Learning to play a musical instrument takes dedication, diligence, and direction. Each of us is as unique as a snowflake, so like many things in life there is no one correct answer. It is important to note what your goals are. Do you wish to read music or play by ear? Is playing Rhapsody in Blue or jamming with a blues band more your style? Would you perform on a big stage or would you rather enjoy the time spent with you and your instrument? There is no doubt that a well rounded musician can do all of these things, and a thorough teacher will make sure that elements of each are built into the lessons. But, each of us has a different set of natural abilities or inclinations and finding success early is key to a growing love for music.
Learning to read music is much like learning to read words. It takes time to learn what each symbol means individually before you can put them together. After a bit of practice, it’s just like reading a newspaper or magazine article! Many traditional method books focus on reading music. Examples include Alfred’s Basic Piano Course and Essential Elements for Band or Strings.
Playing by Ear:
Have you ever dreamed of hearing a song on the radio and going to your instrument and playing it with out needing to find the sheet music or tablature? This is playing by ear! If your goal is to play by ear, it is essential to understand music theory. Theory aids in knowing which notes are most likely to be played in each key, which chords typically follow each other, and what all of that sounds like. Theory is often taught in depth along with many piano methods, but for other instruments theory may not receive as much attention. The Master Theory method book can help fill that void.
If you’ve ever watched a child play, you have experienced the wonder and joy of improvisation. As young children, we have an innate desire to learn and have fun by making stuff up. But often that changes as we approach our preteen years. Without getting into a dissertation on the role society plays, the answer is fear. We are afraid that we will do something wrong, play a note that sounds bad, or look uncool in front of our peers. In music, we rely on our ear to tell us if something sounds good or bad. So, if we train our brain to hear the notes before we play them, we can predict if it will sound the way we want it to: This is called ear-training. Ear training books usually include a CD or online access to audio recordings.
Regardless of which method sounds most intriguing to you, it is important to seek the guidance of a teacher or a mentor. Learn more in my upcoming blog post “Learning the language of music” and feel free to send any topics you’d like discussed to firstname.lastname@example.org.