Hi Fleeaa, great topic.
I struggled to get a handle on how to learn music for quite a while. I come from a background in engineering - a field which needs a disciplined approach and requires the ability to work with both overall structure and small detail. It seemed like that would be applicable to music too. I've also been successful at things such as writing computer programs and maintaining a fairly complex accounting system, as well as doing some more creative design work. So I assumed that tackling music by working through the regular texts shouldn't be too hard. But I was wrong.
I bought lots of teach-yourself books and had a few lessons from different teachers. Curiously, despite the fact that I love books and we have several thousand in the house, the music books were largely a waste of money. The teachers were a mixed bag. Good people and good players, but I still found the process of being a student fairly painful. Oddly, it didn't seem to deliver the goods either.
The first big discovery was finding out that I could do it myself and that I didn't need to be pushed, led or cajoled down a pre-planned path. But it was still a very random process. If you've ever watched an ant exploring or a dog â€˜reading' a park it looks random and shapeless. The dog may rush excitedly from A to B, via M and Q and then from Z to Y via S and so on. But as the mental map takes shape there are long pauses and deep explorations of certain points of interest. Despite the scattergun look, it's a rich and intense process. By comparison, dividing the park into neat little blocks and working across in relentlessly efficient lines may look good on paper but the lack of â€˜big picture' reference and the restriction of freedom can easily turn a joyful exploration into a dull grind. So I learn music like a dog in a park, running all over the place. It works for the dog and it works for me.
The second penny drop moment was to consider music as a language. Now that's nothing new, it's often described that way. But how did you begin to learn the language you speak every day, and how do you use it? Not from a book. The books are valuable but they come later. We all started by listening, copying and experimenting. Lots of experimenting. I always smile when students of an instrument tell me they can't improvise. They often really seem to believe that improvising skill is something that they just missed out on, like blue eyes or above average height. I point out that they have been improvising our conversation without much difficulty; that they took known words, structures and ideas and built new and original sentences literally as they were speaking them. Unless you're an unusually rigid thinker you don't know exactly how you'll finish a sentence until it's part way through. You don't rehearse and pre-polish every single thing you say in advance. Musical improvising is exactly the same.
In a post here, Cat once described playing music with a phrase that was something like â€œchasing sounds round the fretboardâ€ and that exactly how it works for me. I don't always catch them, but the chase is a real joy. I'm the dog belting round the park, with tail wagging and ears flapping. I do read music and I can follow scores; I read and enjoy theory books too, but my inbuilt love of creating and improvising means that I always experiment with different ways of interpreting what's written on the page, up to and including re-arranging it or going off on a long looping digression that has little or nothing to do with where I started. This may sound fancy or â€˜advanced' but it's not. It begins with adding a single different note to the simplest of beginner melodies.
If I were to ever teach music I'd probably try and treat lessons like conversations - with guitars in hands. Simple chats using only two or three notes to start, and building gently upwards. The grammar lessons and the books and the reading and writing would come much later - just like it does for a child learning any other language.