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Let me briefly tell you my personal story with music as a hobbyist.

TLDR : Got taught technique as a child, had no fun and quit, learned music by ear by myself later in life, having fun now and playing. I don't get why music is taught the way it is.

Retrospectively I wouldn't teach myself the way I was taught. I know plenty of people that had the same kind of disappointing learning experiences in music schools and have since stopped music.

I really feel music school are turning a vast majority of kids into music boxes at best, instead of making them musicians.

Why are music schools teaching the way they teach ? Where should I send my kids for them to learn music ?

The longer version :

The farthest back I remember was making noise on my own with some electronic organ when I was 5 but I still remember I could spend hours pushing various buttons, switching instruments, pressing keys, and having fun doing so.

A few years later, my parents, having noticed my interest for music, started me off in music school; for the first two years it was just music theory. Then around 9, I started the piano. It was playing by the sheets, and learning scales. Basically learning the technique. I remember that I always had a rhythmic problem, always giving myself the liberty of stretching times to make it sound the way I preferred.

But every time I was corrected and made to play on rhythm. After a few years of that I became correct at playing mechanically, playing the right note on the right time. But the fun was going away at the same time. It was no longer about making the right sound or melody but more getting the right finger on the right key.

I also remember that when I learned to play a piece at most I had listen to the whole piece one or two times. I had a few teachers but it was always the same policy.

At 16, I stopped playing.

Ten years later, I tried to start playing again on my own to get stress out during a difficult life period. I began by following the same recipe I was taught. But quickly I realized it still was no fun.

So I decided to learn it my way. I wanted the music to come naturally. The first month was just forcing myself to unlearn the mere fact that when I was pressing for example the "C key," my brain was saying "C" to itself. I played by making simple patterns of sound, and repeating them randomly at first. Then trying to search for patterns. I tried to make my own rules I would try to follow. And at all times I tried to listen to the sound the piano made while I played. In short I was exploring music on my own.

Over the course of a few months, playing half an hour a day, in a sense, I quickly picked harmony, rhythm, transposition, a sense of understanding and feeling. Sometimes I listen to a song and try to replay it. I try to get the theme, modify it a little on the fly to see where it takes me. After two years of my own learning, everyday I'm still picking up new things; it is fun, varied and interesting.

I am still very far from being expert, and I've still a lot of problems if I try to play a music by the sheet, but I'm happy creating a simpler variation to make it less technical if I think I get the main idea right. I still don't get the fun of making things technical for the sake of being technical. Even though I can get pretty technical in my own compositions. But sometimes I feel I rediscover some technique tricks. And I've no doubts that in time missing techniques will come naturally to serve the need of expressing ideas.

Now everything I was taught over my years in music school make sense to me but it seems like it all was presented backwards.

I can see that all that was taught has some value, but if I had not restarted from scratch I still would not have gotten it.

I feel that presented the way it was, I had no chance at all of picking it up. I even feel that I would have picked it up if the teacher was not constantly depriving me of any liberty I granted myself.

Why do music schools teach the way they do?

