Does Anybody Read These Things?

Have you ever gotten one of those jigsaw puzzles that has hundreds of little pieces that all look pretty much exactly the same? Most people start with the corners and the edges, working their way in. For the most part, getting the border is relatively easy. For starters, there’s one side missing on each edge piece, plus it helps that there are usually less outer pieces. But how do you start filling it in with the middle pieces? You have this huge pile of puzzle pieces just sitting there, and some look relative to each other, but others look totally different, yet there’s still really no good starting point.

This is basically how I feel this semester. I’ve gotten a lot of the basics out of the way. Cool. Where do I go from there? The thousand little puzzle pieces in my head are all the questions I have. There are so many answers and solutions I need, but I have no idea which question to even start looking for the answer to. Should I switch from Music Ed to a B.A. in music? How can I get my averages back up from the one exam that I did terrible on at the beginning of the semester? Why do some of these things that we’re so heavily reprimanded for in our theory classes or private lessons seem to work so well a lot of times outside of class? Why do I constantly feel like I’m just a project? Like I need to be molded and shaped to sound and write exactly like all of my peers.

I feel all this pressure about having to open my mouth to half the size of my face when I sing, and how I have to have vibrato or I’m going to fail. A vi chord can’t go to a V chord in theory, even though I’ve used it plenty of times in my four and a half years of guitar playing. iii chords are heavily frowned upon by a lot of people, even though I can’t count how many times I’ve played a G-bm-em-C progression and it’s worked. It’s the relative minor of the dominant, why shouldn’t it?

I feel like we are being limited. We’re told to be creative when writing compositions and be ourselves and be expressive when we sing or play. But how can we be creative when we have so many guidelines telling us what to do? How can we be ourselves if we’re just constantly being told what we’re doing wrong? All this time, I’ve liked my voice and the way it sounds. All this time, I’ve liked the way it sounds when certain chords go to certain chords. All this time, I’ve been creative with my music, so how come when I finally decide to pursue a career in it, my creativity gets limited?

I’ve had so much on my plate this semester, along with probably every other college student out there. I commend anybody out there who has control over everything right now. UMHB is an amazing school, but I guess this semester I’ve come to realize my limits are just a lot smaller than I’ve always thought they were.

2 thoughts on “Does Anybody Read These Things?

  1. Wonderful blog post, Bailey! Thanks for sharing your frustrations from the heart. If I may, I’d like to address some of your complaints about the way your creativity and voice feel like they’re being limited.

    First of all, let me say that not every musicians needs a college degree. There are plenty of successful musicians that get be just fine without any formal musical training at all. I’d guess that most of these musicians are popular music performers. But here’s the thing: they don’t need to learn classical voice-leading to play pop songs on the guitar.

    So, a lot of this boils down to what you want to accomplish. What we’re learning in theory are not actually rules, regardless of how it seems (I try to avoid that sort of language whenever possible). Instead of being prescriptive, they are descriptive of what musicians who speak a particular musical dialect actually do. So again: what’s the goal? If the goal is to try to write music that sounds like it’s in the dialect of Mozart or Haydn, you probably won’t use too many iii chords (because they didn’t). There are real reasons why people did the things they did, and the theory of voice-leading and harmony in the common-practice ‘classical’ era is what we’re primarily studying during Theory classes.

    Now, one may question whether they need to know those things, or be able to speak that dialect, for what their goals are. But, there are many paths to professional music-making that do require understanding of, facility with, and ease of use for “classical” styles. Again, I’d encourage you to think of it as a foreign language class – you’re learning how to speak a non-native musical dialect. If you want to sound like a native speaker, you’ll learn the way to do that and get practice with it.

    I think the same could be said of voice lessons. Some of the things you’re being made to do are intended to stretch your voice and give you the flexibility to use it in different contexts. If you want to just play pop music, you may not need to do that (although most popular musicians would benefit from classical training and theory training, too).

    Consider: absolute freedom is quite impossible. If you want to be free to sight-read a song with a friend, you have to restrict yourself by learning how to read music and control your voice to use it for that purpose. In the same way, one could just go to the gym and do whatever things they felt like in a day (and how many times they want). But, if you want to accomplish particular goals, you have to restrict what you work on and how often you work on it in the gym. In order to be free to perform on a tennis court, you have to give up the freedom to do whatever you want in the gym.

    I hope this helps, and I hope that it’s received in the spirit it’s intended. You may be surprised when all is said and done what you’re able to accomplish in your own creative ways after having disciplined yourself to learn what your professors have for you. In order to truly break the rules and speak your own musical voice (and have a stunning effect when you do), you have to first know the rules of a dialect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It’s very encouraging to hear another perspective on the subject. I’ll definitely remember this and take your comment into consideration from now on if I ever start feeling this way again!

      Like

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