By: Konner Scott
When I was in my early teens, after nearly a decade of taking piano lessons, I found myself starting to get burnt out. Part of it was due to the strict and demanding nature of my teacher, but another important consideration was her approach to learning. For years and years, one song after another, she would have me learn the song note for note, play it at a recital or competition, and then banish it to the archives and start the process over again. I found myself craving more creative stimulation from music, but when I expressed this to her, she often brushed it off as if it was unimportant.
Frustrated by this, I picked up a guitar and began to use it as a means of expressing my creativity. Since I felt stunted by piano, I thought that teaching myself guitar and using it as a platform for songwriting might help me satiate the creative thirst that I had acquired. I noticed over time that it certainly did have this effect, but it also provided much more.
With all my students, I like to put an emphasis on creativity as an important part of our curriculum. Even though some students are more creatively inclined than others, I’ve found that pushing students to understand music theory and apply it in creative ways can help to solidify their understanding of music in a way that mere regurgitation of songs can’t accomplish. Learning chord progressions, voice leading, melody construction, etc- and trying to apply it- forces a student to push themselves to understand on a deep level why certain things do or don’t work. There’s only so much that can be articulated verbally, and it takes a certain level of trial and error on the creative front to internalize a high level of musical intuition.
The great thing is, if a student is willing to push themselves to learn the requisite theory and try their hand at composition or songwriting, they begin to more easily recognize patterns and motifs in the music they’re learning to play! Their brains acclimate to these larger patterns and they no longer work “note by note” through a song- they can take it on in bigger chunks, understanding how each piece functions and why. By the time they’ve learned the song, it’s more deeply embedded in their fingers, and the deeper level of understanding allows them to remember how to play it better- for longer- without an overwhelming amount of practice to maintain their proficiency!