Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why I find it difficult to learn Carnatic Music

After several failed attempts at learning Carnatic Music, I became exasperated at my inability to continue after a few months. Carnatic Music is my life and blood, and is an integral part of my life. While I get interested in different activities from time to time, CM has been the single aspect that has remained unchanged for the past 10 years and my interest in it has continued to grow. So, it's not a question of inspiration.

Discipline is definitely an issue. I have been a little indisciplined about practising during all my stints. But given that I listen to at least 3 or 4 hours of music a day on the average, I certainly could have motivated myself to practise daily. Yes, it takes effort but I've been disciplined about other things in the past that I was not half-interested in, compared to CM. Why was I not able to motivate myself to practise daily?

Kids are taught music from an early age because they don't question as to why they must sing in a particular shruthi or why they must learn Sarali varisai first. As much as I try to act like a kid, I still could not stop asking questions similar to those mentioned above. This lead to self-doubt and brought down my motivation.

The teachers I've had have also contributed in certain respects to my failure but it's not fair to blame them. I've previously written about my expectations from a teacher. The ability of a teacher to understand my perspective and approach to learning music is crucial for me. I had realized this previously and had decided that it was going to be difficult to find such a teacher in the short-term. During my latest stint, I tried my best to ignore this issue and was fairly successful.

After weeks of contemplation, I've come to the conclusion that the problem lies in the way I perceive music. I see music as an abstract concept. My brain is not able to break down a piece of music into individual frequencies. When I hear the note Ga, it sees Ga but it does not register the frequency corresponding to Ga. In other words, I'm or I've become tone-deaf. I only see music as being composed of phrases. These phrases evoke a certain emotion in me depending on the raga or cause intellectual excitement.

This is not as serious a problem as I'm making it sound but I'm glad that I finally nailed the reason. This could be the reason why people who listen to a lot of music but haven't learnt music formally, find it difficult to reproduce a piece of music verbatim. I feel uncomfortable generalizing this without enough data. The solution obviously lies in observing closely and determining the actual notes corresponding to a certain phrase. I've been trying this out with instrumentalists as a first step. Let's see if I make any progress. Otherwise, my tone-deafness will leave people wishing for stone-deafness!