I wanted to share this story in continuation with the idea of “if you didn’t do it on purpose, does that mean it has less of the value?”
Now, this subject is: “if you didn’t have the education for it, does it mean it has less value?”
Anyways, where I was just out of high school and applying for colleges, I was beginning to composing some original pieces. I had two years of theory training, so I understood the basics. However, there was still a lot for me to learn and understand when it came to writing music.
During one of the college auditions, I got to sit down with a professor of composition and show him the stuff I have been writing. While impressed by the fact that I had a portfolio to show – he wasn’t too keen on how I started the first chord on measure 1 with in first inversion. He felt like this tarnished the piece and made the harmony weak… therefore making my compositional skills like inadequate.
Years later, I can now say that I am more educated than where I was back then in high school. However, it now seems that if I was to put my first chord in first inversion, people would look at that as a stroke of experimental genius.
Do I really need an education, a degree, or some approval to justify my composition? Why was my portfolio any less “art” than what it is now? And why should it be for anyone else?
Simply, do we as a society judge and evaluate a person’s compositional skills based on their background? That if you weren’t trained, it’s luck; but if you had education, it is genius?
Too often do I find assignments in college classes to be outside the topic of the class. For example: take a film scoring class where the assignment is to score a scene with funk music. On surface level, it seems like a reasonable assignment – the class is about writing music for film, and the homework is to write funk music for this film clip. But, as you start with an attempt towards the project, you’ll notice that there are many hurdles.
How do I write music to movies?
What DAW should I use and how?
What is the best way to synch music to film?
How do I write funk music?
How do I analyze funk music to understand it more?
How do I record, program, and mix the sounds?
These questions are usually answered by a “figure it out yourself,” attitude from the teacher that often points the student towards the library or YouTube. While this prepares a person somewhat to being independent, it lessens the need for college education – making it frivolous. Why go to an expensive college in that case what the teacher just asks you to be taught using YouTube for free?
We have talked about this before, but my idea is offering these “meta” classes to help fill in the blanks. I don’t expect there to be classes that teach funk music – but I would like classes that teach form & analysis to amend their curriculum to have students apply the knowledge they’ve learned to take unfamiliar styles of music and recreate them compositionally.
In addition, there should be time in classes to go over the tips and tricks of working with DAWs as well as the process the professor (who should be a professional in their field) maintains their workflow when doing a music project.
It cannot be “do this assignment, figure it out on the way, and I’ll grade you at the end” mentality.
Some of you readers might be able to call this playground jeer and rhyme:
“Girls go to college to get more knowledge; Boys goes to Jupiter to get more stupider”
I only bring this up to remind us that in our society, we have the early disposition to believing that college is the place to get more knowledge. And rightfully so, as that college educations should aim to teach a student information that they are lacking in in order to develop themselves in better of finding the career of their dreams.
That being said, college should not be the place for the know-it-all and talented.
If you are gifted in music, know as much as you need to know, can perform well, and are contempt with it all – don’t go to college for music. Because there, you are just wasting money to get the self-affirming pat on the back for people (and a piece of paper) to tell you that you have skill.
Leave your acceptance opening spot for someone who lacks the same skill/knowledge as you, but can match you in the passion for music. They obviously need college more than you do.
Education is the most powerful tool out there. With it, a person can advance forwards with new skills and creative mindsets to tackle any problem or to create something unimaginable. Without it, the poison of ignorance will set-in and cripple the abilities of mankind.
For musicians, and just about anyone looking to go into the field of music one way or another, a mentor/teacher is desired to get things going. To get those cogs and wheels turning. To help stable your wings as you prepare for flight…
But what do you do when your teacher does not do that? What if, in you deep gut feeling, that you sincerely believe that the time spent “learning” has really been wasted – covering material that has no beneficial impact on you? Can you abandon your teacher?
In most areas, education is not free – and where it is, at say a public library or internet, may not offer the same catered relationship as of a mentor with their student. That being said, good money being put into education should have good teachings coming out. But what does one do when they sincerely know that things can be better?
On one hand, you should be grateful and humble that a person who is supposedly more successful is willing to share their expertise. They are your elder and have more experience than you. However, at the same time, they are probably not a splitting image of your true idol that you wish to follow in the footsteps of – and it you feel as if nothing is being learned, then other opportunities should be pursued.
Of course, some self-reflection must be take into account. Is the reason that noting is being learned the teacher’s fault, or the student? Ultimately, how can one change – and if the teacher is the root of the problem, how can you leave an educational resource?
I’ve been to many colleges – for my actual undergrad, study abroad, visiting, continuation into grad – and I’ve seen many patterns when it comes to the mentality of people who enjoy music going for a degree in one.
The first main division are the entering mindsets. More often than not, most seem enter into the belief that “music is easy and I like music, so therefore this will be an easy degree despite spending thousands of dollars for a piece of paper to prove I enjoy music.” And as they begin their first week, they realize that the academics are much tougher than what they thought they were to be. Some will drop out at that point, change studies, or become discouraged in pursuing music in general.
Then, there is the opposite end of the spectrum where the people that enter college are aware that this will be a tough endeavor, but are willing to invest the time an money that comes with college to improve skills.
But regardless, going to college for an arts degree – especially in music – is a risk. If you are doing it for anything besides music education, music therapy, conducting, business, law, and (maybe) music composition – it is a waste… unfortunately.
