Trent Reznor and the Reason Why Traditional Music Lessons Matter

“My grandma pushed me into piano.  I remember when I was 5, I started taking classical lessons.  I liked it, and I felt like I was good at it, and I knew in life that I was supposed to make music.” – Trent Reznor

This morning, I woke up feeling groggy and somewhat uninspired, so I decided to watch Dave Grohl’s movie Sound City, one that had been on my list for awhile and just happened to pop up on Amazon Prime this weekend.  Towards the end of the movie (which is fantastic, by the way), there is a segment that highlights electronic musician, Trent Reznor, from Nine Inch Nails.  Most musicians would agree that Trent Reznor is one of the more intelligent, well-spoken people to have influenced the “hard rock” genre, so my ears immediately perked up when I heard him say “My grandma pushed me into piano.  I remember when I was 5, I started taking classical lessons.  I liked it, and I felt like I was good at it, and I knew in life that I was supposed to make music.”  This is some information that really made me think.  Trent Reznor is an extremely well-respected rock musician who has been in the headphones of teenagers for the better part of 25 years now, and the man started his music career out of a love of classical piano.

“I practiced long and hard and studied and learned how to play an instrument that provided me a foundation where I can base everything I think of in terms of where it sits on the piano.” – Trent Reznor

As a teenager in the 90s, I grew up in the grunge era, developing a love for Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, etc.  I was hanging band posters on the walls in between practicing Chopin and Beethoven on the piano.  I guess I felt like a bit of a lost soul, but I was definitely not alone.  Many of the other musicians I knew at the time had roots in classical music, but all we really wanted to talk about were the newest bands out of Seattle and the emergence of new sounds like those that came from Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.  We were not lovers of rock music or lovers of punk or lovers of classical…. we were lovers of music.  We used whatever means we had to learn how to express ourselves through music, and for many of us, it began with the piano.

“I like having that foundation in there.  That’s a very un-punk rock thing to say.” – Trent Reznor

As we all got a little older, many of us started experimenting with writing our own music, assembling bands, and learning new instruments.  Our parents began to panic, as we started spending more of our time learning how to manipulate our instruments for our own creative purposes rather than practicing what our teachers had assigned for the week.  We learned songs off the radio.  We wrote melodies for our own lyrics, and we copied down chord progressions for the guitarist or bassist to follow.  We used the piano and our classical training to develop our ears and our sounds and our own creativity, and we found a way to appreciate the tradition of formal music lessons, in a way, by rebelling against them.

“Understanding an instrument, and thinking about it, and learning that skill has been invaluable to me.” – Trent Reznor

Myself and many other music teachers have a deep-seated fear.  We are afraid that, one day, the tradition of formal music lessons will die out.  As technology quickly replaces the need for human involvement in many industries, we worry that we are becoming replaceable.  Human interaction has become less and less important to the younger generation, and most have been raised on the pop culture ideal that “image is everything.”  Talent and hard work are worth less than they were 10 years ago.  We are all secretly wondering, “How are music lessons still relevant?”

The answer to this question is very simple.  Music lessons are still relevant because music is still relevant.  For every teenager, there is a rite of passage in discovering the latest great band and sharing it with your friends.  For every adult, there is a bond that you can share with someone you have met for the first time once you find out you share some common musical interests.  For every child, there is satisfaction in producing a sound from an instrument that is entirely your own.  The state of the music industry will always be changing, as will music itself.  Music lessons will come in and out of fashion, but the foundation that they provide will never be irrelevant.  Music is a tool.  For myself, it is a tool that I use to challenge and express myself.  For others, it may be a tool for self-motivation, discipline, creativity, or simply education.  However you decide to use it, music is the basis for one very simple human ideal: happiness.  The good thing about happiness?  It never goes out of style.

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