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Wherefrom the will to ignorance?


I ask in terms of playing guitar…

Who was it that quipped (oft quoted) that he didn’t read music well enough to get in the way of his playing? Or words to that effect. I also read recently that the best improvisers don’t bother overmuch with scales and just play what they hear in their heads. That they can do that without knowing where the notes are is surely a mark of special genius. Harmony, too, is unnecessary because the best songs are also the simplest.

What is the cause of this way of thinking – or of not thinking. Is it a lack of curiosity about how music works? Or is it due to some imagined threat to spontaneity that studying some theory might entail? Is it in defence of the purity of innocence and the charm of naivety unsullied by contrivance and uncorrupted by method? Perhaps in some quarters there an echo of the suspicion of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. These monks of the guitar: I wonder if some of them might also draw an equivalence to the claimed higher virtues of plain food and simple living!

Or is it just laziness and fear and suspicion of something requiring effort to understand and deploy.

(It is the case that, when I lived and playing in Germany, a phrase book of German idioms would have kept me fed and watered and, even though I could have continued to make German sounds to get by, I would not have claimed to have been able to speak the language. So I got a book and learned the vocabulary and grammar.)

The calamity is that this laziness in musicians goes generally unrecognised by the listening (and buying public) – and in fact is reinforced by an accommodating sloth on their part. Further – and contrary to claims of some – there is distinct distaste for novelty in the listening-and-buying-public and a deep desire for the familiar, comfortable, and non-threatening. So the musician is de-incentivised to investigate new ways of working with materials – and even from finding out what the materials can do, in the first place!

For my part, I simply regret not having formally studied music. I can smell and see the land on the horizon, but I can’t reside there.

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