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    The plural of "anecdote" is not "data." <-- What that cliche means is that your personal experience and your personal attitude towards music learning does not define all music programs or all people's interest in learning to play. – Carl Witthoft Nov 11 '15 at 12:44
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    I would like to say that an understanding of music theory is critical for higher levels of musical accomplishment, and personally I progressed much quicker under my piano teacher in my first few years than in the past few without. If you want to pursue a more advanced level of musicality, a piano teacher is necessary for several reasons: A) They can impart knowledge quickly that would take large amounts of time to research, B) They hold you accountable, and C) They can get you connected in the field, competitions, guild auditions, etc. if you want to pursue music seriously. – veryRandomMe Nov 11 '15 at 19:24
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    Your question / anecdote provide a myopic view of music education. It is statistically silly to suppose that all music is taught the particular way you have experienced it. Not all schools aim to "create a virtuoso" excepting possibly the elite conservatories. People that attend such schools are bred from birth to be musicians (a problem in its own way). If you studied really any textbooks for general musical education, you would see that the emphasis is on understanding and appreciating different world cultures and their music, not creating robots. – jjmusicnotes Nov 11 '15 at 19:47
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    Further, it is exceptionally rare for young children to possess the emotional complexity/maturity/expressiveness that can be channeled into the music. Even teenagers, biologically, struggle with this aspect of music (the pre-frontal cortex is not finished forming). Most kids struggle just learning the basics, and the basics are technical. Emotional ranges tend to vary into the extreme - kids can show basic emotions, but complex gradations take time - lots of time - to develop. Teachers start with technique because if you have a solid foundation because learning on a per-piece basis is a waste – jjmusicnotes Nov 11 '15 at 19:51
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    Lastly, teachers emphasize rhythm above other things because rhythms that are taught incorrectly and notoriously difficult to fix. A wrong not is very easy to fix. Now, was your education balanced? No. Should your teacher have done more to inspire your interest? Absolutely. But that said, this question is by definition a logical fallacy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misleading_vividness – jjmusicnotes Nov 11 '15 at 19:57

12 Answers 12

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Look at it this way -- the entirety of your story could have been about being taught, becoming bored with, and eventually learning and exploring maths. But (western) society has these preconceived notions about math supposedly being technical and boring, and music supposedly being expressive and fun. In reality, the best teachers would teach both subjects in basically the same way.

And perhaps you were taught music and maths the same way by equally mediocre teachers using the same teaching methods. But maybe since you expected that from math class, and were given an option to quit music class, you kept on studying math and not music.

Of course I have no idea how you were actually taught math, but my point here is that quality of instruction and curriculum varies greatly, and moreso in the present day. Not every music teacher (or math teacher) teaches in a boring, stagnant way. All we can really say for sure is that the music curriculum that you experienced did not work well for your learning style and personality. There's nothing special about music, or even the education system, that says it has to have been done that way.

A modern day general music curriculum could include singing, movement, playing of instruments, improvisation, learning notation, and composition -- all before the end of elementary school. A school that focuses solely on music should be doing the same things, but at an accelerated rate.

From your story, it sounds like you went into a program that was designed for young musicians who already possessed many of these skills, and had an interest in learning and playing classical music. And so the curriculum focused exclusively on theory and notation, and execution of technique. There's logic to this -- it's how you create virtuosos -- but it's not for everyone. A more creative and empathetic teacher might have been able to notice your desire to improvise and play by ear, and nurtured those skills while still helping you build and understand the need for the skills you were having trouble with. (If you have bad rhythm, you're not going to be very successful playing with other people, learning notation is just as important for music as learning to read and write your native language, etc.)

  • I went where I where because it was the only music school of our town. My parents were not musicians, so they had no clue music schools end-goal was to create virtuosos, and I'd bet that at least 90% of parents had no clue either, they just send their kids there to learn music. Math is usually taught in group, piano is taught one on one, I think that my parents thought the teacher would adapt to the kid. I think that music schools should do more than just selecting kids based on the skill they show and putting them in the box where they would best express their shown talent. – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 10:44
  • By the way, I turned out to be excellent in math (to the point of it now being part of my job), but never really got music until recently. The main difference in the way I was taught is that piano was one on one. – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 11:37
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    @darkblue I think that many universities would disagree with you about piano exclusively being taught one-on-one. Music schools do select students by more than their skill - their ability to show community involvement, for example, is important. For college students, another factor is marketability - where they might be going and whether or not the school will really help them get there. Composition students are chosen on the kind of music they're already making. I know professors who have taken students that can't read or write but have strong potential ("talent" is a horrible word). – jjmusicnotes Nov 11 '15 at 20:02
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    All the great writers - all successful writers - also spent a long time learning syntax and grammar. Think of it as theory of writing. I remember being bored by this in school, but it does make a difference. If you haven't learned how to write clearly and concisely you will have problems in life. There are a lot of people around writing badly. They have trouble being taken seriously; no matter how insightful their ideas are, if they confuse "its" and "it's" they are taken for idiots. If text is not written properly, it may be misunderstood. – RedSonja Nov 13 '15 at 9:50
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I understand what you are saying. I have known so many folks who have a similar story without the happy ending (perhaps they had the same teachers as you ha ha). They took years of very technical strict lessons learning what the creators of the curriculum thought were important, and became burned out on playing their instrument. It became too much like work (felt forced upon them) and was not fun.

