Thursday, April 2, 2009

Beyond Labels

It's our job as story tellers to express what is happening in the music we play. I don't mean this in an analytical sort of way - i.e. "this is the major 7th chord", or "this is a polyrhythm". All theoretical knowledge is empowering, but at some point we really want to look past the labels and feel the music purely - without any definitions.

It's very easy for the mind to be attracted to labels. I remember being in school, delighted that I could label all the advanced harmonies that were presented to me. I was lucky to have teachers and friends who were fluent at music theory. It's extremely valuable to understand theory, but sometimes theory can become more important than listening. It can become a way of knowing music without really listening to it - like a scientist who studies an animal and knows everything about that particular species, but never takes the time to know each one uniquely.

Lately I've been playing through some very old pieces - I've played some of them for as long as I can remember. When I play them, I practice listening - to the sound of the guitar, the voices as they interact, the variety of intervals, the attacks, the silences, etc. Just listening carefully and discovering - looking it over like a fine jewel. The labels still pop up in my mind, but I'm not so interested in them.

It's very helpful to start your practice this way - just play a basic piece and listen to it from as many angles as you can. Listen to each voice, feel the rhythms fully, try different moods, listen to how the voices interact. Become very interested in all the sounds and silences which create the piece. You will see how much depth can be found in even the simplest forms of music. This awareness will carry over into everything you play or listen to.

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