July 8, 2012 by Willy Cardoso
When I studied music in São Paulo, I had a flatmate who only played in his bedroom. He was actually good, I didn’t like his music but technically speaking he was ages ahead of me. Myself, as you can imagine, didn’t like to study from musical scores and all that. Instead, I made sure I joined a band as soon as I learned what an arpeggio was (not that I could really play one, but I knew what it was).
Anyway, I used to tell my flatmate to go out and play. And he always replied, I’m not ready, I have to study more. Oh boy, and I had to hear him next door playing arpeggios in heavy metal style following a super fast metronome until he felt good enough to play in public (?).
Practice makes it perfect, they say. Alright, granted. But experience makes it real.
As far as practice goes, I actually did rehearse a lot with my band. In fact, I thought my band over-rehearsed. Nonetheless, the main difference between rehearsing with a band and playing in my bedroom was that I was not alone with the band (ok, now this is a very obvious comment! But here is where we start to draw a parallel between doing music and doing learning). As a band, we had to negotiate meaning: in order to find the best beat, the best key, synchronize harmony, etc. All that to make what we wanted to say the best we could, i.e. we couldn’t make it alone.
Creating and rehearsing a new song was a dialogic experience.
A conversation – between guitar, drums and bass – in which the history of those three people were voiced through their instruments, conversing with one another to find their space and to give space, making sense only in co-existence to create something greater than their parts in isolation.
I learned more about music and became a better musician by playing our own music in late night gigs in the underground joints of Sao Paulo than by going to the music school to play someone else’s music off a sheet chosen by the teacher. I did, however, learn a lot by playing the songs I wanted to play, by my favorite artists. For me, I’ve come to realize that:
who makes the decisions is as important as what decisions have been made.
If teachers had encouraged me to create music more than to copy it, perhaps the experience would’ve been better. If my teachers had listened to my record and given feedback and all, perhaps it would’ve been better than only testing my accuracy playing some music I didn’t like; and testing my theoretical knowledge of music regardless of what I could actually play/perform.
Perhaps, the best part of going to music school was the social one. Meeting people was great (N.B. meeting was great, not people). There were two amazing guys, whom I played with in the early days and I’m sure I learned more from them than from any teacher I had. They played with me (there was dialogue), whereas teachers told me what was right to do (right for them). Apart from these two guys, there were two or three other interesting people and that was it. Other folks I met served only to show me what kind of people I didn’t want to relate to. … Just kidding…, they were not so bad. But my point is, the social element is very important in learning, we know it already, but social doesn’t mean making friends and being nice. For me the social helps me see things and see myself better:
self-awareness is situated in the social plane.
In the reflective process of my musical trajectory I was able to see very attentively the actors who influenced my style. If it weren’t for others, that would be no self-development. I liked to think I played music for myself, for my own entertainment and therapy first; but I played it for others just as much, even in the confines of my safe bedroom. There were always an other who I projected as my listener: the girl I wanted to impress, the teacher I wanted to please, the crowd I imagined would listen to me one day – and they all influenced the way I played.
In the end, I dropped out of music school with half the creative power I had when I started it. But at least I learnt very fast that if I wanted to be good at something, I needed to go out and do it as soon as possible. Unlike my flatmate, I could not wait until I was perfect.
Imperfect at the beginning – maybe imperfect forever – it doesn’t matter. Reflection, dialog, and a critical approach to life in general little by little shapes the self you ought to be; and then you find that there are not anymore the perfect/imperfect labels. When the story you enjoy the most is your own… …
I spent the last 8 years without making music I could call mine. Firstly, I just didn’t feel satisfied with what I was making, and then I just simply wasn’t creative anymore, I had lost it. I played other people’s music but didn’t make my own anymore. I don’t know, but maybe I wanted my music to be perfect.
Then something extraordinary happen a couple of weeks ago. I recorded a song to my brother, as a gift for his birthday – I made it and I felt it, deeply.
I called it Imperfeito (Portuguese for imperfect).
I’ve been very musical since then. Imperfectly musical.