My guess and observation is that many music teachers, whether teaching privately or in a music school or as part of the curriculum in a regular grade school, are following a set course of instruction developed by music majors who assumed that everyone who learns to play an instrument intends to be a music major all the way through graduate school and perhaps become a professional musician.

It seems that (as you experienced personally) many students are being taught to play an instrument in a manner similar to the way an aspiring mechanic is taught to repair automobiles or a dentist is taught to work on teeth. The truth is, that many folks simply want to learn to play an instrument for the fun and enjoyment of creating music. If it feels too much like learning algebra, or trigonometry, it can get to a point where the student develops an aversion to the instrument (like I did to algebra and folks I know have done with piano).

I agree with your premise that an aspiring new musician should first connect with the joy of learning to play some music they personally enjoy and find gratification by quickly (that's a relative term) developing an ability to create or re-create music on their instrument that is meaningful to them. Then they will become more passionate about learning to improve their skills and may eventually develop a thirst for more in depth knowledge of theory on their own. I agree with your assertion that most music lessons spend too much time in the beginning on the boring parts and perhaps should get to the fun part faster.

Of course there are some very basic exercises a beginning student must master before he/she can play much on any instrument. Some basic ideas on how the instrument works, how the notes are laid out, and some hand coordination and basic rhythm exercises are probably fundamental to making much progress with actual music. But I believe the making music part should come more quickly in the lesson plan than most courses of study seem to dictate.

You also make an interesting point about the lack of creative freedom that many teachers allow their students. Perhaps a significant portion of the lesson time should be spent on encouraging the student to use whatever he/she has learned towards exercising some creative expression. The challenge there might be that some students have a difficult time tapping in to their own internal creative abilities - while others seem to thrive on exercising their creative expression. A good teacher should be able to recognize the difference and modify the teaching style accordingly.

I don't teach piano (my mother did - the old fashioned method book way) but I teach beginner guitar. My goal with a new student, is to help them quickly get to a point where they can play at least a simple rendition of some songs they like. Then I expand from there by helping them learn new chords and techniques by incorporating them into the process of learning more songs that the student chooses.

I don't use any books per se - only simple chord charts and lead sheets for arrangements of songs (they choose) that I create for them based on their skill level. The songs in lesson books are often restricted to old songs that are in the public domain due to licensing issues with popular copyrighted songs.

I only teach students who want to learn for fun and after they reach an intermediate level where they are learning new songs on their own, I pass them on to a teacher who will teach them all the music theory they care to know. Many never get to the theory part because they are having too much fun learning to play more new songs or even compose their own tunes.

In answer to one part of your question - I think many teachers teach the way they teach because A) that's the way they were taught and B) they don't want to reinvent the wheel but rather stick with course outlines and method books that they can just buy and use or C) the school they work at sets the curriculum as a one size fits all with an assumption that the student wants to spend many years learning very slowly and deliberately so they can one day be a professional musician.

The more important part of your question is "Where should I send my kids for them to learn music?"

My recommendation there would be to start them with a private teacher who is flexible, who will assess the abilities and goals of each student on a case by case basis, and who is willing and able to customize the learning process to tailor it to the individual student, and who has a basic philosophy of placing an emphasis on making the learning process fun and rewarding and not feel so academic in the beginning. They are harder to find but I am beginning to see more private teachers incorporating those type concepts into their teaching methods.

You may need to carefully interview a few teachers before you find one to try. And don't be afraid to change if it becomes apparent that the teacher and student are not clicking. I know students who were on the verge of giving up learning a new instrument until they switched teachers and found the new teacher's approach fit their goals and learning style much better.

