From Aspiring Composer to Aspiring Learner
I joined the academy of western music exactly two years back; with one steady goal- learn enough music to be able to compose within a few months. Having a strong base in the rhythm and lyrics departments, I figured that the tune was the only ingredient I had left to acquire, in order to make music. Rather than the violin, the guitar or the flute, I decided to play the King of all instruments- the piano (because once you chalked out the plan for a song in the piano, it’s very simple to extrapolate that plan and implement it in an orchestra). Like most ambitious people with a “how hard could it be” attitude, I was deluded by the thought that creativity thrived on ignorance. I felt that learning music gave the mind a fixed direction to think. This meant that learning would make you narrow minded in the way you’d approach new compositions and eventually, you will just end up becoming another artist with a perfectly predictable collection of tunes in a compact disk. On the other hand, if you were ignorant about the technicalities and just had a basic sense of what sounded good, you would sit in front of the piano and hit random notes in different combinations till you eventually discovered what sounded nice. Since you’re not really thinking in terms of playing “this chord for this note“, your mind would essentially look at the possibility of “12 different keys (5 black and 7 white, per scale) for each note” that you try. So this lack of bias would definitely yield something unique. Moreover, every song would have a whole new flavor of that uniqueness. All this sure does seem theoretically possible. But only when you actually sit in front of a keyboard and hit those keys hopelessly do you realize that you don’t seem to be going anywhere. So I realized that I had to equip myself with the fundamentals of the piano to some extent. Thus, despite my reticence, I enrolled for the piano course to get no more than a very basic idea which would prime my fingers and get me in the zone to start composing.
But as I sat in front of that beautiful contraption of strings, hammers and ivory keys, its very majesty drew my fingers to perch on its keys gracefully. Suddenly, even the mistakes I made while playing, sounded like music to me. I was able to connect with every single semitone that the instrument produced and felt an increasing need to delve into it. Since then, every single piano class (which is unfortunately only once a week) has been a source of happiness and escapism from everything else. My parents gifted me a digital piano (no, it’s NOT a keyboard, it’s a whole lot more identical to a piano in terms of the number of octaves and the behavior of the keys) during my second week of class and are still struggling to keep me away from it, even when I have to read for exams in college.
This journey has changed my approach towards music completely. For a very simple and relatable example, most of us have this mindset that any song on the piano can be divided into the main melody that we hum, which is played by one hand and the chords (or the bass or the background in general) which is played by the other. That does seem a bit simple because it makes you feel that once you figure out the tune, you can play the chord that’s centered round the first note (main note) of each bar. But right from my first class, that belief changed completely. First of all, the non melody hand needn’t necessarily play the whole chords. It can even play singular notes which perfectly fit like siblings to the corresponding melody line. Also, the role of each hand can be interchanged in different sections of the song. So, the background notes needn’t necessarily sound deeper (low pitch) with respect to the melody. Most importantly, the chords govern the way the tune proceeds, so if you have been selecting your chords based on the melody you have conjured, you haven’t been doing it right. This also implies that there can be a song with both hands playing only chords throughout, but there can never be a song which only has a melody component. Apart from making my jaw drop, these above facts prompted me to explore this world more to see what else I don’t know. My teacher, Mr. Srikanth Gnanasekaran, told me that it was time I started listening to classical composers, because I could only learn more if I listened more. Naturally I started with Mozart and Beethoven and soon, all those very common reverse tones, elevator songs and Nokia ring tones that we hardly pay attention to, became masterpieces to me when I studied the actual way they had been written. Every single chord transition that changed the mood of the song taught me a lot about progressions and instilled in me a huge sense of respect for the thought processes that those great composers were blessed with.
But what if I told you, that those few pieces were just the beginning of an era of musicians whose songs become more complex and intricate? Bach, Mozart and Beethoven laid the foundation for the composers of the next century to build up on. Soon, there was a surplus of musical geniuses in the post Beethoven period- the Romantic Era of Music. These Romantic Era composers have been the most significant influences in my musical learning.
Essentially, every composer spoke the same language “music”. But the way they conveyed their thoughts and interpretations of their life is what changed the music they made. Every song I listen to is like a movie where the notes speak to me to tell me different stories, show different moods and paint a picture of the way its composer looked at life. Who would have thought that I would reach a level where I can sit through as long as 75 minutes of a single song which is only instrumental? The fact that I would travel so far down that path which no one (including myself) expected me to even consider taking, is STILL pretty hard to digest for most people. My friends are still astonished when they think of the way I moved from “whoa! Eminem just dropped a new album” to “dude!! Have you heard Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Opus 69- number 2?” The only exams I enjoy reading for are my grade exams. Through these tireless 2 years, as I moved through 4 grades, I don’t recall a single instance that I don’t want to relive. To sum it all up, I’d say that this piano course has made me more patient. It has slowed me down and given me the thirst to learn, rather than an ambitious thirst to achieve. I can never imagine what I’d do without my piano beside me in life. Yes, like I said before, learning music does make the mind move in a particular direction, and all I can say is that I really like the direction in which I am going, thanks to the Academy of Western Music.
Piano Student (Trinity, Grade IV) -Academy of Western Music, Chennai.