PHILOSOPHICAL KORA LESSONS – N. 1 – What you think is what you play
So here I am … and yes … I made another kora lesson video... maybe I can do a little new series … quality of the video is not high .. my spoken English is not very good… and I apologize for mystakes… but I hope it will be useful …
I will not show new song, but I just want to discuss some important musical subjects, which can be applied to the kora as to all other musical instruments …
We start from here: what you think is what you play.
As the lesson was very long and has been summarized or cut, I append down the full text in English, if then you’ll want to read it all…
– What you think is what you play
The focus of this lesson is this: what you think is what you play. So you play what you’re thinking. This seems obvious but not too much.
Music is like a language, so if you want to learn it, you need to study well the basics of this language.
Let’s start with the alphabet, then will come the grammar, the construction of the times and verbs, then you can create and think your sentences, build your talk, express your ideas, write novels or poems…
If we want to learn the alphabet of a particular language, we have to learn and memorize a sequence of letters.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G and so on …
There are not other possibilities, you do not have another choice. You simply have to learn this sequence, repeat it and memorize it.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, … and so on.
If you say A, F, L, M, O, … is not the right sequence.
You have to say A, B, not A, G, P, A, G, P. This is wrong, A, B, C is right.
So there are rules to follow. Learn and follow these rules will serve to give you all the freedom you seek.
Often, when someone wants to learn about music, does it thinking he want to be free to express himself, so he doesn’t want to hear about rules or exercises, but he want to skip them and go to the next step.
But only if you know certain rules you can then upset them or use them. These rules are also useful because they will facilitate the job.
For example, you may as well try to memorize the alphabet with a different sequence, which is your personal and imaginative sequence, such as A, C, G, K, but to do that you still have to know the original sequence and distorting.
My advice is to use these schemes and these rules because they were deliberately designed to simplify the learning task.
In music, our alphabet consists of the notes. In Western and European music we have twelve different notes aat all… not many.
C, C# or Db, D, D# or Eb, E, F, F# or Gb, G, G# or Ab, A, A or Bb, B.
In this case, as you know, C# and Db are two different ways to call the same note. As well as for F#- Gb.
This is our order, our alphabet. Since music is a universal language, it is convenient that this sequence is the same for everyone. Learn this sequence in a different order, such as C, F, G, A … would only serve to make more confusion.
Instead the sequence is this: C, after the C is D, after D comes E and so on…
This is a circular sequence, then after the B starts again and there is another C.
You can then start the sequence at any point and always follow this order. If you start from F, for example, you know that after F comes G.
This is the ascending sequence. You can also read it or say it or play it on the contrary, in descending way.
The next step is then to create a scale with these notes. The basic scale is the one of C major, composed of seven notes plus the octave repetition:
Learning a scale is not so difficult: you have to learn the sequence of only seven notes.
If you say C-F-G, is not a scale, or at least not that of C major.
You have to say, repeat and memorize C-D, not C-F, but C-D, E and so on.
Then of course you have to find the corresponding notes on the kora, or on your instrument, and play them, work and train this. You have to play and repeat, repeat, repeat. There is no other way. Don’t just say, ok I understood. This is the first step. After that you understand, you have to put into practice, work out and repeat, repeat, repeat.
It is as if I am asking you to learn the text of a poem by heart. Don’t just say: I understood the meaning, I understood what the author says and I knew what to do if i want to memorize it. You have to do it. You don’t have other chances. You will probably not right away, but you will make some mistakes or you will forget some passages. You have to repeat them until you have learned them properly. And, once learned, these will be part of you, but you must continue to play them.
If you learn a scale, it is because you want to play it today and tomorrow. It makes no sense that you want to learn a scale because you do not want to play it.
This applies to any instrument, any music, any art, anything in life. Is how to learn to ride a bike or drive a car. At first you will have fear, doubt, difficulties, but once you have learned you will not forget anymore. But you are learning to ride a bike because you want to ride, not because you don’t want to ride a bicycle. So, once learned, it’s assumed that you will use the bike to go where you want and you will repeat the pedaling mechanism that you have learned.
