Hannemann’s Music Corner: Yes … You Can …
Column by RICHARD HANNEMAN
I am often asked, “can I learn to play the guitar?”.This question is often accompanied with: “Am I too old?” or “I’m not really musically inclined”
The answer is Yes, you can.
You are not too old, there is no such thing as too old.
As to “musical” or “musically inclined” … Everyone is musical to some degree. You are born with it. If you can imagine a favorite song, or if you can sing a favorite song (regardless of how well) without having to hear someone play it, then you are musical.
If you can hum “Twinkle” / “ABC” then you are musical. (Okay, you now have that melody stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that. But that, in itself, proves you are musical.)
Whether or not you are inclined to do anything with your musicality is a matter of choice.
Right now you are reading something I wrote. In order to do this you have to have learned the language in which I am writing. You learned the alphabet. You learned to group letters, the elements of the alphabet, into combinations we call words.
You learned that words are symbols for things and ideas – e.g., C-A-T spells cat, which is a word that represents a particular type of animal.
You learned that some words describe other words, e.g., B-I-G is “big” which can be used to describe cat giving you “big cat” which, in combination, describes a certain set of kinds of cats.
You learned to combine words into complete thoughts called sentences. You learned to combine sentences into larger thoughts called paragraphs. You learned to combine paragraphs into even larger thoughts – essays and stories and reports.
You learned to use language in order to communicate. You also needed to learn a means of communicating the language.
You learned to recognize sounds as being letters and words. You learned to make those same sounds.
You learned written symbols for letters and words so you could read language and know what someone else thinks. You learned to form those symbols so you could write language that others would know what you think.
And then you learned a method of writing. You learned to write with a pencil or a pen. You learned to use block letters and script (cursive) letters so that you could use your knowledge of language to put your thoughts on paper. You learned to use a mechanical device in order to type those words.
Music is exactly the same thing.
You learn the musical alphabet. You learn to combine those elements into chords (words) and melodies. You learn to combine chords and melodies into larger musical ideas.
You learn to read musical symbols to know what someone else wrote. You learn to write musical symbols so others can read what you write.
And just as you learned to use a pen or a keyboard, you learn to use a device, called an instrument, so that music can be heard.
(Note: the nuttiness of schools no longer teaching cursive because “no one uses it any more – we all type on the computer” is akin to saying we won’t learn to play instruments anymore because we can make all those sounds with the computer.
Well, folks, we still play pianos and recorders and harmonicas and all manner of arcane instruments which we have not yet been foolish enough to discard as being anachronistic in the computer age.
And though I have a notation editor for writing music on my computer, I still can sit down with a pencil and paper and write music; nor does that paper have to have staff lines – I’m quite capable of drawing them in (I have paper place-mats, cocktail napkins, envelopes, all manner of paper that I have covered in musical notation.) Just something to ponder.
Learning music is exactly the same as learning a written/spoken language because what we call music is the language by which we communicate musical thought.
There is one difference: you had no choice about learning the written/spoken language. It was something you were taught whether you were inclined to learn it or not. You weren’t forced to learn musical language – whether or not you learn it and learn to use it is a matter of your own inclination.
And there is another similarity which contains a difference. When you were an infant you started learning language by mimicking the spoken sounds that you heard.
You didn’t always know what those sounds meant, that would come later, but you did learn to reproduce them. And you didn’t always reproduce those sounds in a manner which was meaningful to others (mom and dad had to learn to translate your sounds into something that made sense to them.) It was the first step to learning language.
So too, you likely can mimic musical sounds. You can hum a melody that you heard. You can combine sounds in a manner that makes sense to you, but makes almost no sense to anyone else.
Which means you are the threshold of learning the language of music (there is no way to sugar coat the implications of that.)
Whether or not you continue on has nothing to do with talent, or some magical aptitude that you were born with, or with your age, or your background or any of the multitude of reasons/excuses people use to avoid the matter.
It is simply a matter of inclination – of choosing to learn music and an instrument by which you can make that music heard.
Can you learn music? Can you learn to play an instrument? Yes, you can.
Do you want to?