When was the last time you saw a film or television show where someone was supposed to play an instrument or sing well? When that moment of reckoning occurs I always hold my breath and wait for the tell. The tell is the point where it is clear that the actor is faking it. That actor may be faking it successfully or poorly – or, of course, the actor may actually be a musician, as many are, and is not faking it at all. But if faking does occur, an editor often gets involved to fake it further. We see, we listen, we constantly assess.
When we assess students isn’t this ultimately what we are trying to determine? Are they faking it, or do they know and understand the material? As a musician, do they know how to play musically or are they simply playing the notes?
When we assess aren’t we also looking for those who fake it well?
One of the jokes among instructors of applied music (performing music) is when the teacher corrects the student and the student says, “Well, I just don’t understand. It sounded perfectly fine in the practice room.”
What that means is that most of the time (not all) the student can’t tell the difference and is, ultimately, faking it.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It?
I remember a student who was excellent at mimicry. I learned never to play a piece for her because she had too good an ear and could fake it. The problem was that she could not read music. She was a good pianist but when asked to play something that she misheard or ostensibly misread because it was incorrect she could not “replicate the results.”
I have tremendous respect for her because she had been playing for many years and had to face the fact that not only was she faking it but she had to face the degree of how much she was faking it. If she wanted to continue lessons she had to re-learn how to read music after many years of classical piano lessons, her chosen genre.
There is a part of me that thinks she always knew how much she was faking it but she had choices moving forward. She could have stayed at the level where she was because she could fool many. She could have gone on her merry way and continued to play the way she did. She could have walked away and given up. Music was not her major so that might have been the easiest choice. She chose instead to go back to the basics and learn how to read music. It was a daunting task and I commend her for her perseverance. It was a lesson in patience because, in this case, one does not fake it until you make it. She’d already been down that path.
Two Studies that May Surprise You
I love surprising students (not that you are students) so I leave you with two listenings of people who are not faking it – or are they? In the first example, Bence Peter’s Fibonacci series moves to a video image which allows him to re-sequence the series so that it can go backward, using digital editing. This video clip often offers my students a new “take” on music and they are surprised because they are hearing something different. If you are using speakers, turn them up. In the classroom, I usually turn off the lights.
The second video clip shows an interesting twist on talking and singing where he includes the spoken word. Is he having trouble or is he faking it? Here is Al Jarreau.