When we learn a new language – pronunciation is always the first thing to learn. How is that similar to learning music?

I remember taking my first official Spanish class.

I say “official” because I grew up with a Spanish speaking mother and had a familiarity with the language from a young age, but back in High School, I took beginning Spanish to try to really learn the language and be a fluent speaker.

One of the very first things we learn in learning a new language is how to properly pronounce the words we are learning. The vowels, consonants, and accents are almost as important as the actual word – the inflection is key to the delivery and understanding of a word.

With a proper idea of how to pronounce and deliver a word or sentence, we continue our learning; adding new vocabulary and sentence structure as we continue.

Yet often in music – I see the accumulation of data being the priority. New instruments, chords, song sheets, meetings, clubs, festivals….. with one thing apparently missing: pronunciation – or in a musical sense – delivery.

And there’s nothing wrong with all that. It’s fun and engaging and has, and is, bringing so many people together.

But if it’s music we are trying to play – let’s go back to the beginning for a minute and look at how we pronounce our musical words – how we express ourselves with however many, or few, chords we know.

Can we strum a simple C chord with feeling? Can we gently pluck an Am – listening to each and every beautiful resonant string? How about a G – can we play it strong with confidence and power? Can we simply play C, F, and G over and over with patience and consistency – not rushing and not lagging, but merely enjoying the wonderful sound we are creating?

This could be thought of as our “musical pronunciation” – the very basic part of music that once learned, can be applied to all new chords and songs as we learn them. This expression allows us to be musicians and artists, even if we only know three chords which, by the way, is all you need to know to play hundreds of songs.


I am not yet fluent in Spanish, but I speak the words and phrases that I have learned with such authenticity, that most often a Spanish speaking person will take me for a fluent speaker and engage me in conversation beyond my full comprehension. But that’s a good thing, as it values what I have learned and encourages me to learn more.

And so I believe that if we all took the time to learn to play what few chords or songs we know with feeling and artistic authenticity, then we in turn would be taken more seriously by those who know more than we do; and their willingness to engage us in conversation, albeit at times possibly above our comprehension, would encourage us to learn even more about the language of music.

I may know a lot of chords and songs –  but the most challenging and rewarding thing I do every time I pick up an instrument, is to deliver whatever chord I may be playing in the most authentic and musical accent I can muster.



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6 Responses to “When we learn a new language – pronunciation is always the first thing to learn. How is that similar to learning music?”

  1. J R Says:

    Just learning to play didgeridoo (after making a couple from Bamboo). Wear myself out playing so can only practice every other day! Don’t we just imitate what we hear (right or wrong) when we’re first learning?

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Yes, we DO imitate – right and wrong.
      Again – if you were learning a new language – you would want to listen to a real speaker to hear how the words are pronounced – not someone else who isn’t any farther along than you.

  2. joanna snyder Says:

    For some people just the joy of being able to make a musical sound is more than enough, perfection isn’t the real goal … wonderful article, Rhan, thank you …

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you for reading and for commenting, Joanna.
      Yes, perfection doesn’t have to be the goal – as we will always seek to get better, no matter where we are.
      It seems to me that the goal is to express ourselves – even with the simplest of sounds.

  3. Marilyn Madden Says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing your quite often profound ideas and thoughts. Good article!
    Much Love, Marilyn Madden

  4. Tom Fortson Says:

    Well said, Rhan. I’m finding that making music makes me happier. It is a daily practice of mine – kind of meditative. Yes! pronunciation is important to me, as I practice. Music theory, and playing with others in AIGT have given my pronunciation a big boost. Along with the improvement comes greater enjoyment of the music itself.
    As I flesh-out a chord progression, I get lost in the harmonies- edging to the ‘resolution’. This also fits with your other blog about playing simply- I like to combine the simplicity too, and making that ring. It all fits together, and that makes me even happier still!
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful approach to helping us grow.

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