Musical Literacy

Discussion in 'V.C.'s Parlor' started by duceditor, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

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    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    This interests me. Not because I am classically "literate," but because I see, and have for some time seen, the downslide in quality of music (and so much else in our culture) and think that this issue is central to its cause.

    I post it here not to put anyone on the defensive. Nor to suggest that the value of our individual musical work should be held up to any arbitrary standard. But to...

    ...Well read the piece yourself if you have the interest, and then we can, maybe, bounce some thoughts about.


    The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality)


    -don
     
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  2. fadetoz

    fadetoz Squier-holic

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    That is the exact reason I put my daughter in private piano lessons when she was about 5. She is 10 and can read music. She can open a book of music and play and sing at the same time even if she has never heard the song. I mean to a point anyway, She is not a professional piano player or super advanced. But I wanted her to learn more than I ever did.
    She now is on her 2nd yr of violin and first year of flute. Piano is on going as well..
    I think it's important for her to be able to understand music. I want her to be able to open a book of music and be able to read through it like a book and hear the music in her head as she reads it. Just like a second language. That is exactly the course she is on and I'll keep the train going as long as I can.
     
  3. fadetoz

    fadetoz Squier-holic

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    Thanks for posting that Don.. Good article.
     
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  4. TheKurdtz

    TheKurdtz Squier-holic

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  5. Papa Joe

    Papa Joe Squier-Axpert

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    Swanton Ohio
    My mother was well taught on piano from early childhood and could read and sing from sheet music..Unfortunately I didn't pay much attention to her teaching..She did manage to drive some fundamental theory in to my stubborn head, but I just wanted to get on with it..
    Big mistake on my part..
     
  6. Davis Sharp

    Davis Sharp Squier-holic

    Jan 7, 2016
    Maryland, USA
    Preaching to the choir.

    IMO, part of the decline of musical complexity is that the commercial music makers have figured out what appeals to people emotionally and sticks in out heads: simple chord progressions (I-V-VI-IV), syncopated choruses ("I like that Boom Boom Pow"), and volume. The two songwriters named in that article probably just recycle those elements in different keys and add new lyrics.

    If you haven't read anything like it, then it's informative and worth reading. But, as far as the article per se, the author is a speech writer with degrees in history and literature. Nothing in his bio establishes him as a music expert. The only piece of data is from a single time point and does not show any decline of musical literacy. Proficient sight reading is "down to 11 percent." Down from what? There are no sources and much of the content I have already read on blogs or seen on YouTube. So there is some serious re-packaging and/or plagiarism going on.
     
  7. Unit11

    Unit11 Squier-Meister

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    What I kept thinking of was the band Journey, and their conversion to a "corporate rock" group after Walter Herbert started managing them. (At least they still wrote their own songs.)

    I don't follow modern pop music much, but it does seem very streamlined and formulated. Just wait--there's bound to be a backlash. It's happened before. New Wave was a response to big stadium bands, and ZZ Top and Bad Company counteracted what they saw as oversoft or homogenized rock. (ZZ Top's first album has a back cover blurb about that.) And I was reading just today about how Metallica began as an answer to groups like REO Speedwagon and the aforementioned Journey.

    This line brought a smile: While contact sports like football are proven brain damagers, music participation is a brain enhancer.
     
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  8. Bluzy

    Bluzy Squier-Meister

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    In some ways this sounds so much like every older generations complaint about the younger generation behind it. Music is still taught in elementary schools and offered as Optional activities or electives such as jazz band, choir and orchestra at many schools. And they kick some butt when you hear them. If you want to blame the schools, the only part I would blame them for is that often the teachers themselves ruined the subject and made it boring. I loved music as a kid and still do, but hated music class all my childhood because they referenced songs that were horrible while teaching concepts in music. They did not tie in a piece of classical music to something relevant in pop music or blues to rock or jazz to hip hop. In my eyes, the biggest “problem” is the item I am typing this post on... my phone. It is an easy distraction and great time waster and if we as parents don’t encourage musics lessons at an early age, they fall by the wayside. Sadly for me, I forgot how to read music after I stopped participating in band in 7th grade and lack the patience now to relearn it, though it would help my playing immensely I would imagine. Anyway, off my soapbox for now
     
  9. Toddcaster64

    Toddcaster64 Squier-holic

    Apr 1, 2013
    Camarillo, CA
    Coming at it from the opposite perspective, as someone who did actually learn music early - much like fadetoz's daughter, my mother had me in piano lessons at 7 years old. This not being football or baseball, I resisted every step of the way, but mom said one day you'll thank me. For ten years, I played piano, until I realized that unlike my friends with guitars, its a difficult instrument to take to parties where there were girls. That was it for the piano. BUT, being able to read music, all the theory, etc. - it made learning guitar EASY. I went by my same guitar-playing friends at the time like they were standing still. Went on to minor in music in college. Am I a great player now? No, but I'm pretty good, and I can also play bass, keys, and even a bit of drums. I think that all goes back to those early days suffering at the piano. Mom was right.
     
