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Ideas on Learning

Life before Notation and Smartphones

A question that I have been asked many times -- “How do your students play all of those songs without music?” What folks are actually asking is how do fiddlers learn and play so much music without written notation.

It is hard to imagine that there was a time when people did not use notation to make music.

It is similar to imagining life before smartphones or computers. How do people keep track of their calendar? Communicate with each other? Access information quickly?

Computer technology is so ubiquitous that it is not unusual to see very young children with phones in their hands playing games, drawing, designing, listening, watching and communicating.

Notation is a technology that has made an impact on music on a scale similar to the smartphone. But, as you'll likely agree, technological advancements always have a cost.

Both my children (in their 20's) say that their peer group are all determined to make technology less present in their children’s lives. Their generation seem to love the entertainment and easy communication technology has provided, but they want to avoid the problems they have seen first-hand -- isolation, lack of focus, attention span reduction...

That appreciation-yet-concern of technology rings true for me. Notation has allowed for music that I love. But I have experienced how a reliance and overuse of notation creates unintended consequences for young musicians -- the most important being a fear or inability to engage in any music-making that doesn't use notation.

My goal is to find the perfect balance in teaching that utilizes notation as a tool in the artistic and social aspects of music-making without any of the problematic side effects.


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