student’s ability. However, the same language student may be able to translate texts, but must use a ‘phrase book’ when visiting a foreign country.  The piano student is taught information; scales, rhythmic values, the key circle, etc., but must use his/her phrase book (the music page) in order to play music. Putting a phrase together in a basic musical syntax of ‘I-II-III’, etc. is not possible.

Communication with choices is the key to the mass part of the equation. The three or four-year-old communicates regularly in the language of his/her country with parents, other children, while being exposed to the language with TV and surrounding signs and phrases.  Limited vocabulary (significance) is not a deterrent. The language or music student feels the need for more and more significance so that that they become proficient in the language, but that never happens.

Communication is lacking in the piano students’ experience. He/she sits at the piano alone and ‘practices’. Learning and practicing scales leads only to playing scales, not music. There is one genre that is vital to the learning of music but is totally ignored.  This genre is the popular song.[1]  However, there is a plethora of information on learning songs. The ‘key circle’ is an example.  Where on earth is one to use the key circle? It is one of those bits of significances that sells ‘new’ texts and CD’s with beautiful graphics.

The basic barrier to the learning of the language of music is use.  Memorizing a popular song or a Beethoven sonata is ridiculous. This could be compared to reading, and memorizing a phrase from a foreign phrase book.  It’s called ‘parroting’; the activity of memorizing without understanding, also known as ‘practicing’.

Ralph Carrol Hedges B.Ed., B.M., M.M.

[1]‘Art’ songs are generally in languages other than English (American), and are of no use for the pianist for improvising purposes.  They are part of the ‘classic’ genre.

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