Many beginning students often come to me saying: I can not play a scale, I can not understand a scale. Or: I have problems with this exercise or pattern, this other it’s too hard…
This happens primarily because you are not thinking what you play, but you’re thinking about something else. Then also, because you have not practiced enough and repeat the exercise. That’s it: there is nothing difficult in reality.
Do you want to learn to play a scale? Are only seven notes … is not really complicated.
The issue, the problem, stems from two reasons: first you are not thinking of playing a scale. Yes.
At first, a beginner student, in front of the teacher or in front of an audience is always fearful, hesitant, embarrassed. When he or she play an exercise or a song, within himself has many doubts and thinks: it will be right, it will be wrong? I’m doing wrong, good? Perhaps it is wrong, my master will be angry… and things like that.
If this is what you think, this will be what you play and what it sounds: doubts, uncertainties, worries.
If, while you play, you are thinking about what you did yesterday, or what you have to do tomorrow. Or if you are stressed out because you have a problem at work, or you had an argument with your partner, or you are imagining some beautiful dream of your, some memory, or if you are angry… all this is in your mind and in your feelings and be felt throughout your instrument.
This is a musical instrument and as a instrument is used, it serve, to amplify your thoughts and your feelings.
Anything that is not music, at least at this stage of learning, should instead be excluded, cut off: should remain only the musical thought.
The goal that you have to be able to achieve is the musical presence. You have to be here, at this time, with your head in the music … not elsewhere. If your mind is somewhere else, you play and you will express these places and landscapes.
There must however be a perfect synchronicity, a symbiosis: think music, play music.
And the process has to be this, not the reverse: you are thinking, you decide, you are playing. Not the reverse. It’s not the kora which sounds and you who hear. This can be in a phase of initial search, not in the arrival path.
Many musicians or beginners students often play like this: they move their finger randomly on the kora, or on their instrument. Are not them who thinking music, but they are listening to the random combinations that their fingers create on the instrument. The result, even for the listener is this: if you are moving your fingers casually, I will feel exactly that.
This is like when you say that a person opens his mouth and gives breath, so that speaks without connecting the brain, speaks without thinking about what he’s saying, but he’s just listening to the sound of his voice and he says just bla, bla, bla … maybe he also says well-known words or words with meaning, but he or she, the person, is disconnected from the real sense of the word, does not believe in what he says, is not at one with what he thinks.
In music you have to be one thing with your instrument.
The other reason why a beginner student fails to execute a scale or exercise is because he or she want to go too fast. This is the classic bad behavior of all of us. I’m so, I have done so. A student takes in hand an instrument and within one week he wants to be the greatest player in the world. This, unfortunately, is not possible.
So what happens? That he or she wants to play the scale right away at full speed. He try and says: I can not do it, it’s too hard.
It is obvious: because his mind can not think for now those notes, that sequence, at a high speed. The same ears not distinguish well all those sounds.
In music, as in anything else you want to learn, you have to proceed gradually, by steps. Step by step.
In this case, first slowly, then a little faster, then a little faster until you get to play fast.
If you start slow, you will find that it is not difficult, it is easy: seven or eight notes, only those.
Once learned these notes, however, you must not jump to the super speed, because you think that slow is boring. You are jumping all the preparatory steps of the way. Don’t skip them.
Let’s try together. First of all, we learn the sequence of the scale. Our kora is tuned in F major, so first of all, we learn the sequence of the notes that will play:
You must repeat with me this sequence aloud. No shame. This will allow you to learn to play. In the Indian music system, for example, this is the teaching method for any instrument: first you repeat with your voice, and memorize what you want to play, only then you can put hands on the instrument. So do it in your room, where you studied and maybe you are alone: no one will listen to you, no one will mock you. This is not time lost, but necessary.
