Are we teaching music correctly?


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LIAM GLENNON

The Mirror

How does America teach music?

Most people’s first encounter with learning music is in elementary school. They start by learning basic rhythms, a recorder, and solfège if they’re lucky.

But what if the correct way to learn music isn’t to be taught it, but to learn it like a first language? This is what Victor Wooten, a five-time Grammy-winning musician and educator, tried to convey in his 2013 TED Talk: Music as a Language.

“I was born into a band,” Wooten said.

When Wooten was born, all four of his older brothers already playing music. They also knew they needed a bass player in the family band. The brothers first taught Wooten music by playing it around him.

“From my earliest age that I can remember … my brothers would set up [their instruments], and I can remember seeing a plastic stool, with a little plastic toy Mickey Mouse wind-up guitar laying on top of it.… From the time I was old enough to hold an instrument, they gave me something to hold, just for the sake of it,”

Wooten brought the context of language into learning music.  He equated his learning of music to how he learned his first language, English.

“You weren’t taught your first language, people just spoke to you. And the best part about it was that you were allowed to speak back,” Wooten said. “Beginner musicians aren’t allowed to play with superiors. They’re stuck in their group. But to use a musical term, in language you’re jamming with professionals all the time.”

One of the biggest advantages of learning this way is the player never loses their voice.

“Nobody tells you what you have to say, you’re not made to sit in a corner and practice,”

He believes that this is the way music should be taught. Because it lets the player keep their freedom and their voice.

“It’s important that they remain free.”