Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Piano vs Band

John August suggests guitar and piano for grade-schoolers. As in "piano and guitar only". In the classical-music world, learning piano first is a kind of trope. The piano is polyphonic, it's the default fundamental instrument of Western music (even though Bach and Mozart never had one, they had precursor sorts of things and wrote all kinds of music we today play on the piano.)
With the best of intentions, we’ve taught kids to be helpless cogs in a symphonic machine. Worse, we’ve created a system that pretty much guarantees most adults won’t be able to make music by themselves.
 Well, sorta. But on the other hand we've taught kids to do something together. Of course, they do a crappity job of it, but they are at least trying to play at the same time. Which is interesting.
But my main criticisms of his thesis are two:

1. that there seems to be a false dichotomy between piano or band. Which I think Mr August backs off on because he himself started on piano before moving to clarinet as a child. (If I were King I would order that each child take a piano lesson each day -- don't even make 'em practice at home, just sit and play with a teacher for an hour each day. But I wouldn't say they should do that instead of joining band.)
2. that kids will automatically learn musical theory just by playing piano as a kid. In my experience kids are able to play piano and guitar and have no idea at all how chords are constructed or how parallel movement works. In fact, as a guitar player, I deliberately took a music theory course in the 9th grade just to find out how chords are made so I didn't have to look them up in a book anymore.

So although learning at least a little piano is certainly a goode thinge, I'm not so sure it does a good job with replacing bands. I certainly enjoyed playing trumpet, and then trombone. And right, I didn't learn any music theory when doing that. But (as far as I could tell) neither did any of the kids who took piano since they were five.

But the other advantage Mr. August points out is that piano and guitar are stand alone instruments. You can play them and accompany yourself singing. Well, sure. That's true with autoharp too. It's also true with singing. The problem we have in this country is how anti-singing we are. Well, at least how anti-singing dumb white people are. But that's an issue for another post.

Mickey Hart and other dudes from The Grateful Dead did a bunch of the percussion for the score of Apocalypse Now.

Chicken systems has software that will presumably translate Gigasampler files. Apparently it doesn't work 100% though.

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