Making Music for the Joy of It by Stephanie Judy. A plastic brain and a tin flute.

Making music for the joy of itOne of the happier research findings of the 21st century is that the adult brain is not a fixed thing but continues to develop through life. This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity, or “plastic brain”, and I am testing it by learning my first musical instrument, a tin flute. To aid in this pursuit, I am reading Making Music for the Joy of It by Stephanie Judy.

The book is intended for beginners, tackling myths about tone deafnesss and the mysteries of reading music. Some of the book is general adult education, e.g., find a time and place to practice. It is also a larger meditation on the meaning of practice. For some there is a satisfaction in doing this thing called practice. At the same time, as Judy suggests, I find myself capable of more sophisticated techniques if I allow myself to just play. “In the place we call Music, improvisation is that window off to the side — an irresistible view for some musicians, all they ever look at, really.”

The mapping technique is a fascinating way for beginners to learn new music. Skilled musicians can usually approximate a new piece on a first pass. My attempts are clunky and error-ridden even after many tries. The mapping technique involves taking passes at different depths. Study the music briefly, noting just a few things that make sense, then improvising though without the music. Successive passes will add observations and detail until the player gets the hang of the whole piece.

“People only half listen to you when you play. The other half is watching.” Yikes. I suppose my greatest hope and fear is that someday I will be good enough to perform with and for others. I assumed this event would be in the distant future. Judy suggests that playing music with one’s family is not only a delight but also a comfortable way to learn performance techniques. Brilliant. I am rehearsing Joy to the World to play for my family at Christmas. A dream come true.