Monday, September 9, 2013

“Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly” Dalai Lama

I knew some young musicians who refused to be influenced by other people's music and musical opinions. They were so dedicated to this course that they stopped listening to recordings, stopped going to see other bands, and refused to take lessons or study music. Their plan worked: They remained uninfluenced by any music that had gone before. They also remained un-enriched, uneducated, unrepentant and, ultimately, unoriginal.

After a couple of years of isolated practice, they developed a banal style that hinted at musical trends that had long since died out or been abandoned. True, they had avoided outside influences, but they had also avoided knowledge, history, the example of great players, the technical advantages taught by teachers, and more. They also missed out on the mistakes and blind alleys of the past and ended up needlessly stumbling through them on their own.

Imagine how different this group's end result might have been had they been aware of what had already been tried? If they’d become technically accomplished on their instruments? If they’d listened to both past and present music to broaden their scope?
We all want to be unique, to develop our own style. But what's the point if that style is based on ignorance and lack of competence. It's fine to go against the current, but how can you possibly do that if you don't know which way the current is flowing. As the Dalai Lama points out, you can't very well bend or break the rules if you don't know what the rules are. Nor can you develop an original style when you don't know what styles are already out there.

There's a wonderful saying that you might have heard: Good musicians borrow; great musicians steal. The more material you ‘lift’ from other sources, the more you make it your own. In time it will all meld together to become ‘you’. In this case, more really is better. And you’ll also have a better idea of what rules you can break, and how to break them.
-rb

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