Sign in with Youtube Sign in with Instagram

Sharon Bill Author & Music Tutor

Building Blocks for Success


In my recent article for a local magazine I tackle the subject of the foundation of learning. With the start of the new academic year now seems like a good time to take stock and to start afresh - start as you mean to go on.

No matter what project we hope to undertake the foundation is always the most important part. If you try and cut corners when laying the foundation anything that you do afterwards will be unstable. If you plan to build a wall you must first dig out the footings and then, when you do begin to build, you need to be sure you are using the right mix for the cement. If you want to make a dress you must first make sure that the pattern size is correct and you also need to be sure that the fabric you have chosen is appropriate. In the same way, if you make a cake you need to make sure that the recipe is good and that you have the correct ingredients - all accurately measured. Even in the arts, which are imagined to be so much more spontaneous, the principle still remains. Before you begin to draw a picture you must ensure that the initial composition is good and the rules of perspective need to be learned and applied (unless you are painting an abstract picture.)

When people choose to learn an instrument each person will begin with certain aims in mind. Different people will want to play different instruments and varying styles of music. Some may hope to perform in front of an audience (even if it’s only carols with the family at Christmas time,) some may want to take exams while others will be content to be able to play their favourite songs for their own pleasure. Whatever the end goal the roots are always the same. It’s like a tree: As you progress up the main trunk you can then choose to branch off into many different offshoots. The foundations of playing any instrument are always the same - regular practise of technique using scales, arpeggios and pieces of music gradually increasing in difficulty. Having the patience to work on these basic aspects, whilst keeping your ultimate aim in mind, is the key to success.

At the time you might not particularly choose to play some of the things that are put in front of you, but if you can see them as a necessary building block in the foundation of your musical skills each exercise has worth. You never know, you may find that your horizons broaden and you learn to appreciate new styles that you’ve never encountered before. I know that when we rehearse a new piece, in the choir that I sing with, I often don’t like a piece of music to begin with. Later I find that the music has really grown on me. Initially I would never have chosen to sing some of the pieces that we’ve rehearsed but some of these ‘rejects’ have become favourites of mine. It’s the same with exam pieces. Being forced to play lots of different musical genres has cultivated an open minded attitude to musical styles and taught me to appreciate lot of different varieties of music.

When I was eighteen I can honestly say that I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having to practise over two hundred varieties of scales and arpeggios for an exam (they’ve changed the syllabus a lot since then!) Out of all of these the examiner may only choose about a dozen at random, but they all had to be learned thoroughly just in case they picked one I didn’t know. The irony is that I now really enjoy playing scales. Now that they’re “under my fingers” I find playing them really therapeutic. It also makes certain aspects of learning a new piece much easier as the techniques are already at my fingertips - the foundation is good!

It is important to keep a clear view of what your aims are and what you are working towards achieving. However, it’s just as important to be patient and to not miss out on the new things that you might discover along the way. Spend time “digging good foundations” and you can be sure that the end result will be good.