There’s a stud in my wall?

In one of the classes I am teaching, we are learning how to write a simple song, chart it out, and share it with others to play. One student remarked that they weren’t particularly interested in song writing, but rather wanted to know how to play songs already written. In thinking of my response, I came up with this analogy:

If you were to want to hang a picture on your wall, and had no idea of how a house was built, you might wonder why sometimes a nail goes right into the wall and falls out when weight is put on it, while at other times, it hits something hard and is quite secure. You might just attribute it to luck.

But if you were to observe a house being built somewhere; if you were to notice how first a foundation is built; then upon that a floor is constructed; and on top of that a framework of studs forms the shape of the walls, over which sheetrock is attached – you would have a better understanding of why you sometimes hit something hard when you were hanging a picture, and why sometimes you didn’t. Observing and learning a little bit about how a house is built certainly doesn’t imply that you are planning on building one yourself – it just means that your future of hanging pictures is going to be less of luck, and more of the awareness that there are studs behind the sheetrock. Knowing that the studs usually run vertically, and are regularly (for the most part) spaced 16″ apart also help you to determine where you can hope to find one when you want to hang something heavy and in need of that support.

So, by learning how a song is laid out; how beats are grouped in to measures; and how by observing when chords change – you are in a better position to know what you’re doing when you play an existing song. Your experience writing a simple song will teach you a lot about playing a simple song.

Rather than guessing when a chord will change, you will be able to anticipate the change. Knowing what chords sound good together will inform you of the likely next chord – even before you get there. Being aware that for many songs, measures are often grouped into fours – you will “feel” changes and new sections as you encounter them.

Music, like a blank wall, may seem like there is no structure behind it, but that is rarely so. Behind the wall – and the music – there is a simple, predictable structure you can depend on when you want to hang your picture… er, I mean change your chord,… er… you know what I mean.

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7 Responses to “There’s a stud in my wall?”

  1. Richard Stallkamp Says:

    I really like your analogy and think it makes it clear why one needs more than just let me play the song. The more you know about music the better musician you are. I would add that being aware how songs flow, such as ABAB or ABACABA, is of great help figuring out how to approach a song new to you.

  2. Rob Sawyer Says:

    Gosh. I thought I’d learn where to put that instrument hangar for my resonator plectrum banjo, which weighs about 100 pounds. Seriously, great column. I’ve had students who said that they weren’t interested in learning theory, just songs, but after learning a few songs they start asking questions like “why does the songwriter suggest going to the F-minor chord here, instead of an F7 like in the first eight bars?” And then they get hooked.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Right! I get a lot of students who come to me to help them and some even realize that they need help with rhythm, but when I start to teach them about rhythm, they don’t want to learn about it. But those that do, improve greatly and are appreciative of the work they put into it. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Dave Fichtner Says:

    Well, I’m disappointed! I saw, ‘There’s a Stud in My Wall’ and was looking forward to a great song!

    I may try writing about that “stud” who happens to be in my wall?

  4. travelsbymimi Says:

    Love your analogies, Rhan! It really helps me because I’m a visual person. You have a gift of explaining things. 🎶Thank you.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you. I have found analogies useful, for if I am to teach someone about music, for instance – I can’t really use music terminology to do so – I must use other examples the learner is familiar with. I have used sewing analogies, sailing analogies, basketball analogies… anything the learner is familiar with can help.

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