What about perfect pitch – and aren’t most people tone deaf?
Aural training just makes you good at aural tests, it doesn’t make you fluent. Intervals, chords, scales, time signatures, note values etc. – these are all elements that the brain processes far too slowly for musical fluency. This training teaches you tonal and rhythmic elements that are instantly recognisable and which you can use to express yourself effortlessly.
The truth is, we all have perfect pitch. Yes, you read that right! Unless you are one of the tiny percentage of people who suffer from genuine tone-deafness – a rare condition – you have pretty good tonal memory. Studies show that when we recall music we know – a favourite performance of a song or piece of music – we hear it playing in our heads in the right key, not the wrong one. Absolute pitch is of little importance anyway, it is a sense of tonal relationships or a map of tonality that we must develop.
The typical karaoke approach to understanding music needs to be replaced. Instead of being familiar with certain songs or pieces, we can instead learn to tag tonal or harmonic elements that are used in all music. “Tag” means know and love deeply as meaningful musical elements that make sense – not only as sounds but also as physical, spatial structures within a clear map of our instrument, in this case the keyboard. We must also learn to tag rhythmic elements. Oddly, people rarely see their poor rhythmic awareness as an issue. This common negligence will block fluency. Tonal fluency is not possible without being equally fluent in the language of rhythm. So rhythm training forms a major part of the work you do on this training.
We all have natural, unconscious tonal sense!
Everyone has perfect pitch – we imagine familiar music and hear it in the right key, not the wrong one!
We all grasp rhythmic and tonal patterns and relationships intuitively, otherwise when we heard new music, it would make no sense.
There are a very small number of people who can improvise or play by ear with varying degrees of fluency without knowing how they do it. This extremely rare talent is not something most people can ever aspire to. Unfortunately, we tend to revere such dark talents in our culture and generate a disempowering mystique around fluent musical skills, which creates the myth that rare, mysterious and very special talents are necessary for musical fluency. However, it is much better if our musical fluency is based on principles that we understand clearly and consciously: rather than relying on blind confidence, we can have real trust in our skills, and keep progressing along a path of lifelong learning, always refining and improving them.
It’s passive playing that makes most people’s playing stiff and inexpressive, not lack of talent
This is the sad truth for the vast majority of people. And the belief that the problem is lack of talent is only made worse when people encounter another rare dark talent – the ability to play with musical flair, even when there is no genuinely fluent expression. The art of mimicry is a fascinating knack that a few people possess. This small minority can learn music in the conventional theory/technique-based way using repetitive rehearsing practice that generates muscle memory, and sound pretty good. This simply does not work for most people, whose playing remains clumsy or musically flat no matter how hard they try to make their playing sound expressive. But with a fluent grasp of musical language, anyone who loves music can play with flexibility, expressiveness and natural feeling from within.
Musical fluency – an advanced skill or basic empowerment?
Fluency can work at a very simple level. You can express yourself with fluency using just a few musical elements. This training opens or unblocks a path that could lead to virtuoso skills, if you put in the necessary hours. And when you have completed all the steps, you will have some pretty advanced abilities. But understand that fluency in music is like fluency in language. It’s a basic skill. Being able to speak, read and write using verbal language does not in itself make you a great poet or orator. Whether you become a great artist depends on your sensitivity and passion for music. But sadly, so many people who just want to enjoy expressing themselves musically – at whatever level – feel shut out because they approach making music as an executive skill rather than a fluent expressive one. This training helps people find their fluent musical skills and is therefore basic musical empowerment.
Focus and let go!
The main skills that you must work on are moment-by-moment focus and the art of letting go of all self-consciousness and critical thinking in order to simply feel the music deeply. These two ordinary skills working together in unified tandem are almost like superpowers. Harnessing them requires practising lots with the playfulness and absorption of a child.