Later if your kids develop a more serious interest in music, perhaps you could look into some specialized music schools - but shop around and talk to current students or graduates and try to find the best fit.

Good luck on your new road to musical fulfillment and enjoyment. Hopefully your kids will follow you.

EDIT: For many students, the traditional teaching methods do work. But it really depends more on the goals, desire, and ability of the individual student. I think one issue is that music theory is often only taught in conjunction with learning to play an instrument. While I believe Music Appreciation and Music Theory are valuable subjects in their own right, they are not essential to the process of learning to play and deriving enjoyment from playing an instrument. At some level and at some point, specific elements of theory can help a student do more with their instrument.

I do believe that anyone who takes their musicianship seriously, should learn some music theory eventually. But I also believe that music theory will be far more interesting as a standalone subject, if it is introduced to a student who first learns to create music on an instrument of their choosing and because they actually want to learn to play that instrument.

This is just my theory (no pun intended), but perhaps music theory and music lessons (for the students chosen instrument) should be taught as separate standalone courses at the beginner level. They both enhance the other, but neither is dependent on the other. Advance study on an instrument could eventually begin introducing more theory - as it relates to the students goals with their specific instrument.

FWIW - I also believe that basic education philosophy in the USA (where I live) puts too little value on music education as a whole (but that's just my opinion).

  • Of the 3 answers I had until now, this one feels more aligned with my line of thought. Except that I fear that if I don't teach them theory somehow, they may miss the 'understanding the music' part and solely focus on 'feeling the music' part of the musical experience. And that later will make them hit a ceiling. How would you teach them the theory ? – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 11:17
  • @darkblue Music Theory and Music Appreciation are valuable subjects in their own right. They become even more interesting when the student also plays an instrument. However, learning music theory is not a requirement for learning to play and derive enjoyment from playing an instrument. I know private teachers who begin introducing theory to their students who want to learn theory - as they advance in their lessons. A standalone music theory course might be a good way to teach theory AFTER the student develops a passion for their instrument. Then they might find theroy more interesting. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 11 '15 at 18:21
  • @darkblue be sure to read my edit at bottom of my answer for more on Music Theory. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 11 '15 at 18:41
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Music sounds fun and easy, but in reality it's hard work and a lot of study is needed to become a master.

Having this said not everyone wants to become a master. In this sense I think teachers, that have followed a traditional curriculum, don't understand this and just tend to perpetuate the way they learned.

I have had many discussions about this in the past. I think slowly musicians / teachers start to understand this. I know many music teachers that start mixing pop songs on their teaching curriculum to encourage students. Others teachers, as I know some also, just keep insisting and want to teach everyone as they learned. It's not wrong, but they forget that some people want to enjoy music and have a bit more active role. They don't want to become the ultimate masters of Mozart.

In the other hand, let me also say that it's also the role of a teacher to show the whole scope of music to a student and make him understand all its richness, colors and nuances. In this sense it's not possible to teach music without showing the great classics. Modern pop songs are just too basic and poor to ilustrate all the musical spectrum. To pick an example given in another answer, comparing music and math. If your math teacher only teached what you liked you would probably only know how to sum and subtract.

So, to finish, motivation in music is a delicate balance between deepness and student preferences.

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When teaching a number of students together, it's very different from teaching an individual. There has to be a lot more structure, the rate of learning will vary considerably, and there's little time to pander to the individual in a class situation. They don't want to listen to little Jonnie's tune, they want everyone to listen to theirs. So, in a mass situation, the lessons tend to be more static and staid, for discipline reasons if nothing else. Some of those in the class are there in the hope of becoming musical, while others will have a skill almost in-born. It's difficult to keep everyone interested all the time. Paper exercises solve that one. Not ideally, obviously. On a one-to-one basis, it SHOULD be very different, although, as Rockin Cowboy says, a lot of teachers teach like they were taught, thus perpetuating the 'boring' approach.

