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.
Different Ways to Learn Music
It’s important to understand, there is no right or wrong way to learn music. The best way to learn music will heavily depend on what style of learner you are. Learning to read music will be the only way one will be able to pick up sheet music and play it instantly. However, it also leaves out fundamental performance concepts some may argue are central to the art of making music. Playing music by ear and improvisation lean heavily on creativity and aural skills, which is at the core of fundamental musicianship. Yet both underemphasize music literacy. Some methods may have advantages and disadvantages, but all will ultimately get you to the finish line.
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!
Identifying notes, intervals and chords by sight is an important skill to have. Understanding how to read notes, and the relationship between notes and rhythm can allow you to pick up a piece of sheet music and play it effortlessly. Reading music is a great way to help visualize intervals and sonic relationships. So when practicing your reading, always think of intervals, which will undoubtedly help build speed!
Learning to read music will allow you to understand your own instrument better and develop a better understanding of how melody and harmony coexist and interact in both a theoretical and practical sense. This does not mean that reading music is the best or most important aspect of learning music, but rather another tool to use in the greater context of music education.
Playing Music by Ear
Have you ever dreamed of playing a song you heard on the radio needing to find the sheet music or tablature? This method of playing music is called 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. Music theory is often taught in depth along with many piano methods, but for other instruments theory may not receive as much attention.
Just like reading music, playing by ear is a skill that takes time to develop. Some mastery of the instrument is required to be able to execute the technical requirements you may hear. But in the end, reading music and understanding theory goes hand in hand with playing by ear. Understanding theory simply gives the student some context to the sounds they hear, which can help organize the harmonic and melodic elements even without sheet music. If you have both skills – reading music and playing by ear – chances are you’ll be able to learn songs that music faster, whether by sheet music or solely by ear.
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. In our preteen years as we interact with society more, we develop 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.
Practice is what will help the student connect sounds they hear to actual notes on their instrument (or the page, for that matter). In a sense, the instrument should be an extension of your ears. What you hear you can play, whether you’re trying to recreate something or create something new. Those who have mastered their instrument will be able to hear a note or chord and find how to replicate it on their instrument.
Improvisation is the art of spontaneously creating music. We can improvise to write songs or we can improvise to build beautiful solos. We can improvise accompaniment as well. Music improvisation can occur on many different levels, and having a good ear for music is a critical component of good improvisation.
What Makes a Well Rounded Musician
A well-rounded musician has a good understanding of stylistic nuances, has trained their ears to recognize sounds, chords, intervals, and melodic or harmonic devices, and has the ability to play what they hear. Certainly, having skills to read music and an understanding of theory is helpful, as is improvisation and/or interpretation skills.
Learning Music Methods with Lessons
Working with a passionate music teacher will help you achieve your goals faster and more effectively. With Forbes Music, it’s easy to choose a teacher and get started learning music. Private one-on-one lessons are the best way to study music, since lessons can be tailored to each student’s specific needs, goals, level, and learning styles. Books and videos can not account for such personalization, which can often lead to a lot of complications and frustration from students. Consider these advantages of private lessons vs. books and videos.
- Personalized learning
- Tailored lesson plans
- Helpful dialogue with a teacher
- Get questions answered
- Get mistakes corrected
- Avoid bad habits
- Strengthen weak areas
- Leverage knowledge & strengths
Get Started With Music Lessons Today!
Regardless of which method sounds most intriguing to you, it is important to seek the guidance of a teacher or a mentor. You can learn to play any instrument you are passionate about. Get started with your music lessons with Forbes Music and you will be playing that song from the radio in no time!
*This article has been updated on 01/17/2023 with new information.