Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

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Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by fleaaaaaa » March 21st, 2012, 1:36 pm

I just wanted to open a discussion on different types of musicians becaise I have noticed as I meet more musicians that certain people work in certain ways - the last band I was in we had Keyboard player who generally preferred to work using his ears however he could read and write music. There were also two brass players (who drove me up the wall with their lack of variety in music they listened to, hardly liked any great music that involved brass - like jazz, blues, soul, funk) and these two brass players weren't great with their ears, preferred to see things written down in sheet music - the sax player was slightly better than the trumpet player and could work things out by ear if she tried (though she couldn't bend a note on her sax) they had both played as long as me too just to give perspective. Some people really can only do what is written on paper and the trumpet player couldn't improvise at all (the sax player was better for this, though apparently a lot of her improvisation had been written down by the keyboard player too).

So it occured to me....... some of us are Visual learners, some are auditory (sound) learners and some are Kinaesthetic learners (learn by doing and playing) apparently I did a test last week which said I was a visual learner. Which is weird to me because I tend to trust my ears more than my eyes.

So what type of musician am I? Well, I love to improvise, I like fooling around and I always have enjoyed that. I'm good at reading tab and will many times use music to help me with rhythm of what I'm playing, but I'm not so brilliant at pure music reading. It will take me twice as long to learn something from music than it will from ear. I tend to find when it comes to video lessons I like to just watch the part where the person plays the thing I am learning and work it out, I hate to hear soemthing broken into tiny pieces on video lesson unless they play a riff as a "whole" split into pieces but if they break it down note by note I get lost. I am far better at hearing it, playing it, copying it and repeating till I get it right and then if I get really stuck or want clarity that I am doing it right I listen to the explanation (sometimes). So how do you learn? Just want to hear what kind of learner you think you are (personally I'd say I'm auditory despite what that test said) and a little bit about how you learn best.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Alan Green » March 21st, 2012, 2:07 pm

I have a foot in all of those camps. My classical guitar show is all based on the written down note, and the work I do with the Essex Guitar Orchestra and the Essential Sounds Big Band is all arranged for me - I "just" have to play it (no mean feat when you look at some of the stuff I get put in front of me - check out Boccerini's Introduction and Fandango, where I play Guitar 1).

Then, when I need to deliver a solo at Big Band shows, I stand up and normally deliver it straight - Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock and Queen's Crazy Little Thing Called Love being two classic examples and I worked them out from listening to the original recordings (in fact, for the Queen song I then had to change key to match the rest of the Band). I have to provide a solo for Shake Rattle & Roll too - and as I improvised it using a straight pentatonic at the first rehearsal that's roughly how it comes out now although these days I can play it the same twice.

And then, when I need something for my students, I'll listen to it and write it out, which I had to do for some of my degree studies. I have been known to sing it in lessons (not a recommended experience) and work it out from there.

Finally, my own songs. No surprises when I say that these are complete improvisations. How could they be anything else? They're based on set formulas and structures but the first improvisations provide the harmonic structure and the melodies, and later efforts produce the solo.

The ability to create something by improvisation is, I think, something that should be taught in instrument lessons so that everybody can do it to at least a certain extent. I've been using lesson time to teach my students improvisation since January last year, and this summer I'm involved with a Street Symphony project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (they're one of the world's leading orchestras in case anyone doesn't know them) which uses improvisation extensively.

So, what kind of musician am I? "Rounded" I think, is the answer to that one. I can play from little black dots, from Tab (although it's not my long suit), from lead sheets, from listening, and from out of my head; and I'm sure that's the case with a bunch of our members.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by fleaaaaaa » March 21st, 2012, 2:41 pm

Excellent post Alan, I feel a little jealous as I'd love to be able to do each skill as well as the other, maybe one day I'll get there. Would love to hear some more from all of the guitarnoise family! :D
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Cat » March 21st, 2012, 4:07 pm

Obviously, Alan's an octopus...with a foot in all those camps! :lol: But he's quite right...the more you know the better. Can't argue with that!

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by NoteBoat » March 21st, 2012, 6:45 pm

I think of music as both an art and a craft.

The "art" side is creative - improvising, songwriting, tweaking your amp to get just the right tone. The "craft" side is the work... practicing to hone your skills, applying theory, playing what's on the page in front of you. Both make music. Neither is inherently "better" than the other. But it's not an either/or thing. You can do both.

If you want to build houses, you might approach it as a craft. You'd study engineering, find design elements you like, and make your structure. Or you might approach it as an art... sketching out all your wildest ideas, and leaving it up to the craftsmen to execute. Or you could become an architect, blending both worlds.

When I improvise, I strive to forget what I know and let it flow. When I work, most of the time I'm just trying to do what's called for - although that might be improvisation, it's a different approach... trying to do what's right for the occasion. When I compose, it's a mix. I'd love to start with great ideas, but I'll settle for ANY idea and work it - either it becomes better (even if not great), or while practicing my craft I come up with a better idea.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Cat » March 21st, 2012, 8:58 pm

Good post...I like the "arts & crafts" bit...as I see it! Funny...funny when something hits you on the head!