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  10. Shaytan

    Shaytan Squier-Meister

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    I've mentioned in the past I've participated in the guitar club back in high school; for the first year I was there I was the only member besides the Teacher. Now my sister is in that same school and I recently met the Teacher at a guitar store and asked him if he was still there, as she would enjoy to learn it as well. To my surprise, the club was dissolved by the school for cost cutting. Well, to its justice all the clubs were too, including the very popular clubs at the time such as the volleyball club (quite surprising as for years the creation of school activities was a huge investment around here, yet when we finally begin to get over the economical crisis and under a socialist government, all of that is cut in public schools).

    It's quite saddening to see a globalized anti-musical steer, both in terms of offers by the states as well as in the music industry. It's quite paradoxical given we may be living in the time where it's easier than ever before to learn music, although much like any of the other useful wonders of the internet, it's the user that needs to actively seek for such material.

    EDIT: I later thought about my wording and considered if the way I've mentioned "a socialist government" could appear to have a negative connotation. That was not the intention at all, after all not only this isn't the place to talk politics but also it's something I have no colors whatsoever; I was thinking about the idea that socialism aims for the creation and maintenance of public services for all, yet in this specific matter they've taken a step in the wrong direction, I fear.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
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  11. RoyalWe

    RoyalWe Squier-Nut

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    I think recording capabilities, both professional and for home use, have had a role in this as well. It’s a lot easier to preserve a peice perfectly as you intended it by recording than it is to transcribe the peice onto staff paper. I personally used to be able to read pretty proficiently, playing in several orchestras and band programs, but once I stopped playing in that setting the need for sight reading hasn’t really come up. Usually it’s just chord charts if anything. I tried for a bit to transcribe my “compositions” onto paper, but lost interest as it was more challenging and frustrating than anything else...plus I could just record it on my phone in all of 3 minutes it takes to play the song.
     
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  12. Rollmeaway

    Rollmeaway Squier-Nut

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    I used to be able to read basic music. I was in the school band playing trumpet! I forgot most everything by now though.

    My two teens can both read and play violin and wind instruments from sheet music. I have at least ten guitars but they refuse to pick one up for lessons!
     
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  13. LOSTVENTURE

    LOSTVENTURE Squier-Meister

    Our music is the product of our souls. You can be musically literate whether you read sheet or play completely by ear. It is simply not something that can be generalized as that article attempts to do. Breaking it down into simplistics such as timbre, pitch and volume, is about as subjective as arguing over your favorite color.
    I know that a lot of stuff that you hear on the radio, some of which barely qualifies as music, would tend to support his basic theme, but there is so much more to "music" than that.
     
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  14. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    71
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    I enjoyed reading each of the comments here. They expressed a delightfully wide range of thoughts and opinions.

    This is a subject that I have been thinking about (and, when younger, arguing about) for most of my life. Jan and my first "arguments" were about the worth of Rod McKuen's poetry. Neither of us ever "won." ;)

    I could go on for pages and pages. I won't. I will be relatively brief.

    "Art" as I see it -- all "arts" -- fall into two general categories" "Folk" and "serious."

    One speaks to our common human experiences. Expresses it so that we see, and either rejoice in that experience and its commonality, or share its pain. That is "folk" art.

    Folk art can be done well. or poorly.

    Country music, rock and roll, "pop" music -- these are all "folk" arts. They point to our common experience. They help us feel connected to life and one-another.

    The oft joked about lyrics of country music illustrate this.

    Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 8.08.40 AM.png

    They appeal because in very general terms they are the common experience. Listeners hear them and feel connected. To life. To one-another.

    The same is true for other "folk" arts. Thus Roberta Flack could reach an enormous audience when she sang...

    I heard he sang a good song
    I heard he had a style
    And so I came to see him
    And listen for a while
    And there he was
    This young boy, stranger to my eyes

    I felt all flushed with fever
    Embarrassed by the crowd
    I felt he found my letters
    Then read each one out loud
    I prayed that he would finish
    But he just kept right on

    Strumming my pain yeah
    Singing my life with his words
    Killing me softly with his song
    Killing me softly with his song
    Telling my whole life with his words​

    Note that the level of "craft" can be anywhere on the charts. Roberta Flack's were extraordinary.

    "Serious" art looks to do something different. It looks to introduce new ideas to the listener/viewer's mind rather than reawakening our already experienced and shared feelings.