In my book, theory comes much later. Without actually being able to play something, for a lot of folks, knowing why it works isn't necessary. My analogy is - you don't need to know how a gearbox works to drive a car - especially an auto! Yes, there are some who need to know why things happen like they do, so theory is good for them, but I've found that most of my students didn't need theory first. I've played with many players who have no theory, but it hasn't made them anything else but great players.

Another aspect is that great players do not necessarily make good teachers. A well known fact in any part of education. Some players will supplement their income with teaching, but, possibly because it came easily to them, they expect the same from their students. Often doesn't work. Teaching is very different from performing, a fact not grasped by some.

In answer to your last question, there is probably the curriculum to consider. As with any academic situation, courses need to be followed, with assessment at the end. That in itself is enough to stymie any great teacher who wants to aspire his students. I have questioned too many curricula in years of teaching, usually to no avail! Don't forget that a lot of exam questions are based on 'it exists, so we can make a question on it' rather than 'if it's not going to be useful to more than a few, leave it out'.

  • Exactly why I consider the sausage stuffer approach the wrong one. Children need that one on one time. – Neil Meyer Nov 11 '15 at 10:05
  • For music theory it was in group, but one one one for piano lessons. I had a few teachers (so they couldn't all be bad ones right? ) and none tried to make me understand the, what i feel is a simple key principle : "the sound you make is more important than the way you make it". At best what I got from them was : "try to listen to what you play" – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 11:08
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    No, the sound you make is NOT more important than the way. If you follow that path you'll almost certainly develop bad mechanics which at best will keep you from improving past a certain level and most likely will lead to muscle/tendon/voice damage. – Carl Witthoft Nov 11 '15 at 12:46
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    @darkblue The sound you make is thoroughly determined by the way you make it. You could certainly say that there are many different methods and sounds that are interesting or enjoyable to different people, though! – Matthew Read Nov 11 '15 at 15:53
  • @CarlWitthoft I agree that the way is important too and should not be neglected because it could be dangerous to health, and certain plays require perfect technique. I'm grateful for the technique they taught me but I never was going to become a virtuosos and I am sure it was quite evident but what I was hoping from my teacher was to show and explain me some purpose to guide my learning. This is kind of what I mean by presented "backwards" : we forgot totally the end-goal to concentrate on learning the process. With an end-goal in mind I would probably have picked up the process. – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 16:27
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Not all music schools teach this way. For example, the Suzuki school, here's a link to the UK Suzuki School site:

http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/rpmserver/generatorSystem/asp/rpmServer_GoGenerate.asp?intSiteID=15&intPageID=7&intNavbarOpen_Level1_ID=5

Having had similar experiences to the OP, if my children were to take up music, I would try and find something more akin to the Suzuki method for them. If I were to re-do my own musical training, I think I would start with learning to play in a drum group; there aren't lots of notes to learn, its fun, and you learn to play with rhythm and in time with others right from the start.

As to why schools stick to the traditional method - tradition and inertia to change are factors. Being oriented towards the classical tradition. I think very talented students with a natural aptitude for the classical approach might get past all the theory and technique more easily and enjoy it. Perhaps there is even an element of deliberately putting off those that do not take to the approach readily.

  • What country did you have your similar experiences in? I'm in the U.S., and I can't relate at all! – aparente001 Nov 12 '15 at 17:43
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  1. There have been many famous musicians who knew almost no theory. Most of them in popular music. I mean popular music going back all the way into history. A Google search shows up Lennon and McCartney, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and many more.

  2. The great classical composers were great improvisers. They even had competitions where you had to compose a piece on the spot. They called it extemporizing. Read the biographies of Bach, Liszt and many others. Bach could immediately improvise a fugue on a theme that someone sang to him where most people couldn't write one if they had a year and their life depended on it. Liszt could even play with both hands and his nose if pressed.

