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April 12, 2014

Complete education involves classroom, real-world learning


From the first days of music lessons, music teachers talk to students about correct tonal quality, note length and volume of musical style for each composer, and effective translation of the musical symbol on a page to the heart and soul of those listening in an audience. Every moment of learning to make music is experiential education fueled by intense intellectual activity that guides the learning.

How does this marriage of theory and practical experience work for musicians? What are some of the things a musician learns first in classroom theory, but must eventually learn through practical experience?

One of the most important lessons a musician learns through experience is how to judge time.

Every human being has a sense of time related to his own heartbeat. Audiences, whether they have any musical training or not, are instinctively drawn to a regular, steady beat in music, just as the human body needs a regular, steady heartbeat. Professional musicians are able to keep a steady beat, but they must learn through experience how to do so.

When musicians perform on stage, the exhilaration and tension that can be part of any live performance may affect their performance. Musicians’ hearts beat faster under the strain of reaction to a live audience, and the sense of time can be affected by this quickened heartbeat. A musician can only learn to control the speed of the musical beat by having the experience of a quickened heartbeat on stage, and understanding that music should not necessarily be played more quickly simply because the heart is beating more rapidly.

Every musician who performs outside of the circle of his own family and friends must learn how to control the sense of time in the heightened circumstances of performing in front of a live audience, and the only way to gain that learning is to deal with the problem on a practical, personal level. Each professional musician has his own way of responding to the problem of a quickened heartbeat during performance. After many years of dealing with this problem, I have found my own answer to the issue. All musicians face the problem and deal with it on a personal level.

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