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Letting Go
By Dan Palladino


It's very easy to get caught up in the mechanics of music. While you are in student mode, you may find yourself focusing exclusively on how chords function in a certain progression, which melody notes are correct on a particular chord, or which are the correct notes to play during improvisation. Because there is such intense focus on theory, more subtle concepts such as feel, vibe and energy may temporarily fall by the wayside. This is normal, as you attempt to learn a new language.

However, keep in mind that the goal of learning theory is to save time. Imagine how long it would take to learn the simplest concepts, if you just wandered along, leaving all of your development to chance. I don't know anyone who has the luxury of wasting their time that way. Believe me, you don't want to be playing for twenty years, hit the wall and then have to go back and learn grammar.

No, you should learn the grammar early so you can forget about it later. This will free you up, so you can get down to making your music. I'm talking about arriving at the place where you throw away your desire to be your favorite artist. I'm talking about arriving at the place where you're ready to show the world who you are. Don't be afraid to take that plunge, as it's the most important step you will take as a musician.

There are many students who never feel ready to stop taking lessons. What a shame! How can you become yourself if you still need your teacher's approval? A musician's journey should include the discovery of how to learn on his own. Can you figure out the solutions to musical problems, or do you need your teacher to do it for you? Have you learned how to learn? This should be one of your long-term goals.

Of course, knowledge is a wonderful thing. If you are serious about your music, it makes sense that you would want to learn everything you can about it. But, just as knowing the mechanics of speaking German won't make you a great conversationalist, knowing the mechanics of music won't make you a great composer or player. There should come a time when you pick up your instrument and create something that interests you, without thinking about the rules. Sure, you may want to go back and analyze what you've done to see how it fits into the theoretical side of things. You may also want to use theory as a springboard to come up with something new. Just remember that knowing the theory is a means to an end--not an end in itself. Don't get so caught up in it that you can't let go.

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© 2003 Dan Palladino
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