Updated: Dec 10, 2021
So as many of you know, I've been taking a bit of a step back from the business this year, which is why there's been quite a gap between part one of this blog post and this follow-up!
In this post, I'd like to address some of the common myths that put people off from learning to play an instrument, sing or understand/read music.
I hear these myths a lot, and for many people they're so deeply ingrained that they can prevent people from doing something they've always wanted to do, which I think is a crying shame, so I always try when I encounter them to explain what might be real from what might not be. By putting those explanations up here I hope that I can reach those of you who might not even feel comfortable enough at the moment to start that conversation!
Myth 1: I'm tone-deaf or a teacher when I was a child told me that I was
Obviously this isn't a complete myth. Tone-deafness, or a form of amusia to give it its clinical name, is a real thing, but it is much rarer than people think it is. Usually when someone says that they are tone-deaf, or that someone influential in their life once told them that they are, what they really mean is that they're not very tuneful or very good at holding an accurate tune.
So let's be clear on one thing: that is not the same thing as being tone-deaf! Unfortunately the term 'tone-deaf' is often used as short hand for being a little bit pitchy or not as tuneful as other children, without any real understanding of the impact it can have on a child to be summarily written off in that way.
Being genuinely and completely tone-deaf actually means that you can't distinguish between notes of different pitch at all. For most people who are tone-deaf to this degree, this means that they won't really be able to enjoy or appreciate music at all. It is also possible to be tone-deaf to a lesser extent, but overall tone-deafness of any degree only affects around 4% of the population, with around 1.5% being completely tone-deaf. It is possible to be congenitally tone-deaf, or to have acquired tone-deafness, usually due to a head injury.
Now for the good news: unless you are clinically tone-deaf, it is possible to train your ear. In fact, the ear is one of the main parts of your 'instrument' as a musician that can be trained, and all musicians have to do at least some degree of training, unless they were fortunate enough to have been born with perfect pitch (also a very rare thing!).
Myth 2: I'm too old to learn
If you haven't yet read part one of this blog, I suggest you do, as you'll see in that post that my Mother is evidence of the fact that you are never too old to learn! I specialise in teaching adults, including those who have never touched a musical instrument or sung a note in their lives, and I can tell you from experience that age is absolutely no barrier to beginning your musical journey or picking up a new instrument from scratch.
Myth 3: I won't be able to learn as I'm not musical
My first response to this would be to ask you a question: do you like music? If you do, then arguably you are musical! While undoubtedly some people are just innately musical, for many people being 'musical' comes down to training, enthusiasm and practice. If you think you can commit to learning an instrument or learning to sing, then the chances are you'll be able to become as musical as anyone else!
The other thing that a lot of people don't realise is that there are actually advantages and disadvantages to having previous musical experience. While having played another instrument previously means that you will be familiar with the structure of music and more comfortable with the idea of learning an instrument, you will also have some barriers to overcome. Let's use the ukulele as an example:
Previously played the guitar and now want to learn ukulele? You have the advantage of having played a guitar-based instrument before and being familiar with things like strumming and reading guitar chord tabs. But while it may be a similar instrument in a lot of ways, it's tuned differently, as a result of which all of the chords are different: it can be tricky adjusting and not getting confused between the two.
Previously played the violin and now want to learn the ukulele? You have the advantage of being able to read music and having a good enough ear to tune the notes on the violin. But it's a very different type of instrument to play with actions and motions that are quite counter-intuitive at first to a violinist. Plus it's a very informal instrument compared to the very formal training that most violinists will have had, and it takes time to adjust to that.
Have never played an instrument before and now want to learn the ukulele? You'll be a blank slate, with no ingrained habits learned from playing other instruments. Yes there will be certain elements you'll be learning or adjusting to that other players may be familiar with, but you also won't have to unlearn or readjust anything that you have previously learnt.
In truth I find that my students with no prior musical experience learn just as quickly as those with lots of prior experience: the only difference is in how I teach them!
If you're a violinist I will spend time with you showing you how to adjust to the ukulele and stressing how much more you can play around with a ukulele and how much more informal it is as an instrument. If you're a guitarist I will spend time talking through the similarities but also the differences and will give you space to adjust between the two. If you're a pianist, I'll spend time helping you get used to moving away from playing a melody and an accompaniment to focusing more on chord structures and patterns. If you're completely new to learning an instrument, I'll spend time with you covering the basics of how music is structured and written, and then we'll just learn to play the ukulele together! As I said, both have advantages and disadvantages that in general even out to mean that no one student is at more of a disadvantage as a result of their previous musical background or lack of previous musical experience than any other student.
So does that mean that I will definitely be able to learn an instrument or learn to sing?
Well, not necessarily, but the chances are far better than you may be imagining. The good news is that I offer a free taster session that will help us assess what your barriers to success may be, and how likely it is that you'll be able to overcome them. It's very rare for me to have to turn a student away at this stage, but I will not take money from you for lessons unless I think you have a realistic prospect of achieving your musical goals.
I have only ever once had to turn a student away (or more accurately to end lessons) as a result of realising that they were genuinely tone-deaf. They weren't completely tone-deaf so it did take a few lessons to uncover this fact, but it would not have been fair to continue with the lessons after that point. They were taking singing lessons, and that is one instrument that really is almost impossible to learn with any degree of tone-deafness. That was over 20 years ago though, and I have yet to discover another potential student with the same issue.
I have also had to end lessons with one other, sadly very promising and extremely hard working, piano student, when I realised that they most likely suffered from another very rare condition called 'beat deafness'. This is another form of amusia, related to but distinct from tone-deafness, and is exactly what it sounds like: the inability to hear a musical beat or rhythm. This condition is so rare that I didn't realise it even existed at the time: I just came to realise that this student genuinely could not hear the beat within a piece of music and therefore was going to struggle to learn rhythm or timing.
Those two cases aside, the only other students that I have either ended lessons with or who have ended them of their own volition are those who really didn't have the time or commitment necessary to make progress. I don't prescribe to my students how much practice they should be doing, as this varies hugely from student to student, but I do advocate the advantages of 'little and often' over spending one mammoth session of three hours every month trying to make progress. Even five minutes per day can make the world of difference, but it does take commitment to keep that up.
'But I might not have access to my instrument every day', I hear you say! Don't worry, not all practice needs to be on your instrument! If this is likely to be the case there are exercises I can give you for developing your musicality, rhythm or other aspects of musicianship that can be undertaken virtually anywhere and that will still help you progress when you do have your instrument to hand. I was also taught at a very young age by my grandmother that there are ways, for example, of practising the piano while away from a physical piano, and there are similar techniques for most instruments that can be used to keep your practice up.
What matters most here is the commitment to learn, and putting in some time, even a few minutes, as often as you can. And being honest if you just haven't had chance - I can adjust for that if I know that's the case!
So have I convinced you to at least give it a go?
If I have, why not book your free taster session now - just email email@example.com.
Taster sessions and lessons are available in-person in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, although those that involve singing (including instruments like the ukulele) may have some restrictions during the current stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taster sessions are also available online, although these work better for some instruments than others. To discuss possible options, just drop me an email and we can talk through what you need and how best to accommodate that.
If you're still feeling unsure or concerned, look out for the next (and final) part of this blog series where I'll be outlining what learning with Tawbis Studios would actually involve, or you can still drop me an email and I can try and address any anxiety you might have.
Have I missed any commonly-believed myths out?
Why not let me know in the comments below and I'll give answers where I can. If you're one of my current or past students, why not share a little of what your experience of learning (particularly if from scratch) has been like?