Art of the Song

Music Began as Expression

You don't need to know all the rules to begin experimenting creatively.

By Don Richmond | Posted 4/15/07 | Updated 5/8/23

One of the most rewarding and the most challenging experiences that I've ever had was being an artist in residence, doing workshops in schools with students ranging from elementary school age up into high school.

One of the things I wanted to get across with my workshops with these kids was that they were creators, that their creations, their ideas have worth, that they were worth listening to. And secondly, more specifically in the realm of music, that they knew music, they knew things about music, even kids that did not play an instrument and hadn't specifically studied music.

We learn music by hearing it. We have heard it since we were in our mother's wombs. We have all grown up immersed in it. Whether you are a musician or not, you know it experientially. You have experienced it. You know that when music does a certain thing, it does something to you. It connects and you feel it.

It's very easy for people who have not been trained in music to think, "Oh because I don't know all these rules and this sort of arcane language that I can't do anything musically. I don't have that in me, I am not worthy."

I really feel that is a mistake. I feel that everyone can express musically in some way or another, but you have to believe that you can. Just sit down at a piano, make some sounds. Find some sounds that you like. That's where music came from. It came from people making sounds that they like and then the rules came from somebody looking to see what that was and saying, "Oh well, that's the way it has to be done."

There have been many brave souls on the forward vanguard of music, smashing those rules to bits all along the way. There are certain rules and guidelines that are inherent structurally in music that are mathematically-based and that we really can't get away from. Certain things sound good, certain things sound difficult or uncomfortable. And that's fine, but you don't need to know all the rules before you can sing.

Go ahead and sing. You don't need to know all the rules on how to play an instrument to experiment with it and see what sounds it makes. Bang on a cardboard box. Bang on a table, start feeling some rhythm, whistle, buy a harmonica, whatever. Make some sounds. Enjoy them.

Trust your ear; trust your experience of music. That's where it all came from. Music began as expression. That's still what it's all about. The rules are just like a crust of barnacles that grew up around the outside.

©2007 Don Richmond. All rights reserved.

Don RichmondDon Richmond is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumental performer, having played professionally for over thirty years. More