Now, we have to find those notes on the instrument. As you know, we start from the first low string on the right, then the fifth from on the left, then the second on the right and go on…
Now we have to talk and play together. Repeat aloud each note you play…
Then slowly, over time, increase your speed… And when I say over time, I mean not in five minutes. I mean: today you play at this speed. Tomorrow you always play at this speed, and at the same speed the day after tomorrow. After three days increased slightly, for several days keep the new speed. After one week, after one month, after six months, after one year you can increase gradually… Remember: slow is not bad, but useful.
The same is true if we want to learn a musical pattern. Take for example the fundamental pattern of the kora, I have already explained it in my other video lessons.
This seems difficult if you want to immediately run it fast.
If we play it slowly, the notes are only six:
We can then decide to match a number to each note, to number the notes:
So now what we can do with our alphabet is to change it up to make it truly universal and individual at the same time. You have to create your own unique alphabet, which relates to your musicianship and your instrument. Are you who must talk to your instrument.
So, to every note, we can match a number, and think that number while we are playing.
But this still does not help us at all and then... seems a more scientific method than artistic.
As I was saying, the system of musical notation in the English language gives a name to each note:
In Italian, my language, for example, the names of the notes are:
In India, we could say:
If I think and say the notes in Italian, that to me is more comfortable and easy. But still I have problems, especially if I want to go fast. Or if I want to play a chord: I can certainly say three notes simultaneously.
So what is the goal to be achieved, and what this universal and personal method that facilitates all the music learning and which ultimately is what I suggest you to use to learn playing the kora?
Simple: by voice, but especially with your mind, you must correspond to each string, to each note its sound. So if you notice well, this happens unconsciously from the first moment.
Let’s listen and try.
It’s not important that the sound of your voice is exactly the same of that coming out from the instrument, or that your pronunciation is perfect, but something similar, that differ a little. It’s not important that you be perfectly tuned or you have a beautiful harmonious voice… the important thing is that for you to a certain string corresponds a sound.
Ti-Ro-To… so it is for me, in my head.
Or, if you prefer:
If we want that the same notes have the same verbal correspondence. But more than this, it’s important the sense of the phrase.
If you think about it, in fact, and if you do the experiment and try to repeat the same word ten times in succession… it’s impossible that you repeat the same. It is not human, because every moment of our life is different and unique. Once you can change your breath, a time maybe you’ll move a little more the accent, or the position of your tongue, or a micro duration of a letter and so on…
So it’s good also ok :
or whatever you like.
The same is true if we want to learn a song. Take for example Bani, of which I have already explained to you the structure in my other classes.
We can think and play:
But this is more difficult, complicated.
Instead we think to the sound that string do:
Or something like that….
In this case what you have to do is, yes, listen to the sound that the kora is producing in your mind, learn to know it and to store or memorize it.
The same thing if we want to make a variation…
Here this is exactly what happens in my mind when I play. This is what I think, this is what I play. This is the hidden part, concealed. What you cannot see nor hear, what I say in my mind and not verbally, but you hear it through my instrument.
Here I am showing you what’s behind the music, or at least behind my music… this is a very big secret that is not so mysterious… I’m just speaking a language of sounds, in relation to my instrument. I am here, not somewhere else… I’m not thinking of anything else … I’m thinking about the sound of the notes and play them…
And by themselves born all inventions and speeches: freedom is born.
I’m merely composing sentences with my alphabet, with words, with parts of scales and patterns, then I dwell on a note because I like the sound of it, now I play another one stronger, another more slow or fast … is improvisation.
And this synergy comes only by experience and repetition. Now you will not questioned more about how you are able to talk, you have learned and now just speak…
So, if I want to say:
Grrr, Gra, Gra…
I say this with my voice, with my mind, with my instrument.
Or what you want.
Yes, this is a kind of magic, the same that is in speaking any language, the same that is in every human being and in the wonderful things he creates.
So, for this lesson is all, I hope it can be helpful…
As usual, I wish you good kora, good music and best of all… bye