Music: Experiential meaning

When I asked myself what I want to do before I go to sleep to relax I thought of playing piano. Then when I tried to actually do it I wasn’t able to enjoy myself.

I’m writing about this, you see, because music is one of those things Frankl would categorize as “experiential values.” We talk an awful lot about creative values, or ways we contribute to the world and we talk about attitudinal values or the attitude we can take particularly when things happen that are not in our control. We don’t talk enough about experiential values, or what we receive from the world, such as how we experience love and art and music.

I have a complex relationship with music. I started piano lessons at the age of nine and continued through high school. I enjoyed it but there was something fundamentally wrong. I learned how to read notes, how to read exactly what I saw on the page in front of me.

But I never learned music. I never sat down and played a tune that I thought up in my head. I never learned how to improvise. I never learned the circle of fifths beyond just practicing scales. I never had a critical understanding of the relationships between different scales in a way that would allow me to fool around with it.

So I would practice a piece until I knew it so well that I could close my eyes and play it. Then I had a glimpse of what it would mean to have the structure so perfect that I could finally relax into it and express myself, because I didn’t have to worry about getting the technical details right first.

The only thing was, I would play it so much that by the time I knew it well enough I was sick of it. And if I made one mistake I got lost and couldn’t pick up from where I’d left off.

As a result if I want to play now to relax I still don’t know the structure well enough to let go and express myself. In a fundamental way after all those years of lessons I never truly learned how to play.

So I decided that I will practice the chords of every key – major, minor, diminished, augmented, dominant 7th, diminished 7th and half diminished 7th. I will do it slowly, at my own pace, with the Real Book, playing songs I love and enjoying myself. There will still be some structure to learn but it will be something I can appreciate along the way, not something I can only appreciate at some envisioned end-point that will come who knows when.

And then, perhaps I will talk and write about this kind of meaning.

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