What’s Your Chosen Noise?

People just make noise. We like to think it’s more than that, but it isn’t. My son is fifteen months old and he makes noises. They aren’t specific yet but everything else is there, ready to go. I think a room full of toddlers might be having deep conversations that they understand, perhaps berating the necessity for a language that can be written down and used against them in the parking fines of their future. But in this gibbering soundscape can be heard a kind of phrasing, something that feels like sentences. There’s a kind of urge to speak running through them, with intonation that implies a question or a statement depending on the upward turn at the end. They are imitating us, and mostly they have us down pretty good.

What they don’t do is labour intensively at one word, remaining silent until it is perfected before moving on to the next. Yes, there are occasional words that pop out, words they pick up and repeat, that will eventually become absorbed into the stream of verbal noise and sidle up to our adult language. But there is no struggle for perfection (such as I am currently experiencing with the Italian indefinite article rules): just a kind of river of sound that picks up real words and carries them downstream.

Jazz students and teachers, you probably know where I’m going with this. Get in there and make noises. Eventually, like developing toddlers, you’ll get impatient with them and need to refine things, move the notes around, make cadences and all that. But it can wait. With no sound, with no “urge to speak”, you will be tied to the paper and what it tells you to do, all the pipework and no water. Don’t be like that, it’s no fun. God knows we need some of that right now.

2 thoughts on “What’s Your Chosen Noise?

  1. The older I get, the more I believe this to be so. I was recently chatting to an old pal I haven’t played with for over 20 years who basically echoed what you have written here. He was telling me that he became a lot happier when he stopped worrying about jazz theory, sight reading, etc. and just allowed himself to enjoy learning jazz by ear, like a kid learns a language.

    Some forms of music education can make us believe there is a right or a wrong way of doing things. And when we constantly seem to be doing things ‘wrong’, all the happiness and joy goes out of the window. Which is I think one of the biggest reasons for people giving up on learning an instrument.

    Oh to have a fifteen month-old … Last night I dreamt one of my grown-up girls was a toddler again; we were at a beach and she was putting sand everywhere, including in her mouth. In real life, she phoned me last week to tell me she might be moving to America. Toddlers are much more fun than grown-up children.

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