While many musicians learn from schools and academies, others learn from private teachers and through one-to-one lessons. But with all the different modes of education, teaching, and transmission of knowledge, there is a constant teacher, in common to all; the composers, both dead and alive, who hide behind the scores. There is certainly a point and a strong interest in academies and conservatories – including providing a suitable context and environment for developing one’s musicianship —, but the essence of learning music is always the same; the study of the ones that came before.
One can choose his personal private masters and teachers, and when they are luckily still alive, one should do his best to get closer to them. But in the end, the scores hold all the secrets, if one pays close enough attention to them. Telemann, Elgar, Villa-Lobos, Schoenberg, Takemitsu, and more recently Zimmer or Elfman, all fully or partially autodidacts, would not have gotten to their relevant stages of excellence without a precise reading of the scores that preceded theirs.
Music can be taught orally or in the form of writing. Traditionally, some genres of music have been in favour of one medium over the other. For instance, classical music is often taught through the study of scores and theory books, while folk and jazz music lies on an aural tradition. With modern recordings, and through the act of transcription, one can learn with the masters as if one were next to them, and some of the best musicians have developed their own musical personalities through intense and repetitive analysing of their favourite records.
In a recent interview with Rick Beato, Sting and Dominic Miller both explained how they study Bach on a daily basis and how they consider him their own private teacher. Sting, who is himself well-known for being a popular artist which has managed to bring some novelty and intellect to the genre, is a fully self-taught artist, who has learned from the greats by reading and listening, and of course, rehearsing and performing, a lot! His own style has been developed by learning the songbooks of jazz and extracting the knowledge out of it. Later in some of his music, it is the influence of modern composers such as Prokofiev which impresses the most.
The Sting Interview
Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijé/Romance
In a modern context, the beauty of learning through scores resides in the fact that even a singular reading, with no instrument, but simply the music playing back, is enough to unfold many of the secrets of the composer and one can develop his own style by simply observing and understanding the music intentions of the composers.
The act of copying too, just like a painter does, is another route toward understanding the art. Like an archaeologist, it is through the most rewarding act of analysing and excruciating the details hidden in the music staves. And then it is all a matter of integrating, whether in composing or improvising. It is also the most cost-effective way… And gives a chance to everyone to access the secrets of what one might call musical genius!
As in many art forms, the answers and the secrets to the process of creation are in the artwork itself; one needs to simply know how and where to look. The beauty and power of scores and sheet music.
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