At the moment I'm working on vocals with this gal from The Gold Coast (cross Merry Clayton w/Mama Cass)...and we're following the arts...then craft...method to them. Our first song is finally able to be done without a page in front of her nose. We're finally down to splitting hairs, I'm talkin' minute hairs, phrase by phrase...really fiddly stuff. She's now able to sing it as she watches the ProTools etch it under previous waveform lines she's done. Art...and craft.

So, yeah...good point to make, matey. There's the art...and then there's the outright songcraft. It's good to look at your guitar playing in that mode, too. If I'm looking at notations I can see a parallel to her with a sheet of paper in front of her nose. I'm just not "on" when I can't get completely into the moment.

Relating to the recent threads on "reading vs not reading" music...I think as you learn something...as you sort of creep up on really knowing that piece...absolutely: it's best if you can read music.

However, it's obvious to me that after that point...the best playing is not read.

Comments, anyone? Maybe another thread???

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by fleaaaaaa » March 21st, 2012, 11:31 pm

Really cool and informative posts so far. Just to clarify the type of learner you are is not that you can now only use one of those skills, its just that if you were pushed which of the skills (visual, sound or doing it) would you feel you'd goto first (or rely on most). Of course many of us use bits of all of them but we tend to have one that we'd use if all else fails (and for those who are reliant on seeing they often miss out because not all songs are written out in music/tab).

Which brings me onto the next thing, has anyone found as I did with my band with the brass section, that some people who have always learn't by reading music (or tab too) that they really struggle to cook up ideas on the spot?
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Rocket Dog » March 22nd, 2012, 12:21 am

That's a very good question fleaaaaaa.

For me it depends on what I am learning. For example, when I played with other musicians it would be purely improvisation as we always wrote our own material. If I'm learning a song, say Mother by Pink Floyd or Little Wing by Hendrix, I would learn the guitar parts purely by ear and then write it all down in tab and sometimes in music notation. When I play classical guitar it is always standard music notation that I use. That's not to say I would never listen to someone else playing that piece, in fact it's the opposite. I listen to other recordings as I like to hear different interpretations.

So I guess I learn in various ways really.

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Cat » March 22nd, 2012, 1:07 am

fleaaaaaa wrote: that some people who have always learn't by reading music (or tab too) that they really struggle to cook up ideas on the spot?
Nope. I see it opposite. But there's...what...half a million views just here on GN!

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Alan Green » March 22nd, 2012, 1:30 am

fleaaaaaa wrote:

Which brings me onto the next thing, has anyone found as I did with my band with the brass section, that some people who have always learn't by reading music (or tab too) that they really struggle to cook up ideas on the spot?
Yes, I've seen this. I away at Durham University the other year on a residential, we were all gathered in the student bar after our last session on the first day and out came the fiddles. So most of us just sat back, got absolutely plastered and enjoyed an hour or so of the stuff you'll see on BBC Alba - mostly jigs. Stonkingly good fun. Listening to it, you can hear lots of repeated patterns and what sounds like pentatonics but are probably local variations on that kind of idea.

Enter stage left, complete with good quality instrument, a classically trained violinist with, bizarrely, no grounding in roots or folk music but who was desperately keen to be part of the fun. She watched, and tried to copy but even by the end of the week she hadn't nailed those basic scale patterns so she wasn't able to jam along.

Now, I put this down to two things. First - she didn't have the self confidence to ask the fiddlers how those patterns were put together, which is something only she can fix. And second - her lesson path over the years had ignored roots music, and that's her tutors' fault.

So, my perspective on this bit of it is that if you buy a guitar and Master of Puppets in a Tab book you're missing out on a huge chunk of basic skills from which great guitar skills are created. Folk music isn't all long beards, corduroy trousers and open sandals.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by NoteBoat » March 22nd, 2012, 2:18 am

Cat wrote:the best playing is not read.
Benjamin Verdery (classical guitarist) was giving a master class a few years ago. A guy plays a Bach piece for him, and Verdery asks how long he's been playing that piece. The guy says he learned it the day before.

Verdery says (I'll paraphrase to the best of my recollection): "learning a piece of music is hard. First we memorize it... but after we've done that, the real work begins. After you memorize it you begin to get to know it. You begin to listen, and adjust. You experiment with bringing out different lines, giving one part more or less emphasis. You begin to understand what the composer is saying. That is the real work of performing"

He then proceeded to play part of the same Bach piece - from memory - in a VERY different way from the student. It was pretty obvious he'd probably played that piece hundreds of times, perhaps thousands.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Cat » March 22nd, 2012, 4:03 am

Hey, Note...I mean HOW precise could written music really come to be? Doesn't the conductor of a symphony orchestra need to add the "je ne se quois" that notation can't cope with? I don't have a baton so I conduct by jumping up and down! Ha!

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by NoteBoat » March 22nd, 2012, 4:58 am

Cat, that's a great question. Notation tries to take one medium, sound, and represent it for a different sense - sight. It's like trying to draw a heartbreak or taste a rose's perfume. So it can only have meaning for you if you already know the medium it's trying to capture... I mean, how can you accurately describe "red" to someone who's always been blind?

