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--- Dec 15 2000 Go to category
Subject: knowledge
Category: Improvisation/Soloing
From: Scott Shimabukuro (San Leandro, CA)

Pat, your music is masterful and inspiring and I thank you for that. You stated in another answer that playing "outside" wasn't an appropriate term because at a certain level of playing, one is playing simply what they hear, rather than whether or not it is in or out of theoretical convention. My question is then, wouldn't it be more appropriate for people to begin learning instruments not from a theory base, but from a strictly hearing base. Throw out scales, harmonies etc. and simply learn what each note sounds like (and not just notes for that matter, sounds and noises too) and subsequently, play what you hear? Are we perpetuating limitations within our music-educational system by teaching music the way we do? I know that many other traditions of music are "oral" traditions which seem to approximate somewhat, learning music by what it sounds like. Any thoughts?

Pat’s Answer:

hi scott,

that is a really interesting question, and one that i have thought about often.

i do believe that there is a certain way that "conventional" intervals and harmony seem to resonate with most humans that borders on the universal - the way that fundamental intervals like the octave or the perfect 5th just seem to have a rightness to them that 99.9 percent of people would find pleasing or "in tune". this is actually a matter of physics more than anything else - there have even been studies that find that the same mathematical relationships that correspond to the basic intervals that we recognize as being consonant can be found in both large scale looks at our universe, as well as microscopic looks into the basic building blocks of life. there are also systems like the "fibonacci series" that can be applied to the natural order of things musical to reflect some of the same occurances in the natural world in musical ways.

having said that, i do however believe that most of us, even most musicians, tend to stick with whatever sounds tend to attract us at very early stages in our life. and the truth is, in the western world, most of us are force fed basic diatonic 12-tone harmony and melody (not to mention a steady diet of 4/4 and 3/4 time) from cradle to grave in this culture.

it has always been a kind of quest for me personally to really try to learn how to listen and REALLY hear things that go into the more intuitive areas of sound that in fact are included in the natural potential of sound and music. there is so much to learn about HOW to listen, how to absorb all sound, even things that may on the surface seem to be unmusical, into the sphere of the musical.

your premise that one should "throw out" the fundamentals of music as one has learned it doesn't really work for me - my personal tendency would be to ADD to all of the information that one has aquired through the conventional by trying to understand things from as many different angles as possible.

i also tend to be fairly conservative in the sense that as much as i believe in the "intuitive" - i also realize that if you are really going to deal with complex musical issues, "conventional" (i.e. Bach, playing on a complex set of predetirmened chord changes, writing an orchestral arrangment,etc.) or "unconventional" (playing "free", using polyphony as as color element that transcends its harmonic function, etc.) - the more raw information about the subject at hand that you can bring to the discussion, the better imformed and effective will be the music - especially if, as all good music must be, it is driven by inspriation and the genuine desire to create good things with music.