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Why Do So Many People Give Up On Music?


blog-0694089001367927304.jpgMusic is one of the most wonderful things in the world. And to be able to make music is sheer joy to many. But being a musician can be one of the toughest gigs in the world, literally.

Some informal research by one of the world's most innovative music educators has revealed that something like 9 out of 10 people who take up playing music will give it up. This makes music one of the most abandoned subjects in the world. Can you imagine any other activity that will be given up by 9 out of 10 people who take it up?

Duncan Lorien, the creator and presenter of the Understanding Music Seminar which will be coming to Auckland for the first time ever on 6-8th September 2013, before returning to Perth, Melbourne & Brisbane, thinks he has some of the answers to why so many musicians give up music.

For example, in his 3 day seminar, he covers a few of the mysteries of music such as:

  • Why is the world's most recognisable musical symbol, not a symbol at all?
  • Why do we call the lines we write music on a "staff" which simply means "stick"?
  • Why do some white notes on the keyboard have black notes between them and some not?
  • What is the point of a scale and why do so many people spend grinding hours learning to play them, when you never actually hear a scale being played in ANY piece of music?
  • Why can some people learn music by ear and others need formal training?
  • Why do all the squiggles that make up written music make sense to one person but not to another?

Duncan, who is a very successful musician himself having had two No. 1 Albums in the UK in the 80s and having worked as a producer for some of the biggest record companies in the world, spent over 20 years researching music history, teaching methods and other aspects of music which he puts into his seminar.

Music terminology or jargon itself is, he has found, one of the first reasons why musicians abandon music. As a field it has more complex symbology and terminology than almost any other subject on earth. Consider for example, that if you look for the definition of the word music in a music dictionary, which is where you would normally consider you can find it, you will discover up to 90% of music dictionaries don't even define the word music! Or consider the common musical expression of "changing key". How can the word "clef" in music be based on the Latin word for "key" when the Romans didn't even have locks and keys?

It is this complexity in music that frustrates so many musicians. Things about it just don't add up or make sense. But what tends to happen is that musicians largely blame themselves when they cannot understand something, without ever stopping to think they should be blaming the subject.

Lorien constantly reminds his seminar students that parts of music are logical and make sense and parts of music are not logical and don't make sense. The key here to recognise is that these confusing parts of music were deliberately designed NOT TO MAKE SENSE. Yes that's right, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, some obscure monk put an idea into music that was deliberately designed to make it more complex and to make people give it up! When students realise this, they can stop blaming themselves and start realising the actual source of their frustration is the subject itself!

It's not musicians who are partially crazy, it's the subject itself that is completely mad in many parts!

Once a student knows which parts of music do make sense and which parts don't, it becomes a lot more easy to study the subject properly and to start winning with it, instead of abandoning it in frustration.

This "reverse approach" to learning music, is part of the reason why Duncan's seminar is so successful worldwide. While Duncan isn't the first person to recognise that music can be a very complex and time-consuming subject to learn, his methodology is completely different. Others who have recognised this problem with music, tend to assume it is an innately complex subject and therefore try and create methods to "simplify" the teaching of it, whereas Lorien takes the opposite approach. He believes that music is innately simple and that it was MADE COMPLEX.

For example, he discovered that in ancient Greece every child who went to school could play at least 2 or 3 musical instruments by the age of 9 or 10. That's play them competently. How many schoolkids can do that today? Perhaps 1 in 100?

So Duncan's teaching methods are based on taking students through the history of music and showing them where, when and how all the COMPLEXITY GOT ADDED TO MUSIC. In fact what he is largely doing is showing that the 6 most widely held assumptions about music - namely that it is COMPLEX, SERIOUS, TIME-CONSUMING, EXPENSIVE, REQUIRES PROFESSIONAL TUITION and is therefore NOT FOR EVERYONE - are all just complete myths that have been ADDED to the subject and are not actually part of it at all.

This is why the traditional teaching methods of music are abandoned by so many people who prefer to try and teach themselves. Sure many end up being good players but most have major "gaps" in their musical understanding that end up holding them back.

It's a catch-22. The people who go through the traditional system of learning music are taught by teachers who were taught by teachers who were taught by teachers in a long line that stretches back thousands of years. Most of these teachers are simply continuing on these myths, without even realising they are doing so. And they get frustrated at why their students just "dont' get it" and end up giving up learning the subject.

Then the people who are "self-taught" often don't feel like "real musicians" because they don't know how to read music or they don't understand the theory behind what they are doing. They wish they could, but having come so far at playing they feel bad about trying to go and learn the theory in a formal course or with a teacher because it makes them feel like they are not so bright.

This is why so many experienced musicians end up at the Understanding Music Seminar because they want to fill those gaps in their musical understanding. Perhaps they know, deep down in their hearts that if they don't, then they too may become another "failed" musician or someone who just ends up abandoning their musical dreams.

Further information on Duncan's seminar and the presenter himself can be found at www.understandingmusicseminar.com.au


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It's an interesting premise that I'm not so sure I buy into completely. I am one of those self-taught musicians who felt the need to formalize my training, so I went to college, got two degrees in music, and still don't feel like I know any more than I did before I started! That didn't make me give up music though. Also, there are teaching methods such as the Suzuki Method that rely on the ear rather than written music in teaching children to play an instrument.


There definitely are two different mind-sets though when it comes to music - the self-taught and the Suzuki approach (music as sound) and the academic approach (music as notes on paper). It's a largely cultural thing too. As a graduate student I studied ethnomusicology, and those of us in that program were in almost constant conflict with the theorists, historians, and composers who insisted that somehow "their" music was on a higher plane than equally evolved music systems (such as Indian classical) that rely on improvisation rather than the written note.

There is an elitism in the classical music realm - I encountered it when my daughter was taking classical flute lessons. We were blessed that my daughter always received scholarships that paid for her lessons, but for your average kid the costs can really add up - lessons, a quality instrument, entry fees for competitions (sometimes called "festivals"), often recitals have fees as well... and if you even win one of these contests, most often the monetary prizes go to the teacher, not the student. My daughter was chosen to perform with the local Philharmonic Orchestra through their concerto competition. There was a fee to enter the competition, runners-up such as my daughter who were invited to perform in the concert had to pay a substantial fee ($400 in our case), and then parents were expected to buy tickets to see their own children perform. Imagine having a couple of kids wanting to learn violin, piano, flute... oh, and travel expenses (we had to fly more than once for my daughter to compete in these festivals) and concert clothing... There were many times when I consciously thought, this is the rich people's way of keeping classical music to themselves. No wonder kids drop out of music lessons - their parents can't afford it!

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