Music Lessons: Blocking Your Creative Emotions, or Leading You To Excellence?

One of my sister’s kids started playing guitar and writing songs recently. My brother-in-law told her she should take some lessons with me while I was in town. But the response was something to the effect of “But all the really good musicians never took lessons, and that is how they were able to be so creative.” I have actually heard many variations of this concept throughout the years, such as “I don’t want to be good, ‘cause then I will sound too technical, and I won’t have enough emotion.” I’d like to address this issue here. Will music lessons stifle your creativity and strip you of emotion?

Let’s look at an example of what I call The Myth of the Prodigy. I once heard Eddie Van Halen say that he never took guitar lessons, and that was why he was able be so creative. This reference to some innate inner genius works wonders at creating a god like persona, and marketing departments highly encourage it, when not outright manufacturing it out of thin air. However, what Eddie fails to mention is that he took years of classical piano training as a child, and performed in many talent competitions. Additionally, his father, Jan Van Halen, was a successful sax and clarinet player, who no doubt encouraged his son, and taught him much about music during early childhood.

By the time that Eddie switched to guitar as a teen, he already had a thorough understanding of chords, scales, keys, rhythm, reading music, and many other aspects of music theory. I would definitely agree that Eddie Van Halen has developed his own unique guitar style to a very high degree, and in that sense he is an innovative genius, but his distinctive creativity emerged AFTER years of lessons and music education. Furthermore, if you trace back the marketing myth of many successful popular artists, you will often find a similar Hidden Biography.

Some musicians can go quite far without lessons, and sometimes be very creative, but sooner or later they always hit a ceiling. Without a solid background in the fundamentals of music, what often occurs as you try to be emotional and creative is that you end up stumbling over your own inabilities, and the passion cannot get out.

Creative inspiration utilizes a different part of the brain than the actual skills that are required to write and perform music well. Inspiration is something we all have or we wouldn’t be musicians at all. Skill and technique are things we need to learn and develop. And it is the balancing between the two that will make an artist or songwriter truly great.

I remember once during music college that I forced myself to completely quit thinking and analyzing songs for two months, because I had learned so much, so fast, concerning music theory and analysis, that it actually started blocking my creative flow. I had too much attention on one area of the brain. So I spent a couple months being totally creative, without any analyzing or editing what so ever, and it snapped me out of it. But after that, when I applied the knowledge I had learned in school to the editing process of my songs, I was able to improve them dramatically, and take them to a much higher level.

So if you continually attempt to discover which side of the equation is coming up short, you can then either seek more training and education, or spend more time nurturing your creative passions. Over time you can bring these two together in a beautiful musical balance. Then if you choose to create a myth about yourself as the prodigal genius, that is fine, you just need to do it after you have reached a high level of musical development for it to be an effective marketing angle, not before.

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  • Michael R. Box June 23, 2013, 9:36 am

    How classic is that statement ….. I have heard it a hundred times or more over the years of coming in contact with musicians who define themselves as being “” original creatives “” who never want to learn processes as they are formulaic & will destroy their creative edge…
    “” I never want to be commercial, man!!! That would be selling out “”
    The real truth will surely be ..
    a./ they will not be a working musician for long another calling will come along..
    b./ they will probably will not be selling out anywhere fast or soon.
    I was very lucky at 13 I discovered that quite by accident I had found 2 friends who were to give me valuable lessons & insights to their own world of songwriting which as the decades have come & gone have served me well in my own writing & of course the many other influences along the way & the constant writing & developing the craft of songwriting as both a lyric writer & a melody writer a full songwriting experience has been had..
    I have also lectured or more correctly tutored in songwriting in the past for a period of some 10 years within the adult education department at WEA in my home city..
    The point of all this is really only one thing..
    you must keep learning, testing trying out new things, methods , chord patterns , keys & you do this by learning from other people both around you & with as much as you can also by way of at least some formal education..
    The end result being a well developed & rounded , knowledgable approach to music in general & songwriting in particular.
    Before you can successfully break the rules of songwriting, it would be wise to know them & have used them extensively for many years, which by then, may have then given you the wisdom to know better..
    Thank you
    Regards to Broadstreet
    Michael R. Box
    the_australian_songwriter
    nb: I have written my own tutoring notes & taken all the things I have learnt from others over the years from every source I have managed to find & then made it mine by using it…I still do 49 years later.

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  • Rob July 7, 2013, 1:38 pm

    Awesome, well-written article and excellent comment from Michael. I’m very glad to have been referred to this site.

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