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How To Learn The Musical Language
[A summary version of The Natural Language Learning Matrix]

There is a commonality amongst all people, no matter what language they speak. For example, everyone has particular needs as human beings, and while the words used to describe them may differ from language-to-language, it is possible to speak about those experiences using any natural language.

There are commonalities within the structure of all natural languages as well. To highlight these patterns, we will use a tool that we will refer to as The Natural Language Learning Matrix (or NLLM, for short). It looks like this:


Let's explore how to read the diagram...

• The middle column is labeled "Input". Notice that everything within this column has to do with how we take in information (i.e.: Listening and Reading).

• The right-most column is labeled "Output". Everything within this column has to do with the processes that we use to make information (i.e.: Speaking and Writing).

• The middle row is labeled "Fluency". Notice that everything within this row is related to understanding and producing Sounds (i.e.: Listening and Speaking).

• The bottom row is labeled "Literacy". Everything within this row is related to understanding and producing Symbols (i.e.: Reading and Writing).

Fluency is more primary than Literacy. Even within our native language, this is easy to see. We can interact with people if we are Fluent, yet still be "illiterate" (i.e.: unable to read or write).

Because "languages" are merely patterns that are intended to communicate information, we can extend the use of the NLLM to some subjects that are not always considered "languages". For example, Music:

• "Listening" would be equivalent to "Ear Training" (i.e.: when one practices recognizing different musical patterns, such as "Notes", "Intervals", "Chords", and "Chord Progressions").

• "Speaking" would be equivalent to "Technique" (i.e.: practicing how to navigate an instrument with proper form, without stress or injury).

"Playing By Ear" is the ability to repeat what one has heard, while "Improviation" (i.e.: when one spontaneously plays or "jams" with other musicians) is like talking to oneself or having a conversation with others. These skills require "Fluency" (i.e.: both "Listening" and "Speaking").

• "Reading" would be equivalent to understanding "Sheet Music" (i.e.: the notation used to write out musical pieces).

"Sight Reading" is being able to understand Sheet Music and the navigation of one's instrument to the point that they can play it as they read it (i.e.: without having previously committed it to memory). To use an analogy, it is like being able to read aloud a book that one has not read before.

• "Writing" would be equivalent to being able to write out Sheet Music.

In combination, these skills could be used for "Transcription" (i.e.: the ability to write out Sheet Music for what one has heard), "Composition" (i.e.: the ability to write out a musical piece of one's own making), or "Arrangement" (i.e.: making Sheet Music of pre-existing musical pieces with added personal variations). All of these skills require "Literacy" (i.e.: both "Reading" and "Writing").