HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 9, 2017 – 12:00am
Writer Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outliers writes about the “10,000-hour Rule,” where he posits that to be able to achieve expertise in any skill, one must spend at least 10,000 hours practicing. He cites the Beatles as an example. The group spent so much time in Hamburg, Germany doing about eight sets a night that they could perform their songs without much effort.
Talking with my sister Lory over dinner about how much music we have listened to since we were very young, she reminded me of Gladwell‘s theory. Yes, surely we spent a great deal of time listening to music. I remember having 78 RPM records at age three and my sister and I would play them on a phonograph that an uncle made for us. We would play our records for hours and hours.
Later, my dad invested in a good Hi-Fi set, as it was called back then. I was still below six years old and I had memorized the soundtrack of West Side Story. We listened and sang with records of the Kingston Trio, a lot of Broadway musicals, Elvis, Gogi Grant, Danny Kaye and a whole lot more. It seemed like music was everywhere around us. It is no wonder we sang together as a family.
We probably ended up learning music theory without having to study it. We could sing hundreds of songs. I even memorized the musical arrangements of most of them that I would also sing them with the lyrics and melodies. Just by listening to a lot of great music, I must have imbibed song structures, lyrical rhymes, and varied tastes from rock’n’roll to classical, pop to jazz, from the popular to the sophisticated.
And then there were the lyrics written with passion, skill, and style. Some were so poetic and elegant I fell in love with them.
I invited the talented jingle writer Mike Villegas to give a talk to my class on songwriting, describing his music process. He said that he uses a little mathematical-like formula to come up with melodies. It involves the scale and the notes that fit into certain chords. It was quite interesting and it helped my class understand songwriting better.
As I listened to Mike, I knew that what he was talking about was pretty intuitive to me. I just Knew it, probably because of the thousands of hours of music I have listened to and played in my life. I have a developed sense of what comprises good, well-written music and songs. I just know a good melody when I hear one, and I can even change the chords in my head to make the song sound different.
At a songwriting workshop where Mike and I participated, he said he was amazed that I and singer-songwriter Ebe Dancel would tell our students to simply go to the garden and write a song. He was totally impressed at how some people can make songs out of thin air. Of course, not all songs written that way are good songs. But it works for me. I have a full library of references that I have been listening to since childhood, and it has honed my intuition about what a good song is.
The 10,000 hours theory makes sense. When you do something as often as that, it sharpens your skills and heightens your perceptions and insights into what you are repeatedly doing. It is like total immersion. You marinate in the universe of your practice and master most of its secrets. My sister says she sees images when she listens to melodies. I see colors for certain chords and I have these feelings when I hear some songs and chord progressions.
You are a citizen of the universe you live in. In my case, I look at my universe of music as having contours like a geographical spread. It has colors and images. I also see and hear music as something that is alive, dynamic and full of emotions. It even has a rationality to it.
The idea behind the 10,000 hours of practice theory or exposure to a field of knowledge or interest is to make you so good that even on your bad day, you are anything but bad.
When APO used to do many shows, we actually felt we got better and better as we went along. Our harmonies were cleaner. There was less effort hitting notes and singing lines in unison. When we sang our own songs, we realized an emotional depth and understanding that we didn’t know was there when we wrote them. Even the comedy we did onstage was more relaxed, natural and funny. And more enjoyable to do.
If you want your children to love music — or any other thing, or that matter — start them early. Expose them to songs that are not from their generation. Give them variety and help them appreciate material from different eras and in different genres. There are simply many more good songs from past generations than what the kids are listening to these days.