Approaches to Learning Music

Music is natural to us. We can sing the melodies of popular songs without ever taking a lesson. So why do most people who take music lessons to learn to play an instrument not get very far. It’s because of the way most music teachers teach. They teach you how to read music for your instrument. You aren’t learning how to play music, you are learning how to read music. Learning to read music for simple songs is not that hard but learning to read the complex musical notation for the up to date songs you really want to play is much harder. There are three approaches to learning to play an instruments.

1. Learning to play by ear

2. Learning to play by reading music

3. Learning to play by understanding music

Learning by ear is the way most of us learn to sing. We learn to sing songs just by listening to them. Many successful professional performing musicians, who can’t read music, have used this method. People who do karaoke usually can’t read music but can perform popular songs that would look very complicated as written music. Having a good ear for music is the most essential skill a musician can have. For the many successful musicians who are blind reading music is not even a option.

Being able to read musical notation is a valuable skill. It was invented to so that a musical work could be documented and passed on to others. Before that, the only way to learn a piece of music was to hear someone else play it. With the age of recorded music there was a new way. Music has become very portable. We all can have our favorite music to listen to over and over again. Learning to read music for simple songs is not that hard. The problem is that the musical notation for the popular songs that we want to sing or play is not simple. That popular song that you learned to sing so easily by ear has complex and difficult musical notation.

Music theory is the approach that teaches us how music works. All music is based on a few simple building blocks and rules. What seems to be hundreds of different songs reduces down to a much smaller number of musical formulas. Learning about the building blocks of music and the rules for using them simplifies music and makes it much easier to learn. It sounds technical but it’s simply knowing how groups of notes produce sounds. For lead or melody playing it’s understanding scales and modes. Not just official scales but pentatonic and blues scales and other groups of notes that give a particular sound. For harmony and chords it’s understanding the groups of notes played at the same time to back up lead or melody. Even if you play by ear and can’t give a names to these groups of notes, you still have to know them.

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