For one, this paper you get on graduation day that says you know how to play an instrument does not guarantee a job – and no degree in any other field will. What is more tough on the performing artist is that their job look is dependent on their output quality; such as in the fields of: performing, networking, releasing of recordings, gigs, etc. And unfortunately, like any school system, teachers will gladly pass a student by grade-wise without correcting the problem to develop their skill.
College does have some benefits; like assisting in getting performing opportunities, student teaching, developing music theory/composition knowledge… but this is minimal to the kid striving to be a performing artist.
Basically, I believe the stigma mentality that “EVERYONE must go to college after high school graduation” must be dismantled and considered on a case-by-case basis. If you understand the risks of investing into a college education, but are going for a degree in teaching music, therapy, conducting, business, law, or theory – it is wise to do so. Otherwise, take the money that you would invest for college and do this instead:
Seek out professional players for lessons (which will be at a discounted rate than what you would pay at college)
Use time that would have been used writing papers to watch videos online on how improving skills, to network, to start a band, etc.
I have been recently thinking about this argument posed, of which that claims how we cannot approach other forms of music (pop, rock, jazz, Latin, folk, etc.) in theory & analysis the way we approach classical art music. Reasoning behind is that it doesn’t take into account, or it essentially overlooks, what makes that particular genre different from the rest. That by putting the square pegs of other forms of music into the round hole of classical music – we would scrape off the edges and miss the understanding of what that kind of music is.
While I can entertain the idea that using the rules of strict school book-taught classical art theory to compose other genres of music is not a wise decision, I do believe that it is okay to use classical theory to understand – pick apart – and fundamentally analyze other kinds of music.
What needs to be reminded is that music theory & analysis is just like any other form of science; from psychology, to anthropology, to biology, etc., they all do essentially the same thing. They observe, group together, and name special occurring phenomenon to be used later in order to understand other properties of the subject.
Instead of advocating that every form of music needs its own theory, there should be more of an educational push to encourage music theorists to approach with the lenses and vocabulary of their desired theoretical base (whether in classical, jazz, pop, etc.), and make new rules to understand what makes a particular genre sound that way.
This is long-standing problem in the academic field – where colleges neglect, too, that there can be many music theory “lenses” to viewing a piece of music. Too many times has a person with a background of not reading music, but understanding it through their own way, become discouraged of pursuing music because they are branded “stupid” for not adopting the viewpoints of classical art theory. And teachers fear that unless a student knows how to use classical theory – classical music can’t be reproduced.
If you buy a table and you have to assemble it together, but the instructions are in a foreign language – do we say that the table is incomprehensible? No, it is a table for goodness sake. It can still be built despite not knowing how to read the instructions that came with it.
So instead of demanding that a form of theory has to stay with a particular genre, academia and scholars should instead approach all kinds of music with the understanding that they have already, and make new discoveries to the unique acoustic phenomenon of different kinds of music.
One of the most debated parts of music is the use of Western notation as well as the need to understand it. Even though this is the most common form of writing down music, most famous musicians tend not to know how to “read” it. Thus, it has come up for query as for the necessity to learn how to use this form of notation, as it doesn’t appear to have direct affect on success commercially or communication-wise. While the need may be up for question, excuses are certainly not. There is nothing standing in your way from learning how to read music and use it to compose, but yourself. Think of this as a language opportunity; and the more languages you know, the better you are when communicating your ideas to other musicians. It would be a shame for you to work hard to get into a recording studio, only to not be able to tell the players what you want in sound. So let’s start with the fundamentals:
When looking at a score, or the physical musical notation for a piece of music, you will see a bunch of dots and lines. Each dot symbolizes a pitch, which is a particular tone that you hear. In this common practice of Western notation, the pitches are grouped into musical tone letter names of – A B C D E F G… repeating back to A and continuing on to infinity!
Take a look at a keyboard. All the white keys on the piano match the letter names mentioned above. You’ll also see that the groupings of white keys around the black keys are always 3-4-3-4… with the group of 3 being C D E and the group of 4 being F G A B constantly repeating. And now it is time to introduce our friend: middle C. Middle C is also called C4 because it is the fourth C (counting from the left) on a keyboard. This will serve as a placeholder in many situations, as seen coming up next.
Now, these pitches are organized on a staff consisting of five lines and four spaces. The higher the pitch/dot is placed on the staff, the higher it sounds to the ear when you play it. And the opposite is true as well: the lower the pitch on the staff equals how low it will sound acoustically. So, now you might be wondering as to which line or space represents what pitch letter name – and the answer to that question is that it all depends of the clef. A clef is a symbol found to the far left end of any staff that tells the pitch representation.
First one is the treble clef, or otherwise known as the “g-clef.” It has that name from looking like a cursive “G” and having the swirl wrap around the line where G will be. Notice where C4 is in relation to this clef. Typically, treble clefs are used for high voices. So how about the low sounds? For that, we have the bass clef, also known as the “f-clef.” Once again getting its name from its shape, the two dots of the clef hug the line where F will be. Last, but not least, is the “movable” c-clef. The shape of this clef looks like two backwards “C”s connecting to each other in the middle – and the line on which they touch tells us where middle C is. Easy to remember. Reason why it is called a movable clef is because the clef can be on any line! If it was on the first line at the bottom, it would be a soprano clef; second line above, a mezzo-soprano clef; third middle line, alto clef; fourth line, tenor clef, and fifth top line, baritone clef. Alto clef, however, is by far the most commonly used.
One last final clef is the choral tenor clef, which looks like a treble clef, but with an “8” at the bottom of the tail. This tells us that the music sounds to our ear an octave, or eight letter names, lower than how it is visually written.
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