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Learning music through readily available online resources may initially seem appealing. The internet provides a vast array of content, complete with detailed visuals and extensive discussions.

However, drawbacks soon emerge. Much of this material lacks structure, forcing learners to sift through it in search of relevant lessons. Moreover, the overly cerebral approach inundates students with information, often overwhelming them. While some argue for independent digestion and application of this content, many learners passively consume it, clicking from one video to the next without actually engaging with their instrument.

This situation underscores a dilemma of the digital age: the ability to instantly access limitless information raises questions about the true value of learning. Is it more beneficial to master a few songs thoroughly each week or to skim through chord changes for thousands of songs?

Indeed, while music theory and harmonic analysis are important tools, making music primarily relies on experience—developing a secure connection between listening, hearing, and translating ideas into physical movements.

Learning to play music involves two fundamental aspects:

1) Physical Connection: Building a natural and dependable relationship with the instrument. Traditionally, this connection is cultivated through structured practice materials such as etudes and exercises. The key is finding a balance between absorbing specific information and trusting one's intuitive feel for what is right and effortless for the body.

2) Musical Content: Beyond physical mastery, musicians need to generate musical ideas. Written music provides notation for these ideas, but it's up to the player to understand them musically and perform them convincingly. Popular music often demands additional skills like playing by ear, memorising, improvising, and creating original parts—skills historically developed through empirical learning or oral traditions, a path shared by much non-Western music.

Historically, there has been a divide between musicians trained through these different methods. However, some artists have successfully integrated both approaches, excelling in diverse musical contexts.

Playing by ear is a critical skill for any musician. While classically trained performers excel with written scores, they may lack proficiency in this area. Visionaries like Kodály, Orff, and Suzuki recognised its importance, yet its widespread adoption remains incomplete.

The challenge lies not in musical imagination—many can spontaneously create melodies and harmonies—but in developing an accurate ear-hand coordination. Neglecting this foundational skill limits musical expression.

The solution is clear: prioritise ear-playing and use the voice as a direct bridge between external music and the inner musician. A method focusing on ear-hand coordination ensures a seamless flow of musical expression.

By integrating structured practice with intuitive musical understanding and ear-hand coordination, musicians can navigate the complexities of learning music in the digital age more effectively.

Hein Van de Geyn, April 2024

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