Music Teacher's Helper Blog

There is an idea that some musicians share that the instrument a musician plays is related to the player’s personality and attitude, or can even change it transforming the person just like a superhero changes when they put ther suits on. It changes depending on the person but it can go one way or the other. The fact is that there is a connection between playing an instrument and one’s personality.

From the composer’s point of view, the music that is being made is very different depending on the base instrument for the idea, for example, if you begin to play something from scratch with a violin, it will definitely convey very different feelings than if it was played with a piano.

From Guitar to Piano

Alex Turner playing the piano

Many musicians that begin with one instrument and then learn another one feel this difference. One example in modern rock is with Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, who has composed his song singing with a guitar, but in their most recent album, he decided to go with a piano as the main instrument to compose the songs. He describes it as

“The guitar had lost its ability to give me ideas. Every time I sat with a guitar I was suspicious of where it was gonna go. I had a pretty good idea of what I might be which is completely contrary to what I felt when I sat at the piano.”

In an interview with Radio X’s John Kennedy Alex Turner talks about how picking up an instrument makes him become a certain character and how the piano is a different “hat” than the guitar, he says: “It is what they describe in dramatics as the mantle of the expert”. He says that he remembers when he first picked up the guitar, he knew what sort of role he would play even before actually playing the instrument, so in a way the instrument determined a lot of what he as a musician was going to be eventually.

Reveal a New You

It may seem like it doesn’t really matter but it actually makes sense. But not as obvious as it may seem. If the general idea of music is to communicate feelings to the people who listen, you need to find an instrument that understands you, what this means is that it is in sync with what you want to say, this doesn’t mean the instrument you play is determined by your personality, what it means is that you choose a type of language that suits your body and mind in a way that you can be who you want to be.

This is actually a rather beautiful idea, not only because it pushes you to do new things, but because an instrument represents the greek notion of “aletheia” which means “uncover” “to reveal” and that is what the instrument does, it doesn’t change you, it reveals a part of you through music.

In an article by Jesse Scheinin, from bayareaparent.com these is an example of this:

A lot of the musicians I know had similar experiences. Theo Meneau, a trumpet player from Marin, says that these programs provided him with a “social outlet that was missing in the school system.”

Theo was initially drawn to the flute, which was appropriate since he is a soft-spoken guy. But playing the loud, bright trumpet has made him more confident and “able to be myself,” he says, even when his surroundings aren’t inherently comfortable.

Aspiring musicians have to take their time and find the instrument that is able to say what they want to say, and be who they want to be, and no teacher can know that, it’s a very personal thing that comes from trial, error, and dedication, but most of all, it’s a very natural thing.

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There has been a great amount of progress in terms of artificial inteligence (A.I.) in the last ten years, and it’s begining to get into the realm of music in several ways, and as we get more deeply involved in new technologies and new ways to create, it’s a good idea to think about the posibilities it can offer, the diferences between human technique and an artificial one, and what could be the limits?

It’s no secret that the limits of A.I. are yet to be discovered, however one of the most argued concepts is the fact that artificial intelegence could go beyond human capabilities, and this may already be true in a sense.

A.I. Plays What You Can’t

When it comes to music, practice can get you very far but there are some limitations to the human body that we as musicians simply cannot overcome. Of course the only way to know about these “impossible” feats was to test it through A.I.

Now even though we know there are some things that can be played, it’s not something that our hands are able to do. But there are two things that can be taken from this proof. First is the fact that complicated or hard things to play are not necessarily good, and on the other hand the way a musicians plays it’s directly connected to the way a musicians creates.

This sort of connection is very blurred when it comes to A.I. There have been many attempts to replicate the sort of magic musicians use when they make good music, and there hasn’t been any luck, while it is music, it’s not easy at all on the ears.

So can A.I. today still break some boundaries and help musicians explore new grounds in music? yes.

A.I. Lacks Someting

For the time being, A.I. can’t compose hit songs but they can teach us something about the potencial musical compositions.

Claire Evans from the band called YACHT, talked in an interview about how the band used A.I. in the making of their record. They made a machine learn their songs which resulted in strange changes that were hard to play but had interesting ideas. Evans said:

“AI forced us to come up against patterns that have no relationship to comfort. It gave us the skills to break out of our own habits,”

Live Coding

A.I.

Another interesting new way to approach to music is programming, which has recently come in the form of live coding.

