Challenges Equal Learning Opportunities

Several weeks ago I began an online music theory course called Art of Composing. It’s taken me a little time to get back to an exercise where I’m required to write 5 musical ‘periods’. I gotta say- I can usually write music in my sleep, but consciously incorporating traditional music theory rules is a whole other story. It took me about 2 hours to write the following passage:

When I was writing out the first few notes of the period, I realized I was going down a less than ideal road with the theory. One of the general rules of the 8-bar musical period is that the first four bars resolve in a weak cadence, and the last four resolve in a strong cadence. I do that properly, but the effect of the cadences is much weaker because there’s so much harmonic movement going on in each of the preceding bars. (I visit three different chords in the first bar!)

I still have three more periods left to write, so next time I will focus on keeping the chord changes much more sparse, so those cadences have more power. Like I said, I knew it was going to be an issue right off, but I elected to just ‘go with it’ and let it be a learning experience.

As the novelty of these exercises is wearing off, and it’s starting to become work, I’m realizing a few things. #1 Learning new things is frustrating.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s very rare that I ever need to read or write music notation. So added to the fact I’m trying to learn the theory, I’m also trying to get comfortable with reading and writing at the same time. So that’s slowing me down quite a bit. The good news is: I’m quickly getting better at reading and writing music notation!

Another thing slowing me down is that I don’t have great keyboarding skills. When I was imagining this blog post, I wanted to include a sound file of my piece so you could hear it, which I did with the first piece I wrote. (I’ve been using my little AKAI keyboard to trigger a piano sound in Garageband). But I can’t play this piece in real-time, even at a slower tempo (105 BPM). So I’m going to have to practice it a bit before I can record and share it.

It’s all good stuff. I’m learning new skills and there’s no way they can’t have a positive effect on the music that I create going forward. But it is fucking frustrating! Music is something I consider myself to be pretty good at. I feel like I’ve gotten into some kind of accident and am having to learn how to walk all over again.

As far as Art of Composing, there are three major sections to the course. The first section is free and there are 10 lessons in it. I’m only on lesson three of the ten! The following two big sections require a paid membership. Ideally, I’ll keep up with this and dedicate more time and energy to the whole process. I am very excited to keep going and write longer pieces in future courses (sonatas then… symphonies?) Obviously I’m at the start of a very long road, but it’s great because I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely interested in learning something new.