In today’s lesson, we will talk about how viewing music as a language can be helpful in playing our instruments. Guitar instructor, Walt Palmer, will explain how you can get better at understanding the language of music.
We’ve all heard music defined as a language, but I’ve noticed that most music students (myself included) sometimes struggle with this concept. It’s understandable. Spoken language is more concrete than music. It conveys information, whereas music elicits feeling or emotion. It’s easy to forget that we’re dealing with the same principles. Viewing music as a language can be very beneficial to becoming a better musician.
Understand the Theory
Knowing the rules of the language of music, also known as music theory, can help make your music convey the things you want it to say without any confusion as to how it might sound. An obvious example of this is playing in a major key vs. a minor key. Everyone knows that major keys = happy or bright, while minor keys = sad or dark. There are always exceptions to the rules as it’s not exactly this black and white. Nonetheless, in a very broad sense, I wouldn’t go about writing a happy song in a minor key or a sad song in a major key. The more music theory you learn, the more you can consciously manipulate your playing to sound the way you want it to. I know that playing the third of a chord will give me a certain type of sound that is different from playing the fifth of a chord. Writing my chord progression with particular chords will give me a particular sound. This is all beginner music theory, and it gets much more in depth, which will only lead to better musicianship. It’s the same as learning the rules of the English language so that you can better communicate.
Grasp the Bigger Picture
Viewing music as a language allows me to look at my guitar playing in a more constructive way. Notes are like letters, and scales like the alphabet. They come together to make musical phrases, which should be seen as words or statements. When we read a sentence, we don’t take time to identify every single letter that we see, we see the words or even the statement as a whole. There could even be missing letters or spaces and we are still able to get the idea. Music is like that. Great musicians aren’t thinking in terms of individual notes, even though they know what they are. They are thinking in terms of phrases or statements. Blues soloing, with its “question, question, answer” approach, is a good example of this idea.
Practice Listening to Great “Speakers”
Just like learning a spoken language, practice and exercising the language of music is essential. Think about how we learn how to talk. We are exposed to spoken language every day, in almost all situations. When we were young, we listened to adults speak at a much more advanced level until we got the hang of it ourselves. This leads to most people being able to express themselves easily through the use of spoken language. Compare that to how most people learn how to “speak” music. Fifteen minutes to a half hour a day doesn’t seem to cut it, does it?
Put yourself in situations where you are playing with or being taught by musicians who can speak (musically) at a higher level than you. This will help you excel because the more time you spend talking with them, the closer you will be getting to joining them on their level of musical expression.