Live coding is a type of performance art in which the performer creates music by programming and reprogramming a synthesizer as the composition plays. The synthesizer code is typically projected onto walls or screens for the audience to inspect as they listen to the unfolding sound. Live coding events are sometimes known as algoraves, and at these events it’s common to see visualizations of the evolving music projected alongside the code. Often, these visualizations are created by a second performer manipulating graphics software in tandem with the live coder.

Erica Snyder

It’s a way to make music without playing instruments or even using a digital music instruments or samples, through coding the music and the graphics come to be, and that is fascinating.

Renick Bell’s performance was part of Algorithmic Art Assembly, a recent two-day festival in San Francisco dedicated to algorithmic music and art. The afternoons were filled with talks and demonstrations; the nights were filled with music.

Michael Calore, wired.com

Some of the talks were heavy on mathematics and computer science—music code on the screen is one thing, but Euclidean formulas are something else—but all of them were informative. Adam Florin, creator of the algorithmic audio plug-in Patter, traced the history of generative music from the middle ages, through John Cage and Iannis Xenakis in the mid-20th century, up to the software-dominated present. Musician Jules Litman-Cleper outlined the parallels between the patterns we see in nature and the patterns exhibited by computer systems. Producer Mark Fell, who along with artists like Oval released some pioneering algorithmic dance music in the 1990s, was brought on stage for a Q&A session.

Michael Calore, wired.com

Embracing A.I. and computers means understanding how connected they really are to what makes us human, in this case, art and music.

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We know why we listen to music right? because it gives us pleasure, whether it is by making us feel happy, energetic or even help us through tough times while embracing feelings of sadness and nostalgia. We do not however, think about why music is so important to us and has been for so many centuries. It could be just about pleasure, but there must be something else to it, like healthy reactions or even phisiological reactions.

In order to analyse this aspect of music, it will be necessary to go back to the origins of music to see why this beautiful art came to be.

Theories of Music Functions

According to an article by “Frontiers in Psychology” there are a few different approaches to the function of music.

Some of the first proposals were whether or not music had an evolutionary function. On the evolutionary side of things:

Evolutionary discussions of music can already be found in the writings of Darwin. Darwin discussed some possibilities but felt there was no satisfactory solution to music’s origins (Darwin, 1871, 1872). His intellectual heirs have been less cautious. Miller (2000), for instance, has argued that music making is a reasonable index of biological fitness, and so a manifestation of sexual selection—analogous to the peacock’s tail. Anyone who can afford the biological luxury of making music must be strong and healthy. Thus, music would offer an honest social signal of physiological fitness.

It’s a bit strange to think of music as a “biological luxury” however it is one of the proposals, and if you see it through the evolutionary theory it kind of makes sense.

However there are many other factors in this luxury including pleasure, music as a way to help with social conventions, or even as a way to aliviate stress and anxiety.

Non evolutionary:

Many scholars have steered clear of evolutionary speculation about music, and have instead focused on the ways in which people use music in their everyday lives today. A prominent approach is the “uses-and-gratifications” approach (e.g., Arnett, 1995). This approach focuses on the needs and concerns of the listeners and tries to explain how people actively select and use media such as music to serve these needs and concerns. Arnett (1995) provides a list of potential uses of music such as entertainment, identity formation, sensation seeking, or culture identification.

A non evolutionary approach gets closer to the popular opinion on the function of music, which ranges from culture identity, entertainment to emotions.

To summarize, evolutionary theories on the function of music leans towards the body and its reactions, and non evolutionary theories are more about the psychology behind it and more importantly cultural meaning.

The Function of Music Today

Some of the most well known facts about music today are:

Happiness and Creativity

According to a study by the journal Nature and led by Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of the book “This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession,” music activates the frontal lobe of the brain, thus releasing dopamine in the same way a drug would. More importantly, this whole process enhances abstract processing power, which means that the brain works better creating and solving problems.

Therapeutic Effects

Several studies have shown that music helps with several conditions including Alzehimer’s and Parkinson’s.

According to pianist Robert Jourdain in the book “Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination,” it helps because it “relaxes the cerebral flow(…)stimulating and coordinating the activities of the brain.”

“Music lifts us from our frozen mental habits and makes our minds move in ways they ordinarily cannot”. And according to Jourdain, this works with everyone.

Going back to both the evolutionary theories, in a way both were right, however, now we have the tools to get more detailed results through experiments.

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