The most interesting thing for me about having been a musician and creative person for over twenty years, is the revelation that learning doesn’t have to be a hard sweat. It should be a challenge of course, otherwise where’s the fun of achieving? But it doesn’t have to be an endless grind through an unfamiliar universe of weird symbols on weird pages in weird books… that even when you figure them out, and get your instrument to squeek out the correct noises at the correct time, still don’t mean anything – or give you any pleasure.
I think the reason a lot of tutors teach by rote, using these outdated and spirit sapping methods is because they are teaching on a conveyor belt and have 10 pupils lined up everyday for a week – get em in, get em out.. and don’t spill anything on the piano!
When I was at school, I was a bit of a big mouth, and my music lessons consisted of the old lady at the front of the class saying ‘Maitland Out!’ as I entered the door, and then standing outside the door while she intoned enthusiastically about Mozart or Beethoven etc – turns out she should have been enthusiastic as they were both genius’. The whole thing was as stale and mind numbing as algebra to me.
We made our way into music through fashion and friends: forming bands and then digging our stubborn Maitland heels in and saying ‘I want to know how this works – I want to be good at this.’ My brother tours across Europe nowadays with his own band and was the bass player for all of the artists at last year’s Rewind festival.
I have done ok too – having been on Sky and Yorkshire TV, toured and written with a number of named artists and released my own records and books. We both teach now, and have done so at a number of London Colleges and schools. A few years ago, I helped him write the syllabus for the Brighton Institute of New Music’s Bass degree course. He and I with 6 O levels between us.
Some of the best musicians I ever worked with never had a lesson in their life; they didn’t go to college, many of them can’t read music, but they have achieved a high level of skill on their instrument, for which professional artists pay them a lot of money; they have been on TV and on worldwide tours with people you have heard of.
Some of the worst musicians I have worked with have more letters after their name than letters in their name.. This of course is not a rule, schooled musicians aren’t bad and non-schooled musicians aren’t good. I am just saying that the letters don’t make the player. A great ear, and a love for what he/she is doing makes the player. A clear vision of what they want to play and which players they want to learn from makes the player.
A philosopher once said, ‘You can never reach any goal you aren’t emotionally attached to’. That I think is my point: want to learn music, or to write? Find something simple and great that someone has made in that world and try and work out how to do it yourself. If you don’t find anything that you think is great in that world, then do something else – you are wasting your time and you’ll never reach your goal.
A recent sax student of mine was challenged to learn One Step Beyond in six months. He is a forty year old plasterer who has never played an instrument in his life, he had no idea where to start. We got there easily with 2 months to spare – along the way he learnt (as and when he needed to) about scales and keys, breathing techniques, timing and the basics of reading music. Know why it was so easy? He loves that tune!