  3. One way that jazz musicians learn to improvise is by humming a phrase and then immediately imitating it on their instrument. Some do this simultaneously -- you can hear them singing along to their own performance. This even exists as a technique. You can hear it best on a flute where the voice drastically affects the timbre of the note.

Here's a random link http://www.jazzadvice.com/the-path-to-playing-what-youre-hearing/

  1. If you want to combine musicianship with exams then you can! You simply have to find a teacher who can teach the right syllabus.

(a) Jazz exams: These include improvisation skills, for example

http://us.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/jazz-exams/

http://www.gsmd.ac.uk/music/principal_study/jazz.html

(b) Musicianship and Keyboard Harmony exams

I did a brief search for Keyboard Harmony exams and came up with plenty of hits but most seemed to be for commercial firms so I haven't given them because I can't make a recommendation.


The point is that it is absolutely possible to learn the theory alongside improvisation and musicianship skills. Just search around online for teachers near you.

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Being a refugee from traditional music instruction like yourself, I would have to say that music is taught the way it is because it's easy to teach that way. The dirty little secret about music teachers is that they are largely people who were unable to make performing music their day job. That means that they teach music not because they love teaching but because they love music. Not all, maybe not even most. But a lot.

That can be a problem for students. I quit playing piano at 14 because my piano teacher picked me up and shook me because I was not playing Bach's Polonaise exactly as it was notated. In my thirties I discovered that no one even knew Bach was a composer until the mid 1800s. Previous to that time he was known as the greatest keyboard improvisor who had ever lived.

When I went back to music in my mid-thirties I took up the guitar and I learned it in exactly the opposite way to how I had been trained on classical piano. I learned in several 10 minute sessions a day, not a continuous hour a day. I didn't play scales, I played melodies in the scale. Whenever I was learning a chord progression or voicing, I'd invent a vamp that incorporated that progression and voicing. I only used musical theory to overcome deficiencies in my own technique.

After a month of learning I was jamming with other musicians weekly and almost every important point of my musical education was initiated by a musician in those jam sessions taking me aside for a couple of minutes and showing me a couple of things. Those couple of things would keep me occupied for months mastering them.

When I teach music theory to folks, I can do it all in a half-hour. Musical theory as taught tends to be complicated because very smart people have built their careers on it. But it's very simple, really, if you have a good ear.

Long story short, if it's working for you then keep on doing it. If you get stuck and your fellow musicians can't help, then find a teacher.

  • I think if you check out the CVs of most famous musicians you would find they have had a surprising amount of musical training. If we follow your example of Keith Richards, he is not a 2-chord wonder. Many pop musicians play down their middle class backgrounds, even if they were boy sopranos and sang in front of the Queen. They still learned chord progressions once upon a time. Yes, once you've done it for 20 years it comes naturally. – RedSonja Nov 13 '15 at 9:19
  • But for me the "big boys" means when I was offered a place in a very good semi-pro big band after years in brass band and school big band. Suddenly people expected me to know "what that sign means", to transpose in my head, to improvise in real time without planning it first. These are things you learn by a combination of practice and theory. If I had not done the theory lessons I would not be able to do what I do now. Having said that, in the old band we still have fun without thinking hard. But no-one's paying to see us play. Both paths are valid. – RedSonja Nov 13 '15 at 9:55
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I personally feel that music should be made fun, and should emphasize learning to play by ear, right at the beginning. Technique and dexterity can be developed at the same time but the emphasis should be on learning melodies and harmonies and how to play these back by ear. The reason I say this is that I've known a lot of musicians, the ones who could play by ear were playing the kind of music they wanted in bands, while the ones who learned the music-school way were stuck playing off of sheet music and had a hard time assimilating into bands.

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Music schools exist to teach you theory and technique. If you don't want to learn either one, then there is no reason for you to be there. That sounds harsh, but it's true. Often, I think kids get thrown into music school for perfectly good reasons, but the kids aren't mature enough to take on the challenge. I know I wasn't. Just like you, I hated it, and eventually I convinced my parents to let me stop. Fast forward 20 years and I wish I had kept it up. But I'm glad I didn't, because I really did hate it.

