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Vic Wooten: Music as a Language

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  • Vic Wooten: Music as a Language

    I ran into this awesome talk by Vic Wooten the other day:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zvjW9arAZ0

     

    I really like the comparison of music and language.  In my opinion, music IS language, just a non-verbal language.  I think it makes a lot of sense to think about teaching/learning music when you're really young the same way you learn your first language.


    But what about when you're older?  It seems like we learn our second language very differently than our first.  Does this mean learning music at an older age is different than learning it when very young?


    Any thoughts?

    Blog: https://tunessence.com/blog/

  • #2

    BenTunessence wrote:

    I ran into this awesome talk by Vic Wooten the other day:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zvjW9arAZ0

     

    I really like the comparison of music and language.  In my opinion, music IS language, just a non-verbal language.  I think it makes a lot of sense to think about teaching/learning music when you're really young the same way you learn your first language.


    But what about when you're older?  It seems like we learn our second language very differently than our first.  Does this mean learning music at an older age is different than learning it when very young?


    Any thoughts?


    I agree.  I think music works in our brains the same way language does.  As with language, it's much harder to learn when older than when your brain is primed for it.  The infant brain is clearly "wired" for language, and a child learns quickly within a few years, just by listening, copying, trial and error. 

    The process becomes progressively more difficult as we get older, suggesting the language-learning capacity diminishes gradually after infancy.

    Research has shown that learning music works much the same way.  Eg, perfect pitch seems to be developed before the age of 6, by active exposure to music - the child seems to pick up and focus on pitch information with the same sensitivity as they do to linguistic information. 

    IOW, the implication is that PP is developed from a capacity we all have from birth.  PP is not, of course, essential for music, but it's a sign of how musical perception can be refined at an early age. 

    The brain is, as it were, programmed to be sensitive to any kind of aural information that seems to have meaning. (Homo sapiens is a pattern-seeking animal in general, it's how we make sense of the world.)  Naturally, verbal language is the prime example of meaningful aural patterns, but if music is treated (at that age) as something which also has meaning - not just as accidental background noise - then the brain can absorb all kinds of information about it; using the same "wiring" that we think of as being designed for language (because language is its most obvious function).

    For most of us, of course, music has at best a peripheral role in our infancy and childhood.  We don't experience it as something essential that we need to understand (in the same way as language), so our brains don't focus on it in the same way.  Over time, the learning capacity diminishes, so by the time we decide we want to focus on it, it's much more difficult to pick up - as hard (in some respects) as learning any foreign language.  We start to believe that only "talented" people are any good at it, whereas the truth is we've just allowed our innate musical sensitivity to atrophy through disuse.

     

    There's also an appealing idea that, prehistorically, music pre-dated verbal language. Before humans (or pre-humans) learned to speak, to make words, they must have had voices, which they would have used as animals and birds do, to make various kinds of calls.  These sounds would naturally have involved pitch inflection, probably rhythmic repetition at times too.  So the control of one's voice in that way - which we can think of as crudely musical - is something primal, before it got further adapted to produce the sounds of words.  Given some intelligence, of course, it's not a great leap to imagine that such pre-verbal voices could have been used for bird- or whale-like displays of quite intricate form, perhaps to attract mates, or to merely entertain others.

    The "meaning" of music, therefore, works in more direct - even unconscious - ways than that of language. With verbal languages, we need to go through a process of turning the sound of a word into its meaning - different languages use different sounds to mean the same things, and the sound itself is not connected in any way with its meaning (except in onomatopoeia).  With music, the sound contains the meaning directly.  There are still some differences across cultures of course. but they are simply ways that different cultures have adapted the universal meanings of musical sound.

     

    ...

    Comment


    • jeremy_green
      jeremy_green commented
      Editing a comment
      I love that video and Vic's approach in general. Been a big fan since I read his book 'the music lesson'. His views and mine align almost perfectly. Certainly not that I am of his calibre, but his message resonate with my loudly.

      It would be an easy observation to say that learning music as an adult is harder than as a child. ... But I do think the circumstances around the adult are vastly different. Plus the way the adult thinks (right v wrong, good v bad, real v unreal) have a much greater impact on how they CAN progress.

      Children dream, they believe anything is possible. They envision themselves on a stage as the star of the show... They do,this stuff so often they believe it.

      No worries because we soon teach that out of them. Before long they become interested in only facts. They develop a self Image of themselves that is usually unflattering. They get beaten down and told what to do and think. Clouds are no longer elephants, they are liquid vapour that rise during the day eventually to fall back as rain.

      Adults simply don't BELIEVE they can do it. Maybe this is part science how the brain develops, but I don't believe that. I have seen adults become excellent players but the one thing they all had in common was creativity and youthful energy. The ones that succeed truly PLAYED in a child like sense.

      So yes, I suppose its harder for an adult to learn... But not for the reasons science has laid out. It has much more to do with a mindset and personality type IMO.












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