Improvising & songwriting has been a large part of the way I teach music since I began in 2000; however music is traditionally taught from a technical perspective, with a focus on note reading & finger exercises. This approach commonly leads to boredom with students as they quickly lose the excitement they have when first learning an instrument & the passion to practice becomes a chore.
Music has long been considered a great way to exercise the right side of your brain. Music and other creative arts are widely considered to be right brain pursuits, whereas maths & science are typically left brain. The contradiction with music and learning a new instrument is that although music is a creative pursuit, commonly the learning process is centered on technique and note-reading which is a left brain activity. It is my belief that to teach a creative art using left brain centered techniques will result in a technically proficient but creatively challenged musician.
Studies have shown that incorporating improvisation, composition, memorization & internalization, which are right brain activities, in the learning process increases the students’ proficiency of the instrument and understanding and enjoyment of music. These studies have also shown that incorporating these techniques as well as learning technical skills and music theory, exercises both the left & right sides of your brain, creating ‘whole brain thinking’ through learning an instrument. This ‘whole brain’ thinking whilst learning an instrument, then has a flow-on effect in the students’ lives, creating people who can ‘think outside the box’ and are well equipped to face life’s challenges and opportunities.
Many influential ‘whole brain thinkers’ throughout history have used music as an outlet to express themselves creatively. It has been written that Albert Einstein’s theories were inspired while playing the piano and violin and performing the music of Mozart. He was quoted as saying that
“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music…I get most joy in life out of music.”
According to Einstein’s son Hans Albert, music was a key part of his thinking and creative process. In the words of Hans Albert,
“Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or faced a difficult challenge in his work, he would take refuge in music and that would solve all his difficulties.” – Dee Dickinson, Music and the Mind, 1993
Leonardo Da Vinci is widely considered the greatest genius of all time, and was known for many contributions to the art and science worlds with his inventions and paintings such as The Mona Lisa. Da Vinci also had a musical inclination. It’s written in history that he could sing and play several musical instruments. Da Vinci himself said that music was second only to painting in importance to the senses.
Modern day genius Steve Jobs was famous for being the creator of the highly innovative computer system Apple as well as computer animation company Pixar. He was also an amateur guitarist and played it whilst brainstorming with his business partner Steve Wozniak. He apparently loved the music of Bob Dylan and The Beatles and credited their music with influencing his business and creative philosophy. He is a great example of a whole brain thinker as he successfully fused the logic of computers with the creative problem solving skills of the right brain to create easy to use technology that facilitates creative projects i.e. recording music, graphic design and animation.
I believe our lesson structure at SRM with our focus on improvisation and composition as well as technical exercises using whole brain activities strengthens our students to not only become creative musicians, but more importantly to become creative thinkers which will help them with the challenges and opportunities they encounter throughout their lives.