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On Learning Music

10/14/2013

I love how learning a piece of music feels like a series of slow surprises. The song sneaks up on you. Even when your fingers are clumsy at the start, the song plays in your head on a patient loop, stopping when you make a mistake, waiting a half-phrase ahead. Then, slowly, the sound in the air begins to match this headsong, in small bursts of discovery as the sounds begin to connect note by note. It’s not a conscious act of memory – it feels more like something natural is settling incrementally into place, like the musician is less a player of melody than a witness to its being played. And when enough of these piecemeal epiphanies have come together, you realize all of a sudden that the song in your head and the sound coming from the instrument have become immiscible – the thought, the desire to express the melody leads, instinctively, to fingers contracting just so and the voice of the music bursting forth. The best part is that you try and think back and remember – when did I learn how to play this? But you can’t – as far as you know, it’s always been there.

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