Learning Music – Day 9

November 1st, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

I’ve been having a wonderful time with my 30-day trial of learning music. Here’s a quick update to share how it’s going.

First, I’m truly grateful for the flow of support and encouragement that’s been coming my way, especially from experienced musicians. Several people have offered to tutor or help me in various ways, and I’m taking a few of them up on those offers.

The confusing part is that I don’t yet know enough about music to discern what would be wise to learn and in what order, so I’m just going with whatever seems interesting in the moment. That’s working fine so far, and I’m learning something new every day. I’m also raising my awareness of what I don’t comprehend yet, which is helping me figure out what I may wish to study down the road.

While I’ve often written about using 30-day trials for installing new habits, I’m doing this trial to explore and learn, not to condition a new habit. This approach has been very helpful. There’s a lot about music that still confuses me, but I don’t find it frustrating. It’s an adventurous sort of confusion. I feel a bit like an inquisitive toddler: What’s this? What can you do with that? Show me how this part works!

My initial plan was to spend 1-2 hours per day learning music. In practice I’ve been averaging more than that. One day last week I put in 8+ hours, and I probably invested a good 4 hours yesterday.

With this trial I’m not going to fuss over the time investment since it hasn’t been difficult to get myself to take action. I’m in a good flow right now, my motivation to learn remains his, my environment has been extremely supportive, and I have plenty of social accountability to keep going. As I do with my writing, I’ll stick with this flow of inspiration however it shows up.

Learning in Public

When some people want to develop new skills, they often do so quietly at first, exploring new interests in private without telling many people. This is especially common if they feel others might judge them.

I recommend the opposite approach, as I mentioned in Broadcast Your Desires. When you open up and tell the whole world your intention as if it’s the greatest idea you’ve ever had in your life, a few things will typically happen.

First, many people won’t care one way or another. But you’ll have made those people aware of your interests, and if they stumble upon something that may help you (coincidentally or synchronistically), they may share it with you. These leads can be helpful, so why not invite them?

Some examples include:

  • By the way, just thought I’d mention that the music store near your house is having a big sale this weekend.
  • By the way, we have an old keyboard we don’t need. It’s not the greatest, but it works. You can have it for free if you want it.
  • By the way, my aunt is a music teacher and says she’d be happy to give you a free lesson.

If you keep quiet, you won’t receive these leads. By broadcasting your desires openly, you create new pathways for information and opportunities to flow to you.

Secondly, some people may respond negatively to your new pursuit. That’s also fine. Just don’t give your power away. Hold your ground with such people. They may try to talk you out of it, but if it’s something you want, don’t let them. I like to regard negative feedback as a test to see if I’m really serious. The more doubtful I am about a particular decision, the more resistance shows up in the form of people telling me I’m making a mistake.

Some negative resistance can be useful. It can strengthen your resolve and help you clarify whether you really want what you claim to want. When you finally commit, resistance greatly diminishes. Often it stops showing up. Other people can tell you’re committed, so they don’t bother trying to derail you since they know they don’t stand a chance. Even when some resistance does show up, it’s no match for your iron resolve, so it just bounces off you.

If you worry that you’re making a mistake, the world will reflect that worry back to you. If you stop second guessing yourself and direct the full force of your power in the direction of your desires, that resistance dries up.

Lastly, some people will actively support you in your new direction. Like attracts like. When you broadcast your desires, you’ll come into resonance with powerful new vibes that will attract different people to you. This can happen so quickly that it will make your head spin. Lately it seems like almost everyone I connect with now is a musician of some sort. :)

Try not to resist these social shifts when they show up. They’re supposed to happen. You’re not going to dive into some new venture and not see shifts in your social circle. Some shifting is inevitable. Embrace that dynamic. Let the naysayers complain themselves right out of your reality. Let the supportive people move closer to you. You’ll be much happier if you relax and flow with these shifts. Don’t get clingy with the past, and don’t try to force anyone to approve of your new direction if they seem resistant.

If you’re unwilling to broadcast your new intention shamelessly and publicly, how strong is your intention anyway? Your reality responds to your entire vibe, not just one selected aspect of it. If you’re holding back, your vibe is corrupted by inner resistance, fear, timidity, etc. What the universe will reflect back to you will be just as stunted.

Interestingly, with this music trial I haven’t seen much, if any, resistance. Some people are neutral about it of course, but I haven’t seen anyone screaming “No, you idiot! Don’t do that!” That’s a refreshing change. Perhaps more resistance will show up when 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job gets put to music. ;)

We could say this isn’t a particularly contentious trial, but if some resistance does show up, I probably wouldn’t notice it. My energy is too focused on moving forward, and I’m having way too much fun on this path, especially when it comes to connecting with musicians.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence

When I began this trial, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. There was a lot about music that I wasn’t even aware of. Now I’m gradually gaining awareness of what I don’t know. That’s a positive step forward.

This increase in awareness is helping me figure out what I want to learn. As I see it, there are two big pieces I’d like to understand better.

The first element is learning how to actually write a very basic musical piece, something that could be played with a single instrument like keyboards or a guitar, with or without vocals. I can play a simple song like Mary Had a Little Lamb, but I don’t yet know how to put notes in a sequence together to create something original that sounds good.

