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Re: Not having musical training - the good and the bad

Matt, that was a great write-up! Your attitude is totally logical
and... fresh. I share most of your points, maybe except for your
hang-ups with how staff notes look. ;-)

Greetings from Sweden

Per Boysen

On Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 9:23 PM, Matt Davignon <mattdavignon@gmail.com> 
> It's a few different elements, and I admit that I'm probably full of BS.
> 1) At the time I was entering college, the instruments I played were
> almost entirely non-melodic instruments - mostly tapes, effects and
> contact microphones. The classes my college were offering focused
> primarily on melody and harmony.
> 2) Any melodies in music I was making at the time were pretty basic
> and minimal, and I didn't see any need to grow beyond that at the
> time. (This was the time of techno, industrial and punk rock being
> very popular.) Even now, I'm much more interested in the
> characteristics of the sound than the actual melody, but I have to
> admit that harmony and pitch have a lot to do with the
> characteristics.
> 2) I had this thing in my head at the time that learning music theory
> would = conformity. In the mind of an 19 year-old misfit like me,
> conformity was a 4-letter word at the time.
> 3) It seemed at the time like it would be a lot of work for a little
> gain. I was learning stuff at home that excited me a lot more.
> Learning a new scale didn't seem that interesting compared to learning
> how to make a chair shriek emotively across a cement floor.
> 4) I was afraid that the sounds I was interested in would be seen as
> worthless in the music theory community. (That was probably not true.)
> 5) Part of me got all grumpy when I thought I discovered some great
> new tone cluster or quirky melody through breaking a bunch of rules,
> and then some music theory person would say "oh, that's just a
> blankity blank scale". Part of me really wanted to believe I was the
> first/only person doing it. Later, my perspective was "ok, everything
> I do melodically is going to have a name in music theory, but that
> doesn't mean I can't do it."
> 6) Somehow, learning the science behind how everything worked felt
> like it was going to take all the wonder of discovery out of music.
> Imagine that you're just about to see Star Wars for the first time,
> but before doing so, you have to listen to a Joseph Cambell lecture
> discussing everything that's going to happen in the movie and how
> everything is a literature device that's been around for thousands of
> years. That's what it felt it would be like.
> 7) And here's one that I thought was wise: I wanted to enter adulthood
> with skills other than making music. I could always make music for
> fun, but I didn't honestly think I was going to have a career making
> the weird music I was interested in. I wanted to be an engineer
> producer at the time, but was realizing that I didn't have the
> patience to butt heads with people in bands.
> So, anyway, now I'm a grown-up, about 17 years after the decision to
> not major in music. What's it like now?
> The good:
> --Sometimes there's an assumption made that if you don't take music
> theory, you don't learn *anything*. That's not true. I learned
> different stuff.
> --Whenever I hit a wall, I either worked around it or turned my focus
> in a different direction. I don't think I'd be as sonically unique if
> I didn't hit as many walls.
> --I think I do ok as a musician. In the improvised music world, people
> like playing with me because I'm unique and I've learned how to adapt
> quickly to what they're doing.
> --I think I'm slightly more successful as a musician than I would be
> if my skills were more standardized. (If I was doing stuff that more
> people did, I don't think I'd measure up as well.)
> --I think I'm happier to be in a non-music related profession. I don't
> rely on my artistic energy to pay my bills. All my artistic energy can
> be spent doing the things I want.
> --Many of the music majors I know are struggling to remain in a
> music-related profession, as if it would be a failure if they did
> something else.
> --I don't make a huge amount of money at my day job, but I make more
> than many of my professional musician friends.
> --I don't depend on music to "defend my existence". That's kind of a
> biggie. As a teen, that was my only perceived value about myself. Now
> I have a lot of skills that are independent of that. I might do ok in
> a zombie apocalypse.
> The bad:
> --I'm musically naive - very much so. If I happen to stumble on a
> great melody, it's usually by accident. I'm sure I play a lot of
> things that sound great to me, but are old news to people who have the
> training. I get stuck in ruts very easily.
> --I can't communicate my musical ideas very well. I can't write sheet
> music. The best I can do is play it myself and hope other people can
> imitate it the way I hear it. If I can't play it myself, then I'm
> screwed.
> --Sometimes when trying to get other musicians to play for me,
> sometimes I'm frustrated that people don't think about things the same
> way I do. For example, I want a written cue for: "Try to make it sound
> like you're playing the drums from 16 feet away with 3 broomsticks
> tied together. No, you're way too accurate. Really, you need to sound
> like ... no, now you're just being silly. You need to sound like it's
> a really clumsy interface, but you're doing the best you can with it."
> --I'm the dumbest person in any band. Or at least I feel that way. I
> learn pretty well by ear and trial & error, but that's a lot slower
> than those who can read sheet music or be told "go from A chord to D
> chord".
> --I miss a lot of opportunities: I often have to miss out on playing
> in improvised orchestras and other group-oriented projects because I
> can't read their sheet music. Likewise, I've also been afraid to sign
> up for collaborative residencies out of fear that I'd be the only one
> there who doesn't speak the language.
> --At this point of my life, it would be nice to know how to orchestrate.
> So, why don't I drop everything I'm doing and learn to read western
> notation? I simply don't like the system. I think the musical staff
> should be written chromatically, rather than requiring the reader
> pre-memorize a pattern of valid notes (and then breaking that rule
> with sharps and flats). I want the symbol for a half-note rest to
> actually look like it takes more time than a quarter note rest. I'd
> like to see notes take up as much room on a bar as their duration. (A
> 1/4 note takes up 1/4 of the bar.) It would be nice if the shape of
> the note represented the note's dynamics.
> Lastly, I want intervals to be standardized. I want "a third" to be an
> interval of 3 chromatic notes, not sometimes 5 notes and sometimes 4
> notes. Then people could memorize a major scale as "2,2,1,2,2,2,1"
> (which people already understand).
> --
> Matt Davignon
> mattdavignon@gmail.com
> www.ribosomemusic.com
> Podcast! http://ribosomematt.podomatic.com
> http://www.youtube.com/user/ribosomematt
> Teddy Kumpel <teddykumpel@mac.com> was all:
>> such an interesting topic...
>> Matt... Do you think you still find music interesting BECAUSE you 
>> decided to stay away from institutional learning? I think you would 
>> have stayed interested no matter what... you just found all the music 
>> school stuff too far away from your goal and you didn't see the point 
>> at the time. Totally understandable... there were things in school I 
>> pushed away for the same reasons.... like learning George VanEps chord 
>> solos.... zzzzzz
>> my thought about this whole thing is:
>> if your goal is to be really really good at a very focused thing that 
>> doesn't have harmony that changes quickly, like ambient music, you 
>> probably don't need music school.
>> if you want to have a diverse skill set, music school is probably right 
>> for you. I learned how to arrange for big band, how to compose a modal 
>> jazz song, how to hear every chord from every mode of the 4 main modal 
>> systems, all about jazz standards and chord substitutions, accompanying 
>> a singer in a duo, what swing is.... and a whole plethora of other 
>> things. I don't use them all every day now, 26 years later... but I 
>> sure have appreciated knowing all that stuff throughout the years.
>> and.... really the number one reason music school is great: the fellow 
>> students... if you're at the right school... I guess, like anything 
>> else, some schools suck and some are good and therefore the quality of 
>> students attracted follows.
>> Rick, your story is really awesome.... you sure are not a lazy man