I often compare standard notation to theatrical scripts. Two different actors can say the exact same lines with completely different effect. The words are identical, but we get different emphasis, and we pick up other cues at the same time - our minds add meaning to the words based on gestures or facial expressions.

Music's got the same kind of stuff going on. Sound essentially has four elements: pitch, intensity, duration, and timbre. We can write pitch and duration pretty accurately (by the placement of notes on the staff and the types of notes used), but intensity is sort of like an actor's delivery - we can't really write it. We can try, by putting an instruction to the actor in a script (like "sarcastically" or "quizzically"), but we can't dictate the exact performance. The best we can do is relative terms, like forte or mezzopiano. Some modern composers have tried more precise representations of intensity, but all have failed so far.

Timbre is even more elusive, so it's kind of like those added facial expressions. We can use a technical instruction like "ponticello" (play it near the bridge) or an expressive one like "giocoso" (merry), but no two people will interpret it exactly the same way, and no one person will deliver it exactly the same in two successive performances.

As far as conducting goes, up until Berloz and Wagner, they pretty much beat time and left the interpretation to the musicians. Maybe they'd yell at them for playing an mf passage too loud, or slowing too much on a ritardando. Modern conducting, which is only about 150 years old, worries about balance too... a composer studies a score, imagines the performance, and then tries to get it out of the orchestra - getting the oboes to play a hair softer here, the third french horn to play a little sharper attack there, etc.

Here too they have problems. You're trying to tell somebody what's in your head. They'll never hear it in their head exactly like you do. (From experience, I can tell you that some of the sounds I hear in my head simply can't be done! As a student, I wrote a flute part that sounded gorgeous in my mind - and when I gave it to a flautist I learned it was impossible to play.)

Many of the best conductors recognize that problem, and use non-verbal communication. Last year a friend with the CSO told me about a rehearsal with Muti, their new conductor - he wasn't getting the sound he wanted, and simply said "no - watch me". He changed the motion of his wrist, and got a completely different tone from the orchestra as a result.

Oh yeah - one more point: what we call "phrasing" in music actually has nothing to do with sound, at least in my opinion. It's an effect of memory. Staccato notes and legato ones can have exactly the same wave shape - we experience staccato because we remember the brief silence that just happened; take away the silence and we experience legato. The same is true of ALL phrasing effects - a bend on a guitar is only heard as a bend because that pitch was something else a moment ago. As a result, I believe that developing a sense of "musicality" requires developing the memory required to keep an entire phrase in mind, and organize the momentary things we do to fit the image we have in our mind's ear.
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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by notes_norton » March 22nd, 2012, 8:25 am

For me all ways.

I started in school band (sat first in the all-state band for 3 years running) so I can read music and sightread well.

While in the school band I joined a rock band and taught myself how to improvise - totally by ear. Fortunately I have a good set of ears and can fake a lot of things that I don't know - jam sessions are good practice for this.

Later I studied some theory to learn why what I was hearing in my ears worked, and how I could apply it to different keys (I was playing mostly saxophone then, and unlike the guitar, when you transpose something on the sax, the fingerings are entirely different).

Also the endless practice of scales and arpeggios are important for me to get the fingerings "under my fingers" for guitar, sax, flute, wind synth, bass, keyboards and so on. I feel this is important so that when you are improvising, you can do runs without thinking about the notes - your fingers already know what you want to play. With sax, flute and wind synth that means learning every scale 12 times, on guitar it's a lot easier (of course there are other things that are more difficult on the guitar).

So when learning something new, I try to use all the methods at my disposal. Do I have the recording, (and how many versions)?, do I have the sheet music? Am I familiar with this fragment? What key/mode is this in? What else do I already know about it?

And if I have everything at my disposal, what I lean on the most really depends on the song, what instrument I am going to play on the song, and how I want to express myself. I pick the method or combination of methods that is quickest and easiest for me to learn and gets me to where I want to be (without accepting short cuts that would compromise my "artistic" integrity).

The more you learn about music, the more you practice all your skills, and the more time you put into it, the easier it gets -- on the other side of that coin -- there is always something new to learn and that's what makes music a lifetime adventure.

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Re: Different types of musicians (and how they learn)

Post by Crow » March 22nd, 2012, 8:50 am

notes_norton wrote:... when learning something new, I try to use all the methods at my disposal.
That's me. If my ear can't/won't do the job, I try writing down what I think I hear -- sometimes this sorts out hearing errors. (Much the same way that playing a written problem can sort out writing errors.) Am also guilty of using Google more often these days. It can save time.

I have also seen "learning" occur at the non-notational, non-verbal level within good rhythm sections. Grunts from a good percussionist can work wonders for a bassist with big ears. 8)

EDITED 'cause I missed this:
Just to clarify the type of learner you are is not that you can now only use one of those skills, its just that if you were pushed which of the skills (visual, sound or doing it) would you feel you'd goto first (or rely on most).
I would gravitate toward standard notation. That has been my "comfort zone" since I was around seven years old.
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