Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Music and the savage breast

I remember when I was little believing I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. That is very possibly true. I'm not a singer. My voice is not my instrument! There are those that don't sound good even in the shower, they can often be found in the early days of American Idol calling the judges half-wits... but the viewers are laughing at them... too bad their friends didn't tell them to stop. On the other hand, telling them to stop might have been even worse.

I also assumed since I couldn't sing that I had no musical ability and was in some way broken. I don't know anything about music. I remember taking a music appreciation segment in class in, I think, sixth grade. It's when I learned to pronounce Chopin. But when it came to musical instruments or anything like that I always deferred and said, "I can't. I'm tone deaf." People would look at me with a pitying look and wander off shaking their head at what a sad, sad life I must lead. Mostly I didn't notice my handicap. It didn't qualify me for bitching parking spots or any gubment handouts so I figured it just wasn't that big a deal or I'd get something out of it. (That's a joke people, lighten up.)

I don't really listen to music much either. It's often on in the background and I hear it, but I only really pay any attention to lyrics. My favorite group is Extreme. I like their lyrics. I recently got into a discussion with the other half about the merits of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. I didn't like it. Some songs didn't even HAVE lyrics and I didn't remember them. When they'd come on while I was listening to it I'd skip on to the next song or tune it out. I just didn't like it. This caused quite a stir... I think the final straw was when I said, "They're a decent keyboard group, but how are they different from say, Simply Red?" That didn't go over well at all. At some point he said, "Maybe you're just too ignorant to recognize good music. You don't play anything and you don't really listen to music at all. Do you even remember if there was a guitar in that song?" I turned my head sideways like a dog trying to figure out a typewriter and asked more than said, "No?" Exasperated he changed the subject. Evidently David Gilmour is quite the skilled guitarist. I've watched him play, and if the camera stays on his hands I can see it and hear it and appreciate it. Put it in a song with my eyes closed and I'm wondering if the new employee will show up on time or if I need to start going through my second string interviewees. If there are lyrics the rest of the music goes away entirely in my head as my focus switches automatically to the lyrics, the words. I'm a very verbal thinker.

I started taking one classical music piece a night and listening to it with my eyes closed, no distractions, just listening to it. Listening for the repetitions in the pieces, the changes in the musical sentences, trying to pick out different instruments and follow what they do. I was getting there. In unrelated news I was having the beginnings of a midlife crisis and feeling a bunch of existential angst and a friend told me to get off my ass and learn something new. It'd help knock me out of the rut I was in. Finally I decided he was right. My ignorance was getting in the way of my enjoyment and the only way to be unignorant was to learn an instrument. I knew I was tone deaf so assumed it would be an uphill battle. He has 4 electric guitars and an acoustic so I chose a black Schechter, electric, to use as my practice guitar. (The "he" here doesn't refer to the friend that told me to learn something new, that's a "she" and her blog can be found here, you should go read it after you're done here.) I have no idea of which one it is. But it's a nice guitar, humbuckers, switches, knobs and crap I haven't a clue what they are sit there making what they do better while I curl my hand into some desiccated monkey's claw around the neck. 

Two days of practice later I can strum an E-chord mostly and can play scales badly. I hold my fingers too far from the strings to do it quickly, a bad habit I need to unlearn. I'm doing all my learning from the Internet, lots of YouTube. I did buy a chord booklet leaflet thing showing me what the chords are.

Finally I decided I should find out how tone deaf I really am. Maybe this is a waste of time. If I can't tell if the guitar's in tune what's the point of plucking away at something if my A is really an F sharp? Off I go to the Internet and take a tone deafness test and...  I scored 86.1%. 70% is Normal Performance. 80% is Very good performance and 90% is Exceptional performance. I'm closer to Exceptional than Very good... I suspect my tone deafness is a result of self-limiting beliefs I have in myself. This score was with zero training in music. I wonder if I'd have done better with some musical training/practice. I suspect the score would have improved as some of the nuances would have, perhaps, been more obvious. But maybe not. Maybe it's the ear's ability to discern. I don't know. Either way. I can no longer tell myself I'm tone deaf as i'm obviously not.

The trick is now I've got to undo 30 years of thinking, "Nope, can't do that." The test is a good start. As I get better playing I imagine that will help give me confidence as well. It's kinda cool to know I'm not broken. Well... I am, but not tone deaf lol.
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