Schillinger Myths…

Friday, November 07, 2008 1:08 AM
San Carlos, California

Schillinger Myths…

I was briefly introduced to Schillinger’s two red volumes at Grove’s film school by the late Joe Harnell in L.A. in the early 90’s and told myself I’d come back to it – well, here I am.  I first had done preliminary digging on the Internet to all the Schillinger places most of us have already been, seen and read.

As I moved closer to the subject and had feelings of excitement, anxiousness as well as doubt and reservations as to whether I could manage the material, it occurred to me that I’m probably not alone in these thoughts and emotions; that others starting on the trek, or considering it, are most likely feeling exactly like I am.  “I’m a composer not a mathematician – who needs this to write an inspired melody,” and so on and so on. I thought others might want to share their thoughts as well who are coming to the Schillinger pond wondering whether they should dare put a big toe in this perhaps icy pond.

I thought I’d post some of my thoughts, feelings and discoveries as I begin studying the system; this is not meant to be preachy or instruct.  But what better time to record these thoughts while fresh and current with the challenges I’m faced with as I work through the material.  So it’s sort of like “journal” for me – opinions expressed today, that latter may be revisited as I gain a deeper understanding of the material and grasp of the Composition tools Schillinger has laid before us. But if perhaps others contemplating the pursuit of this extraordinary man and his system of Composition can relate to some of the issues I’m experiencing, it may help to at least know that hey, you’re not alone. And then others can jump in and share their ideas as well and we may really find that we’re all sharing many of the same thoughts and facing many of the same issues.

As I began my Internet research, I noticed the same comments and criticism’s of Schillinger’s work time and time again. As I objectively reviewed them, I found many to be “Myths” that really had no base in fact whatsoever while other comments were true but framed as criticisms: “You don’t need Schillinger to write an inspired melody” – ok, that’s certainly true, but why is it being spoken as a criticism by insinuating that the Schillinger System is therefore pointless and not worth pursuing?

I became amused at some of these comments and thought to myself, “You know I bet I could come up with a ‘Top Ten’ Schillinger Myth list”.  Let’s take a look:

Schillinger Myth #1:

The Schillinger method is mechanical eliminates the need for effort or artistic insight.

Who hasn’t heard this: “The Schillinger System reduces everything to mathematics and the musical intuition and the subjective side of creativity are neglected.”

Actually the opposite is true. Schillinger’s system integrates naturally with full elasticity.  It’s actually the 1-2-3-4 of music tradition that lasted until the time of Wagner which rigidly adheres to a forced symmetry and unnatural uniformity.

Schillinger Myth #2:

I don’t want to study the Schillinger System because if I do I’m afraid my music is going to start sounding like:__(Gershwin, jazz, Schillinger himself, just plain weird…. basically insert anything you want here).

No you won’t. That’s a myth. There is no more basis to that then if you said, “I’m afraid if I learn to read music, I’ll start sounding like Beethoven”. Think of nature: it’s organized, balanced and structured. But it also gives and breathes – the trees blow and give way to the wind and rain and the waves move up to and away from the shore. Yes, the Schillinger System is organized and there is structure – so are the rings in the trees that blow in the wind and the patterns of the snail or pinwheel constantly repeated in nature – but it’s also gives and takes just like the forms in nature – as you study and grow your music grows as well but always in your own unique voice. There is only one you.

Ok, it’s getting late – I’ll wrap up with one more:

Schillinger Myth #3:

Schillinger himself wasn’t a great composer so the system can’t be that great either”

Wow, I think maybe I should have put this one at the top instead of 3rd place: “I’ve heard some of Schillinger’s music and I’m not impressed” (the non-sequitur implying, “So why should I study his system if he himself wasn’t that great of a composer”)

I think this all began with classic comment, (George Bernard Shaw?)

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

I suppose there are those who, in lieu of actually accomplishing anything, turn a failed career into a teaching profession. But hold on a minute. All famed athletes have coaches who can’t begin to compete with the accomplishments of those athletes they coach! Famed violinists and tenors and sopranos all study with those who themselves are less accomplished on their voice or instrument then the artists they teach! Yet the artists and star athletes continue to train and study with them because these people have a genius to find the weakness and flaws of even the most gifted and accomplished artist or athlete and are able to synthesize and organize a systematic approach for new breakthroughs and improvements in their progress.  I am thinking of one songwriting teacher in particular that has never had a hit song – yet he is an amazing teacher and pushes your songs to the next level after only hearing the first few lines of a verse…and in the industry, has really broke new ground for lyricists to become more creative because of his systemization of phonetics (rhyme schemes) giving the hit songwriters totally new and fresh ways of looking at their material to improve their craft and raise the bar in songwriting higher then ever before.

I have found it not a good idea to judge the book by its music. There is genius inside those two volumes; Schillinger could have not even been a composer at all and the material would be just as valuable nonetheless.

More latter….next, the three Truths about the Schillinger System (as I see it in this point in time).

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Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 5:05 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi, Great blog very helpful and insightful. Good to see other composers are going through the harmony books daily. Some lovely pieces and modulations in your work too. Who was the person you referenced re : lyrics and phonetics / rhyming schemes – would love to check some of that stuff out too.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Very interesting stuff.


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