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

wow.... well that's a lot of stuff... I have some time

I found it odd that you feel the need to categorize things as good and 
bad. What's with the labels? If you have an identity in music then it 
doesn't really matter how you got there... you like it, nothing else 

I also find it sad that you presumed so much about the 'music theory 
community' to keep from learning.... who are those people anyway? I don't 
know them... I know some, not all, music theory... but I don't experience 
it as any kind of community of people who are frowning down on other 
people who don't know the modes or how to read. Sounds like you had a lot 
of fear based motivation back then. Then again... who of us didn't have 
that in our 20's? I was always afraid that I was seen as a 'lamester' 
because I couldn't play bebop as authentically as I wanted. Later on, when 
all the beboppers were trying to learn how to bend notes and rock out, I 
realized that was pretty hard for them too and felt better... not many 
people can do everything well... but trying helps.

As far as your reasons for disliking "western notation": people make up 
their own symbols all the time in charts. It's a guideline and it works 
cause other people can read it. For instance... most of the time I don't 
write in any key because my lines are too chromatic and it would be hard 
to remember all the sharps/flats AND apply the ones I add for the 'out' 
notes... so... I just write in C most of the time even if the bass is 
playing something in another key.  Also... I don't know what kind of 
fekockteh scores you looked at, but the spacing is supposed to be 
distributed based on lengths of notes... so there's goes that... and... if 
the shapes of the notes showed dynamics, it would be too complex to 
read... especially if your eyesight is not so good... the dynamic system 
in place works great... if you know how to read it.  It takes work... 

 If you did lay out a system that actually made more sense than the music 
notation we all know, or adapted it for your purposes, I would be very 
impressed and interested. However, what you've laid out here... with all 
due respect...  It's just a bunch of lame arguments you're making to 
excuse yourself for not learning how to read.


To me, music theory is something you learn so that you can forget it later 
after you chewed it up and understand it.... not something that you learn 
so it can infiltrate your music and make you sound like you went to 
school... the people that learn theory and get stuck there and sound like 
they know some theory when they play weren't going to play from the heart 
anyway, whether they learned theory or not.

I have a ton of respect for your ability to express yourself, your 
willingness to put all these thoughts in a public forum.... and I listened 
to your music online and really dug it. 

I think you are, by nature and from a young age, an avant garde composer 
who went to a school that didn't offer a program in your chosen field of 
composition. Had you attended somewhere appropriate to that genre, like 
New England Conservatory, you would have flourished and been encouraged... 
and probably learned how to read, and maybe even invented a new system of 
notation that would have been used worldwide...


On Feb 17, 2012, at 3:23 PM, Matt Davignon wrote:

> 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