In my case, I ended up changing instruments to guitar, for which I am mostly self taught. I am a pretty good player. I have mastered the technique, but I will never master the theory, and I'm okay with that. I know enough to be dangerous, and every once in a while I learn a little more. It's good enough.

  • I'm glad that time also allowed you to turn an horrible experience into a more satisfying one. Mine didn't feel as horrible as you describe but rather pointless. I'm more on the theory side rather than technique but I get what you say. It may have been a maturity issue, but I feel it's more that the tracks weren't pointing in the direction I wanted to go. I could have boarded the train if I had a convincing enough teacher. But now, retrospectively I would rather have had a teacher that would have built custom tracks just for me but used his expertise to still guide me to interesting lands. – darkblue Nov 11 '15 at 23:25
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The initial goal may be misunderstood. If the goal is to develop a professional musician, then it may be more important to start form very basics and spend lots of time on fundamentals and relatively simple exercises, even if they are boring. Seems more honest to play a really good pieces from the past, and play them as they are (significant simplifications are often possible, but, of course, the quality suffers).

If the goal is to learn music not for profession, it may be more interesting to learn more playable songs and melodies (rather than exercises) and maybe even some basic rules how to create or improvise (blues scale, for instance, or to tell that quint interval often sounds good enough). Also, may be more attractive to learn recent pop after simplification whenever possible. This may make more fun but the way to the professional musician will be longer with this approach.

  • "If the goal is to develop a professional musician, then it may be more important to start form very basics and spend lots of time on fundamentals and relatively simple exercises, even if they are boring." -- I couldn't disagree more. And if you read biographies of the greats, I don't think you'll find that their early musical education was boring. – aparente001 Nov 12 '15 at 17:44
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I think partly the answer to "why is music taught as it is" is tradition:

Imagine if a (non-musical- no preconceived ideas) parent spotted some ability in their child, and sent them for music lessons. Money changes hands (probably) so there is automatically an expectation about marked progress . That implies an understood curriculum / set of milestones etc, which probably takes the informality out of it and sets it up as a course after which students will have had music 'done at them'.

Or consider an alternative teaching method: After a few lessons you ask your child about progress and they say "oh we just found our own way really and ...er .. I'm currently mucking about in E"

You might have a word with the music teacher about what your money is buying !

Maybe the informal 'find it yourself' method can't be taught, or isn't formal enough to determine progress?

I know of many people whose parents spotted they could play a bit, sent them for music lessons, and that trained the enjoyment out of it. It's a common occurance, to the point where I can't help but conclude if you want your kids to ENJOY music, the last thing you should do is SEND them for lessons. Either wait until they ask for lessons (make sure they know they can if they want), or just let them find the music themselves.

As a side note, it occurred to me that possibly the reason music notation was invented was because, at the time, it was the only way of making a "recording": Sound recording hadn't been invented so there had to be some way of noting how a piece of music went without it being different or bits forgotten every time it's played; to formalise it. That would have been the case for hundreds years until the first recording devices appeared, so if you wanted to learn a piece you either listened to someone playimng it from sheet music it or learnt to read it yourself.

However if you wanted to find your own way and just make a sound, then that method has been around since people first banged a bone on a tree log, and it's not going away anytime soon. Just ask Mr Hendrix ;-)

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Not only is it music schools, it's the hordes of students that come out of them with this false information who themselves become music teachers and the cycle continues. Like my old piano teacher who went to Julliard who stacked these ridiculous sheet music books on me when I was 12, and consequently killed my love for music. Only when I picked up guitar, learned basic theory on my own, learned to play by ear, did my love return.

My story is very similar to yours, and will forever distrust people who place a huge emphasis on sheet music (or even tabs) where the real learning and more importantly, fun, of playing music happens by ear and improvisation. Theory, of'course is as fundamental as ear training, but theory doesn't need to be taught solely on a musical staff like most music schools preach. This website is a testament of that.

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