Half A Ladder Doesn't Help

There's a whole ladder for learning music and you might not be aware of what that is. Seems to me we’ve got two big factions in music education that are both missing the boat when it comes to helping you learn music and making the culture as a whole more musical. Keep listening and I’ll tell you what I mean as well as how you make sure your path is working for you.

On the one hand we have teachers and courses that provide the bottom half of the ladder. These are lessons that use method books like Piano Adventures and Piano Safari. And online courses like Pianote and Playground Sessions. They’re trying to get people started in music. Just to get over their fear of the instrument and make some sounds.

On the other hand we’ve got people hanging down the top half of the ladder. These are experts like Rick Beato and Adam Neely. And courses like tonebase, and even conservatories like Eastman where I went. They’re catering to people who already have some expertise but who want to challenge themselves and rise to the top so to speak.

The problem is, ladders don’t work very well when they’re cut in half. And you’re the one who pays the price. When you’re on the bottom half of the ladder, you often don’t get what you need in terms of functional music skills. And if you’re on the top half, if there’s one crucial skill you missed earlier in your education, you can be derailed by that. 

The Cost Of Scrambling

I’m not making this up! Here are examples. Of all the people who are on the bottom half of the ladder, most of them never learn how to do a basic functional skill like play Happy Birthday in a key that’s good for singing. And they don’t know how to get better.

Of the people on the top half, I can’t tell you how many high level musicians I know who suffer from impostor syndrome. Maybe because they never learned to play by ear. Or they don’t feel like they’re good enough at sightreading or theory. And they don’t know how to get better, either.

Boredom and frustration are problems for students who find themselves in either position and it’s all too easy for lessons to come across as either patronizing or condescending.

The Whole Ladder

There’s one skill that makes you the master of your own musical ladder and it’s called audiation. Audiation is the way you hear and understand music that’s physically present or not. You don’t learn audiation by having music explained to you, but by engaging with music for yourself. 

It’s not theory or technique or sightreading. Those are skills that can all be judged by others. It’s your personal understanding of music. Audiation is the whole ladder for learning music. It gives you insight and a learning sequence so when there are music skills you want to improve, you can do it in a meaningful way and not have to tear yourself down in the process.

Audiation helps you express express yourself musically, no matter what level you’re at, by building a vocabulary of Tonal Patterns and Rhythm Patterns. And it puts you at the center of your music learning experience. Because your Tonal vocabulary comes from the way you sing, and your Rhythm vocabulary comes from the way you move.

Fixing Your Ladder

So if you find yourself hanging, or if you’re stuck on the ground, find a teacher who knows how to nurture your audiation skills. And if you’re just starting out learning music, make sure you find lessons that include lots of singing and movement. Those are the foundational skills that everything else builds on and you definitely don’t want a ladder that’s gonna slip underneath you.

If you don’t know where to turn, use my course Play and Sing in Harmony. It’s where you’ll sing and learn a vocabulary of Tonal Patterns, and then learn to improvise with them on the piano. You can also start with my basslines mini-course available here.

Photo by Thanh Nguyễn from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-vine-plant-crawling-on-brown-rod-1438510/

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