Discipline in Music study: Competing against the screen and modern culture

I would like to start with the premise that music study is a discipline that needs to be a studied with an approach similar to the study of any language.  Whether its French, Japanese or computer languages (C++, Java, Python, etc.), music takes years to master and time to cultivate.  Even athletics at very high performance levels require countless hours of time on task to master.  Like any long term pursuit, this requires patience, perseverance, commitment and focus.  Traits like these are hard to find in today’s youth, or are they?

The world is changing at an accelerated rate. 

We are in a new age, and making it up as we go along.  This statement pertains to teaching, parenting, career advisement, and general pursuits.  What do we tell our youth!  What we knew yesterday will be totally different in 5 years.  Its scary to think that internet only really caught on in the mid 90’s!  20 years ago we just started seeing Amazon, Ebay, Netflix, etc.  1998 was when Google’s search engine first appeared!  Then began the dot.com craze…..flash foward: can anyone say “Bitcoin”  Lol…..I do hold some now, hope it continues to grow!  However, the dot.com bubble burst in 2000, and many jobs that had been created were now lost.  However, the advancement in technology was a relentless force that continued to create new exciting opportunities for our young workforce.  Tech careers were here to stay.  Whether it was website development, online commerce, or tech item development, jobs that were not even imagined a few years ago spread across the landscape at an ever increasing rate.

Our Lives have never been the same since…….

Then came the Ipod in 2001, followed by the Iphone in 2007.  Facebook started really spreading in 2004, Youtube was founded in 2005, spread like wild fire and “You” became Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006.  Was that really only 13-14 years ago!!!!  Since then our necks have been craned downward as we constantly access our phones.  The ultimate communication devices connect us with beautifully streamlined apps that have been designed to tap our natural system’s dopamine responses to pull us back over and over again.  This is just the start… more is coming.  The VR possibilities are endless.

We are living in a virtual world already.

If you notice what is going on daily with our youth, many have already been fully absorbed into the virtual reality experience.  Well, I guess they are following our lead, right!  Mom and Dad, and Aunt Mary, all spend countless amounts of time on Facebook and Pinterest.  For our students, this is old tech already.  Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WeChat, Groupme, Kik, Tumblr, etc.  Social Media is king, and we all are in unchartered territory.  Kids disappear into virtual battle fields and talk with their competitors in a live environment.  Incredible visual landscapes are shown and kids spend hundreds of hours exploring without ever leaving their living rooms.  So, is this good or bad?  Dr. Spock’s parenting guide….well, that was centuries ago with how things have developed. So how do we parent, how do we teach our youth?

Icons of mass appeal….the evolution of our heros

Well, I guess Elvis wasn’t so bad after all!  If you ever listen to the lyrics of the music that our kids adore, well, it can be quite shocking.  Promotion of social deviance has always been popular.  Whether it was Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Ozzie Ozzbourne, etc. we have always cheered on the rebel.  However, the fascination with the club, the money, the power, the narcissistic tenor of today’s popular music has taken it to a new level.  What do we revere?  Well, our youth become fascinated with this culture, and are bombarded with it not only in the music they listen to, but the online culture surrounding it.

Tuning out and tuning in

So….. what to do as teacher’s and parents.  How do we encourage our students to pursue the zen-like discipline of music study when the competition is so fierce from this virtual world.  In a world where the value of learning the trumpet doesn’t seem nearly as cool as interacting online, how are we to encourage the value of a traditional study of music?  Even adult attention spans have been shortened as we move from one tweet to another post.  I will admit, it is super fun going down the rabbit hole on Youtube or Twitter.  However, should we embrace this or fight against is?  We need to teach our youth that regular consistent work will lead to good things.  Even computer coding at first is not glamorous, but the apps they eventually will build can be breathtaking!  Any zen disciple will learn to tune it all out, and find peace and energy in the pursuit of perfection.  This needs to be instilled in our youth when studying music, or any discipline.  Sports icons sell this….well they are pretty cool right?  Sports themselves sell this because the thrill of victory comes pretty quickly.   It can take years before one gets this type of feedback from a concert……unless it is set up well by the teacher.  This is our job.  Give them an awesome experience and they will keep coming back.

Embrace or Ignore

I would suggest that the tech that our students are developing will become the cornerstones for their future.  At MIT, it is know that if you can hack into their grade books and give yourself an A, they will give you an A.  Companies regularly employ hackers after they are caught hacking into their own companies!  This is not meant to condone illegal activity, but we as educators have to encourage exploration.  In music, can we compose music that our students will draw towards?  Music of the age?  Yes, many are already doing this.  Good music grabs kids….this is the key.  I love Holst, and most students do, but we are still clinging to the traditional band/orchestral instrumentation.  It is time that we embrace music that utilizes electronics, sound tracks and effects, non-standard percussion, visual elements, etc.  Name me one person who isn’t absolutely captivated when they see a Cirque du Soleil show!  Make the experience awesome!

Connecting with the past and future

In the professional world, traditional instruments are regularly combined with contemporary sounds and effects.  I think we are missing the boat if we do not embrace this.  One example.can modern day hip hop and band mix?  Well, you might be surprised.  If you look across much of the modern music written by young composers, there is an ever increasing influence of modern music appearing in their works.  We need to start opening up what and how we teach.  This can be different based upon everyone’s skill set, but anyone can set up learning environments where creativity, even in our modern environment, can blossom.

Final thoughts….

Quality is quality.  Students love to learn and grow.  I will never advocate for teaching what feels good in a temporary experience if that doesn’t build skills and develop musicianship.  Students know when its fluff versus music with depth.  They want to learn.  So, the Zen advice carries forward with the idea that balance must be observed.  Challenges are often NOT appealing at first, but must be encountered for growth.  Nudge them to work, push them to achieve, inspire them to dream.  

Good luck and feel free to add to the discussion and leave comments below.


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