I have often had this experience with some of my students; they practice patterns, a study, an exercise or tune, and they get stuck at some point and can’t seem to understand why they can’t get further. They tell me,
“I’ve practiced it 100 times, but I can’t seem to get it into my head”.
I ask them; “What do you mean, get it into your head?”
They respond; “Yeah, I don’t seem to understand what going on here!”
I ask, “Do you hear what you’re playing? If you could hear it, then you can play it.”
The German language has another name for Music. It is also called “Tonkunst” – literally meaning “Sound Art”.
I explain to these students that this indicates that it, Music, has to be perceived through the ears, not the eyes, as it is the case in Visual Art, (painting, sculpture, etc.) nor conscious thinking (Literary Art).
The ears have a way of “understanding” what the eye or intellect do not. You may know the situation, something looks totally illogical on paper - “wrong” notes used int he melody that don’t fit to a chord, or chord structures that you can’t imagine should sound any good – but upon hearing what’s on paper, your eyes tell you that not only does it sound good, but maybe it is the most logical choice to notes or chord. Yes, your brain can deceive you.
Your eyes can deceive you as well.
My favorite hobby is the Martial Art of Wing Chun. In Wing Chun, there are exercises or drills called Chi Sao or “sticky hands”. They are exercises to heighten your sense of touch. Why? Because in a real situation, when you may be attacked, relying on your eyesight alone can be too slow or deceptive. The exercises help you “read” an opponents movements in order to predict how and where he will move next.
Maybe that’s why there’s so much concentration on ear-training in music? Definitely!
Is that the reason why I concentrate on developing melodic / motivic skills rather than relying on chord/scale theories for improvisation? Absolutely.
The Ear Rules!
Everything stands and falls according to what the ears dictate to us. If it looks good on paper and sounds terrible – it’s terrible!
Of course, the verdict is always subjective in nature, and that’s ok. Your ears can only judge based on what it knows – it’s experiences - your musical experience. Heighten your musical experience / awareness and you become a better judge of your experiences and a better performer.
As Thelonius Monk developed his playing and compositional style, to many it sounded he was constantly playing wrong notes. Yet, as he continued to play with the conviction that what he heard was correct and valid, others too, became convinced of his message and music.
Today, most of these sounds are no longer foreign (“dissonant”) to us and we consider them “consonant”.
Heighten your ears, your hearing and heighten your perception.