Welcome to day six of 31 Days of Homemade Music! If you’re just joining us now, click here to see more posts in this series.
We have spent the last several days making a case for how anyone can benefit from making music. We’ve talked about the soul-ish aspect of music, how music relates to other areas of study, and the goodness of giving great music to children. But If music making is so wonderful, the question remains:
Why do we reserve music making for students and performers? Why doesn’t our culture make more music on an amateur, casual, community level? I believe there are several contributing factors.
(Thanks to Katie of Holding Life Still for this shot of the hubs and I singing for a wedding- back when baby J was in the belly still.)
The first contributor may be the advent of our beloved recorded music. We can listen to almost any recording we want at any time, in almost any place now. While this has certainly bestowed us with a huge advantage as listeners, it makes live, local, and homemade music less and less necessary. When you can listen to even the most obscure recordings at the touch of a button, why would you bother listening to your neighbor struggle through an intermediate piece on the guitar? Or, even more so, why would you need to learn it yourself?
Another disadvantage of recorded music is that it is almost always perfect. We often forget, as listeners, that we are hearing a combination of multiple “takes,” compiled and mastered into one end product that is meticulously adjusted to have a particular sound and feel. The constant stream of perfect recordings makes us unfamiliar with the inevitable reality of mistakes, and thus we feel unduly intimidated and self-conscious when attempting to learn a piece of music ourselves. We give up all too soon when we are surrounded by impossibly splendid recordings.
All that being said, I love recorded music and make frequent use of it. We just need to be aware of its downfalls and free ourselves to enjoy practicing music with or without it. (I’ll be coming back tomorrow to talk about how I use recorded music to my advantage.)
The second factor that inhibits us from making our own music is the assumption that performers make music in front of people, not amateurs. We go to concerts, watch singers on TV, or see a band at the front of the church singing hard-to-follow songs. People begin feel less confidence in their ability to just sing. I hear it all the time, even in the nitty-gritty- Oh, Abi, you sing, could you lead us in singing “Happy Birthday?” Seriously? Happy Birthday? Do you really need a formally trained singer to give you the first note in order to feel competent joining in the chorus?
The performer’s presence, while enjoyable, has put a damper on homemade music. We are now largely observers of performers, rather than active participants in music-making. People are scared to try it because they aren’t trained. I say that it’s time that the word “amateur” loses its derogatory connotations and that we start encouraging amateurs to join in the music because they love it.
The third factor that I think discourages folks from making music together on a casual basis is the plethora of distractions and alternate forms of entertainment available to us today. Internet, blogs, social media, smart phones, TV, radio, and who knows what else is the new thing, all surround us, beep at us, notify us, advertise to us, remind us to return, return, return to keep coming back for more. Who sits around the piano singing songs at night anymore when you’ve got all that waiting for you? (Besides, it’s easier to sit and be entertained than to actively make your own entertainment!) I even feel conflicted typing this as I’ve got four songs sitting on my piano that I need to memorize for an upcoming recital…
The point is this. TV, internet, radio- none of them are necessarily bad things to enjoy. I am not saying that we all MUST sing folk songs round the fireside or have weekly house piano recitals as a requirement. I’m just saying that the multiple forms of self-distraction have taken away the need for other forms of family time. Music, reading aloud, board games, etc., have all become increasingly scarce and have been rejected for the obviously more favorable options of TV series and Twitter feeds.
So maybe I exaggerate a little. But by how much exactly, I suppose varies from family to family. I would be an advocate of you taking up any hobby that jogs the brain and brings the family together- not only music! (And we need to do more of this ourselves!)
So what can we do about all of this? How can we help common-place, homemade music become more common?
Professionals– Invite people to play with you, sing with you. Don’t be a diva. Embrace the beginner and help to encourage them in their journey, rather than disassociate yourself because you would prefer to work on your own music without being bogged down by those pestering beginners.
Beginners– don’t be shy about trying something new. Don’t expect to sound perfect all the time, or even most of the time. Expect that it will take a long time of practicing to get something right. Be patient, be consistent, and don’t be scared. The joy is in the process.
Everybody- Enjoy recordings and performances. Take in the beauty of hearing someone do it really, really well. Let it inspire you. But don’t make it your only musical experience. Carve out a few minutes in the day to pluck out a few chords on the guitar or practice a melody on the piano. Try singing a favorite song acapella, just for fun. Turn off the TV and sing some children’s songs with your kids, or try learning a traditional folk tune by rote. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.
Now, remember how I said that I do like to make use of recordings? Those recordings, when used for help and not a hindrance, can be a gateway into and a motivator for making some music on your own. Make sure you come back tomorrow to find some awesome free ways to start listening to some good music yourself!