Language and Music

“It takes a lifetime to learn shakuhachi. The earlier you start, the longer it takes.”
(Japanese saying quoted by Zac Zinger on Adam Neely’s podcast. The shakuhachi is a bamboo flute.)

I learned Spanish because I had to. From puberty forward it kept calling and I spent thousands of hours at it. It was a dementedly persistent grappling for the mechanics and spirit of the language inflamed by lust to inhabit a different culture from mine.

When it came to teaching Spanish, however, I lacked the requisite charisma and phlogiston. The prescribed pedagogy said to avoid the stultification inflicted by conjugation and descriptive grammar. Apply instead dynamic improvisation, role playing, spontaneous invention of phrase-eliciting scenarios, fomentation of rich classroom interactions, targeted motivational cultural contextualization, and other strategies conducive to inciting a desire to acquire practical fluency within the confines of a compressed timeframe and mandated curriculum of core competencies exclusive of the foreign language elective.

A comparable evasiveness infiltrates guitar manuals and instructional videos; they, too, try to shorten the path. They dwell on finger patterns, eliding the complex business of grasping the musical structures and relationships behind those patterns.

In my own guitar peregrination I’ve doubled back to acquire more of the rules and grammar of music: Where are all the B-flats on the neck? Which notes of a chord is each finger playing wherever the chord is fretted? This sterner, more exacting cerebration applied to practice gets me further than tourist riffs and licks.

A chord properly diagrammed has a compressed power akin to that of a verb paradigm or math formula or elegant algorithm.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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