There Is No Right Or Wrong Way To Do Music.

There is no right or wrong way to do Music.  In my private studies with individuals of all levels of expertise I try only to show that person what I do and what I think about when I do it.  If they like it and relate to it then they may in fact learn something.  Often I see a way of playing or thinking that is foreign to me.  I ask myself if this way gets in between what they are trying to do or what might be allowed in the future if their way is continued and developed into muscle memory or habit.  

It was at first perplexing to watch a very competent bass player imitate an improvised lick from a tune we were learning.  The way he visualized the notes and surrounding scale on his fretboard was more “horizontal” and less “boxy” than my own comfortable shapes.  And it was hard to refrain from showing him my way.  In fact I think I ended up showing him my way even though he played it just fine his way.  The big picture – the phrasing, tone control, the “flow” – is interrupted by something seemingly trivial.  

There is something to be said about knowing your options and for the sake of study I regularly explore alternate patterns, fingerings, shapes etc. with my students.  But when it comes down to playing – the thing you do while having fun and without really trying that hard – it’s dangerous to interfere.  Eventually, the things one practices in their studies become the things one plays in their fun – if it’s useful.  

This same student (it is frequently disorienting to study with accomplished Musicians for me) used unconventional fingerings for a few open chords a couple sessions prior.  It threw me for a loop.  I had to ask myself if his way would prevent embellishments, efficient chord switches, or tone control.  I tested it out.  There didn’t seem to be any problems with the way he was doing it.  But it looked bizarre!  I asked him if option B or C was harder, easier or about the same.  He tried both without too much problem but consistently went to his way when it came down to playing the chord progression with the song – the whole point of learning a particular fingering in the first place right? – and it sounded fine.  He could still embellish and he had control over his sound.   I had to get over it.  

I am in the business of anticipating bad habits and encouraging good ones.  I assume the way I do things on my instrument is a good way.  And I realize there are other good ways.  As long as it doesn’t develop into something that limits there is no problem.  If I can learn to leave space for the individual and mold only when necessary, I will develop a more personal relationship with my fellow musicians and thereby a more trusting and inspiring one.  

I recognize people want to study with others who are more accomplished and capable.  Of course expertise is required of a person who will be a helpful example of something.  But when it comes to the Arts and private study, I prefer to share my expertise under an apprenticeship model: You’d like to be able to do x, y or z?  Here’s how I do those things, let’s try it out.  

Author: aarondoerr

Owner of Fellow Musician LLC, a small music education business specializing in outreach and private study. I'm guitarist for musical theatre and production assistant at St. Louis Public Radio.

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