Something I say to my students continually– in fact, it is my motto for Hirsch Guitar Academy– is “I want you to become a musician, NOT a robot.” But what does that actually mean?
I have played with many people who play guitar and other instruments, but unfortunately, a large number of them can only play if something has been memorized ahead of time, or if you give them something to look at, such as sheet music, tablature, or a chord chart. It is unfortunate that the ability to easily sit down and just play is so rare. That is the beginning of what I mean. A musician is someone that can play music freely. They understand and are comfortable and are familiar enough with music that they can just let loose and let it go.
How do you get to that point? How does someone play as though it is a natural gift? The easiest way is to find a teacher, a coach, a mentor that understands this, and prioritizes musicianship over just playing guitar (or whatever your instrument may be). Find someone that can help you develop music as a language rather than just a bunch of random things that need to be memorized (I do this with my guitar lessons in Ruston, LA).
Music is not simply a collection of sound frequencies, even though technically, that is the physics behind what is happening. However, that is not the function of music… hitting random strings and frets on a guitar produces a collection of sound frequencies, but I don’t think many people would mistake that for music.
Instead, music is a powerful medium that can be used to express emotion and feeling. Otherwise known as a language. If you define it, language is the method of human communication either written or spoken. Language allows you to share and express your specific ideas, information, thoughts, feelings, and emotions with others. Nothing permeates the emotional side of us quite like well written music.
Now we are approaching the crucial difference between a musician and a robot; speaking a language through music. A musician can converse and appropriately express certain thoughts, ideas, and emotions using music.
A robot is something that performs a task in repetition as it has been pre-programmed to do by someone else. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is why I use the term “robot” to refer to people who do not actively work to learn how to express their own ideas.
They typically look up songs on YouTube or some other resource to learn how to play a song, a chord chart, or a tab. This learned method is unchangeable, it can only be played that one way. It can’t be changed or manipulated any other way that the player in question doesn’t already know how to use it, and since it is just a collection of notes to the player, they don’t typically know or think about the actual ideas or emotions being communicated. They only know a collection of notes. This is nonsense.
Now, of course, it is pretty amazing to know that you can play your favorite songs. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn songs by other people (in fact, it’s a very good thing to do), BUT I AM saying not to just memorize things for the sake of memorization. Experiment, literally play with it, see what happens if you change this note, what happens if you change the rhythm? How can you use this as a starting point to create your own music? How can you use this piece of music to improvise something? How can you understand what someone else is doing and then take it and make it your own? How can you be a musician and not a robot?
For an example of what it looks like to be a musician and not a robot, the video below is something one of my students wrote after a year and a half of playing guitar and taking lessons with Hirsch Guitar Academy. Instead of just playing barre chords, he took a minute to think, and put this awesome IDEA together!
If you are fortunate enough to live in the Shreveport or Ruston area and you want help developing this talent within yourself, that is what I do. Every day, I instruct and create musicians, NOT robots. If you don’t live close by, then look for someone near you who can coach, train and encourage you to understand, hear, and feel music as a language.
That is the ultimate goal for anyone that wants to play music if you dig down deep enough. You want to be able to express and you want to be able to have others appreciate that expression. So next time you are playing a song, improvising, or whatever, ask yourself “How can I be a musician with this, and NOT a robot?”
About the author: Chris Hirsch is a professional guitarist living in Louisiana with a passion for helping his guitar students become great musicians and not just people that memorize songs. If you are interested in taking guitar lessons in Shreveport, LA, then be sure to contact John!