By RICHARD HANNEMANN
There are three aspects to music. Most people would say “melody, harmony and rhythm”, which is true enough. But there are three broader aspects, each containing melody, harmony and rhythm, which often get overlooked.
First is what is on the page. This would be what you play. It is essentially just instructions “put your fingers here and make the sounds (either by plucking, bowing, or blowing).” The simplest form of this doesn’t even involve a page―it is one person showing another where to put the fingers in order to make the sounds that are the song. Notation allows you to dispense with having to have someone there to show you what to do, but notation is still a set of playing instructions. Most people never get beyond this aspect.
Second is what is IN the page. This is what is often called “theory”―a term I particularly hate since there is nothing theoretical about it. It is the understanding of the practical applications of the inter-relationships of the elements of music.
This is where your playing goes beyond the mechanical as your understanding of the music allows your playing to become meaningful and give depth, dimension, and life to the music.
There are books and books and books on this and often people go to college to read the books and learn this stuff (and then write their own books in order to pay off the student loans). Happily, because there are books and books and books on the subject, you don’t actually have to learn it in a formal setting like college. If you can read what is on the page, you can cozy up in a chair with your instrument, your book(s), and your favorite libation and you can learn this stuff.
Third is what is BEYOND the page. This is the realm of creativity and it is educated by having learned what is in the page. To which there are two levels:
- On one level going beyond the page is improvisation-arranging-orchestrating. This can be taking a given melody and working up a harmonic arrangement, or it can be taking a given chord progression and working up a melody or melodies which the harmony imply.
- The second level goes beyond improvising-arranging-orchestrating into the realm of creating ex nihlo — noodling-composing (and then writing it down for those who are still on the aspect of what is on the page).
Going beyond the page is where the real fun of music is. Yes, it is uncharted territory where there be dragons. That’s the fun: to chart that territory and tame those dragons.
Though there are those who maintain that the purpose of learning an instrument is to perform, I firmly believe that the purpose of learning music at all is best served when the goal is to go beyond the page―to be able to extemporaneously communicate musically as fluidly and fluently as verbally (written or oral).