Tuesday, May 19, 2015

passivity is not an answer

First of all- it's been over a year since I posted- life got busy.  Job change, kids moving out- empty nesting- lots of excuses. Which is what brings me to this post-

I participated in a conversation on Facebook today regarding a song that someone liked the bass part to.  It dawned on me that the folks in the Facebook group might want some help in figuring out how to play this song, so I offered some advice.  Not to be too arrogant here, but the tune took me about 30 seconds to figure out- it wasn't difficult (and I might add that I really didn't care too much for it) but that's not the point- folks want to learn it, and I'm pretty sure they lack how to do so.  So, I posted "it's a Dm pentatonic line;then it goes to Am; the B section is F7 to Eb to Bb to F" - that's how I learn a song.

Guess what- I got a BARRAGE of private messages and questions.  Most were messages like "what's a pentatonic?" or "can you write out tab for me" - but I'm not going to give shortcuts.  See, it's important to learn the inner workings of music in order to be able to get from point A to point B quickly and correctly- and, that's not limited to style.  

But, when I pushed back on some of the shortcuts, the questions turned to excuses.  "I don't need to learn how to read music" and "music theory is hard" and "this and that killed my music career so I don't play as much anymore".....things like that.  

This actually kind of floored me.  I understand that life sometimes gets in the way, but more often than not, all I really hear is that people have made choices to ignore something foundational to what they do, and then they take a passive stance on why they are where they are.  And, I'm supposed to help them stay passive?  I'm supposed to perpetuate this?  I don't think so.


I've been trained as a musician for well over 5/6 of my life, and a lot of this stuff comes somewhat naturally to me, but I don't expect everyone to automatically know these things.  Having been a music teacher for many, many years I totally understand that everyone learns at a different rate, and there are some that may never get it- but to not even try and make excuses as to why they don't honestly perplexes me.  No, one does not need to be able to recite Slonimsky's book on scales and methods to be a "real musician" - BUT they should seek to find out who Slonimsky was and what this contribution is all about.  No, you don't need to be able to recite in exacting detail what constitutes a strong chordal resolution, but you should be able to identify it when you hear it.  And, to do that takes some work that there just aren't any shortcuts for.

Now- to the folks who's only outlet to play is in church, this is for you: You will never be musically challenged by playing in church.  That is perfectly ok, too- because playing in church is a utilitarian job and you are there to provide music for a congregation to sing to.  More often than not, complicated chord structures and polyrhythms aren't going to be part of that, and that is 100% ok.  For the beginning player, playing in church will stretch you for a minute or two, but this really isn't the place to grow as a player- especially now, with the current spate of church music being extremely simple.  (Please note that I really am not trying to be inflammatory here- current church music is just really simple, and simple is ok for this kind of venue.)  If you want to stretch, you're going to have to, at some point, find that outlet outside of a church service.  If you are completely musically satisfied in playing in church, that's ok, too- or, should I say that is between you and God- but, make no mistake- that is a choice you have to make and it's one that shouldn't be done by settling on it.  

And, I should also add that if that is the choice you make, don't beat up on other players because they want to do it elsewhere.  You are not better than anyone because that's where you play- don't make that mistake.  Others (like me for one) need to do more, and I can tell you from personal experience that I've been able to talk to a lot of people about Jesus that wouldn't be caught dead in a church.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you want to learn how to make music, you need to actively learn.  You need to put in more effort than watching a Youtube video.  You need to commit and stick with it.  You need to realize that this endeavor is one of a lifetime's pursuit, and you'll never learn all of it.  The journey is worth it, however.  If you choose not to make that commitment, don't make excuses as to why and then ask others to carry you.  Passivity is not an answer- and that really extends well beyond music and into all areas of your life.