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Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 14
As you find yourself getting a little more comfortable with learning to play a piece by ear, don’t be afraid to stray a little bit from your genre. While you may not have desire to try other styles, every genre can teach you something that will help you improve your own style. One potential problem with sticking too tightly to your favorite style is that you may become very repetitive and predictable in your music. This is especially true as you begin to write your own music. It is a common trap, and an easy rut to fall into. Try learning a few different types of music.
I do not suggest by this that you need to master every style, or that you should be equally talented in every genre, but I am suggesting that you try out something new once in a while. Musical styles are like seasonings. While you don’t want seasonings to overpower foods and confuse the taste buds, a couple of sprinkles of different seasonings can give your food a unique and enhanced taste. So it is with music. Slightly jazzed new-age music is tasteful. Slightly new-aged rock is actually very popular. So is pop-tinted African music. You don’t need to have all your music ‘seasoned’, but occasionally it helps.
Comparison is Poison
Another caution is that musicians absolutely MUST NOT fall into comparison. It is absolute poison. You must not compare your abilities with those of another. Whether a person is better or worse than you in a talent, there is no room for any degree of competition in the world of a true artist. That is not to say that we should not learn from others. We should listen to as much music as possible and try to adopt the good things that we find, but we cannot think less of our own music because someone else’s music has more skill or more emotion.
It is true that another person has a better ability to learn to play, write music, and they may demonstrate remarkable skill. Ought we to wonder about that? What if some of today’s great musicians had gotten discouraged by comparing themselves to Beethoven or any other great artist?
There will always be someone better than you, and there will always be someone worse (even if you can’t seem to find one!).
It helps to consider the place of music in our lives. Is one good piece of music truly better than another? If so, by what standard are they measured? If you measure by pure skill, you won’t notice the feeling of the music. If you measure by the amount of effort put into an individual piece, then you won’t notice how much time and effort the musician put into developing his or her ability to write music. If you measure by the rules of music theory, you won’t notice the development of new ideas and new styles in modern music.
Measuring how “good” a song is compared to another is fruitless, since every piece has a different meaning, a different motive, and a different feel.
It is the same with the musicians themselves. Two musicians have such different experience and motivations that it simply doesn’t work to compare them.
Do not be discouraged or boastful by comparing your ability to another persons. It will only lead you away from becoming better at what you do.