Some musicians suggest that I should start by studying music theory. Others advise me not to bother with theory right now — just dive in and try to play something, and I’ll learn what works through trial and error. I suspect that both approaches could work. I don’t know enough to predict which approach will work best for me, so I’m actually going to explore both paths simultaneously… at least till I can gain a better sense of where each path might lead.

The major goal in this area, which may take longer than this trial, would be to create an original composition on my own. It doesn’t have to be stunning, but I’d love to be able to create and play one basic song from beginning to end, most likely with a keyboard.

The second element I’d like to learn is how to construct compositions with many different layers, especially in the genre of electronic music. I’m gradually getting a sense of the different pieces of a composition, but I don’t know how to do very much yet when it comes to creating interesting arrangements.

A major achievement in this area would be if I could learn how to engineer something similar the songs on Depeche Mode’s Violator album, which is more than 20 years old. I’ve heard that album many times and listened to it again this morning, but this time I heard the songs with fresh ears. I noticed details I hadn’t paid attention to before. I was struck by what masterpieces of composition some of those songs are — songs like Personal Jesus, Halo, Enjoy the Silence, and Policy of Truth. They’re just so rich and complex. If I could someday learn how to create pieces like these, even if they don’t sound nearly as professional, that would be amazing.

For a modest step in this direction, I’d be delighted if I could figure out how to engineer much simpler songs like Depeche Mode’s See You or Just Can’t Get Enough. I think I would learn a lot from studying them in more depth. What would it take to learn how to create something with similar structural elements. Those songs aren’t particularly complicated by today’s standards, and surely the technology and software of today is far more capable than what was available 30+ years ago. I don’t know how long it would take me to achieve such a goal, but at least this gives me something to work towards.

I know there’s a major skill component when it comes to making music that sounds good, but at this point I’m more interested in the how-to aspects. There’s so much I don’t even know how to do yet. I can’t concern myself with trying to do things at high quality when I don’t even know how to do them poorly.

If I could learn enough to make a piss-poor version of a song similar to Just Can’t Get Enough, then perhaps I could eventually figure out how to create a piss-poor version of something like Enjoy the Silence. And then once I’ve figured that out, I can work on getting good.

So far I’ve been working solely in GarageBand on my Mac, and much of my time has been devoted to learning the software. I also bought an inexpensive Akai MIDI controller, based on some musicians’ recommendations. It’s about the size of my laptop’s keyboard and connects to my Mac via USB. The Akai gives me a compact interface for inputting some notes and tweaking parameters. It only arrived yesterday, so I haven’t had much time to play with it yet, but it’s another step ahead. I can always get something bigger and more robust down the road, but for now simplicity is good.

My daughter also graciously loaned me her 61-key synth keyboard. It has no external outputs, but we played around with it together on the weekend. She’s good at playing by ear and enjoyed the challenge of deciphering some early Depeche Mode songs like Photographic, Strangelove, and Never Let Me Down Again.

Having Fun as a Newbie

Several people have asked if I’d be willing to share some of my early music creations as I go through this trial. Sure, that sounds like a nice idea, especially if it helps or inspires others who are interested in learning music as well.

A few people suggested that I use SoundCloud, which is a popular music-sharing site. I’ve never used it before, but apparently it’s similar to YouTube, except that on SoundCloud people share audio instead of video. You can play the audio through your browser, and it works on mobile devices too. You can also comment on the pieces, although I think you need to have a free account there to do that.

I set up a SoundCloud account yesterday and posted a couple of clips so far, both of which I created in GarageBand. You can find them on my SoundCloud page here: soundcloud.com/stevepavlina.

The 12-second piece is just me messing around with loops in GarageBand. I wasn’t trying to compose anything musical. I did this mainly to learn the software and to figure out how to export an MP3. So be warned it’s pretty hideous! Hope you like the Brontosaurus wail at the beginning. :)

The 2-minute piece is something I created yesterday, also using GarageBand loops. This was another learning experiment, but it was also my first attempt to create something that sounded like actual music. It’s pretty basic, and there are only 5 tracks, but I learned a lot by creating it. It took me about 2 hours to make it: about 45 minutes to get the basic structure going, plus 75 minutes of tweaking. I probably could have created this in half the time if I was more skilled in using GarageBand.

I really enjoyed making this second piece. I have no education in musical theory or composition, so I just picked some loops and arranged them in sequences that sounded moderately interesting. I also learned how to do fades with the surf sounds at the beginning and end of the song.

Since SoundCloud will host up to 2 hours of audio for free, I can use it to post more clips as I go along. Just don’t expect anything on a regular schedule.

I’ve already received some encouraging feedback and helpful suggestions from musically experienced people on what I can do to improve my next attempt.

Dive In and Play

I know I have a lot to learn about music, and I’m glad I’m finally taking action on this. I’m approaching this trial as a form of play, so there’s really no way to fail.

Based on where I was when I began this trial, I feel I’ve already made tremendous progress. In a little over a week, I learned to use GarageBand well enough to create a short piece of music. I’ve never done anything like that before. So I’m celebrating these little achievements. :)

Update: I made a couple more songs today. You can listen to the latest one here:

Wanderlust – Enhanced by Steve Pavlina


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