    I am a big enthusiast for the paintings of Norman Rockwell. His Post Magazine covers and the like.

    For any who know not his work...

    The Runaway.jpg Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 8.22.03 AM.png rockwell_mirror.jpg Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 8.25.26 AM.png


    I've several times visited the Norman Rockwell Museum to enjoy his works full size in all their marvelously detailed glory, and on each occasion I have taken the guided tour the tour guide tells the group that Rockwell himself said that he was not an "artist," but that he was "an illustrator." Then he or she pauses for effect and says that of course we know better. That he was an "artist."

    The group always smiles or otherwise 'cheers.' But in fact Rockwell was not just showing false modesty. He understood the difference. And he was right. And he also understood that this was not a put down.

    His was a "folk" art. Helping his audience (viewers of his works) to have that wonderful experience of shared life. Commonality.

    Rockwell's level of craft was extraordinary. As were Flacks.

    Both "knew" lots of notes. They had to to create what they created.

    Both had a lifetime of understanding behind their "performances" and really, really, knew their craft. Plus they were both amazing natural talents.

    But to be a "serious" artist one must go, if not further, than at least in a different direction. That of looking not for the already experienced 'commonality,' but for the new idea. An idea or vision of life possibly entering the 'audience's' mind for the very first time. And to do that takes additional knowledge and understanding, along with that talent, craft and experience.

    That because you cannot intend to take someone someplace new unless you know where they have already been.
    You cannot express "new" ideas without having mastered much (the more the better!) of what has already been thought, done, and expressed.

    It may be that none of us here by that definition (which all are free to argue) are "serious" artists. But many of us here are at least passing good "folk" artists. -Able to help an audience feel and reexperience our common humanity. And that is no small thing.

    And such may in itself explain our different takes on the point of that article. Whether or not we think its writer proved his own intended point.

    -don
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
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  15. RegularJim

    RegularJim Squier-Meister

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    @duceditor

    You always have the best posts! Always informative or thought provoking. Keep 'em coming!
     
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  16. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    71
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Thank you @RegularJim :)

    It is wonderful to have a group such as this. Such varied interests yet such freedom for each of us to share.

    I love it here!

    -don
     
  17. TheKurdtz

    TheKurdtz Squier-holic

    Age:
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    Sep 13, 2017
    Holland
    I don't know how to read or write music. Neither do i know much theory, hell i barely know most of my chords by name.

    I'd love to become better or more knowledgeable in this stuff, but there's this mental and physical blockage because i absolutely despise the way purists (or those who think they're "better") look down on people who don't feel the need to know every little thing.
     
  18. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    71
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    What you describe is common.

    I, in my post a few 'up', mention that when I was younger I'd argue about these things.

    That was not so much with friends -- with my experiential equals -- but with teachers and the like. And in part for just the reason you mention.

    That was even more so when I was a student at SVA (The NY School of Visual Arts). The faculty there was for the most part working professionals, not full time teachers. But there were a few of the latter, and all the division heads were such.

    These, as with many (not all TG!) people that teach for a living, saw things in black and white -- as fixed truths. As rules. And I, full with not only youthful vigor but having trained myself not to be controlled or put down by those who saw themselves as my betters, would have a go with any and all who tried that game.

    Then, as now, I didn't use rudeness or insults. And certainly not physical assault. (Although if pressed in that way I never held back and never gave in.) No, I used what nature had given me. A reasonably quick wit and a font of carefully gathered knowledge.

    Could be in private. Could be in front of the entire student body. Put me down and you'd better be prepared with walls of knowledge plenty of live ammunition.

    That approach faded as (okay, I'll say it...) -- as I "discovered" the New Testament. Especially the Sermon on the Mount. The wisdom of "turning the other cheek." Of not assuming bad motive. Of not needing to be seen as "right."

    Yes, and Jan's influence.

    But I still remember the pain of being made to feel small. My back still starts to straighten. And then I remember. And smile to myself.

    Such there will always be. But why should we care? Live. Grow. Experience life on our own terms in all its glorious fullness. Let them go their own way. Smile and wish them peace. ...at a goodly distance.

    Well, that's been my take for some years, anyhow. :D

    -don
     
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  19. Bluzy

    Bluzy Squier-Meister

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    Don I love to read all of your posts. Some are just relaxing and beautiful pics and others a little more thought provoking. What’s interesting about this one is how many angles one can come at this. There can be a counter point for every point here. At any rate, thanks for your posts. This a great site for a lot of things and your posts like this make it fun to come to
     
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  20. techowiz

    techowiz Squier-Nut

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    Aug 21, 2014
    new york
    Just curious what musical "literacy" , if any, John Henschen has...He can obviously write.