Itchy Dog, Itchy Ear

Learning new music can be fun, or it can be frustrating. I think one of the main factors which make it either enjoyable or agonizing is how well the person learning it understands and can read the music. For years I learned music almost exclusively by ear; I sang what I heard, and when I did not sing something right, it was agonizing to fix, because I didn’t usually understand exactly what it was I was doing wrong, because I couldn’t look at the music and see what it was I needed to fix. My ear itched to be in charge, making all the musical decisions, and not allow my brain to have any part in it. My ear thought it was the only one that needed to have any input into how I should sing, blind to its own inability to do the task on its own. If someone was helping me learn the music, they often had to endure me making the same mistake over and over until I finally got the correct melody or rhythm in my ear. The process of learning music was generally long and painful.
Now things are different. One of the songs I am learning for “Strays” is called “Itchy Dog”, a Calypso-style song with distressingly alternating rhythms. In one part there will be a rhythm that is sixteenth note, eighth note, sixteenth note, and then the exact same melody will repeat, except the rhythm in that place changes to eighth note, sixteenth note, eighth note. Throughout the whole eighty-plus bars of the song this tendency continues, with minor changes in the rhythm making song more difficult (but more interesting and fun) to sing. A year ago, if someone had tried to teach this song to me, I more than likely would have been lost in the complexity of the rhythm. But now I am able to learn it with relative ease, and enjoy it for what it is all the more.

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