Sometime during your education, whether it is in primary school, secondary school or even university, you’ll be asked to create music from everyday materials. You know, music a la pails and aluminium trays, or cooking utensils like that Korean musical whose name I forgot. I remember an experience in secondary school where this was a Music project, and we put beans on a tray covered with aluminium foil and mimicked the sound of rain.
Sometimes experimenting with such everyday materials can give one an intimate experience of working with music, without having to learn sophisticated instruments. Making beats with a kneading pin, or shaking a bottle of beans, is really going down to the basics of sound arrangement and manipulation. Sure, it can’t be as cool as a piano or guitar, and you can’t really make a tune or a song out of it, but it’s likely that cavemen started off making music with similar equipment too, or maybe even just stones and sticks. They had a love for rhythm and beats, and in the whirlwind of percussion and electronic music, we may have forgotten our instinctive enjoyment of simple beats and patterns of sound.
I do wonder, when looking at Malay and Indian drums, how they can go on to maintain the same drumming beat throughout the song with their hands. Won’t their hands hurt from all the heavy tapping, and won’t they lose their rhythm after a while? I hear, for instance, that the Indians really respect expert tabla players, even though most tabla players don’t play the tabla for a living but for recreation instead, outside of their day job. And yet it takes years for one to even master how to play the tabla. The tabla is probably just as hard as our Western drum, which also takes quite a lot of practice — and a fair bit of money — to get right. Actually, really, what kind of instrument is easy to learn? Probably the only one I can think of is the triangle, because all one does is tap on it with the stick, right?
Sometimes rote learning of how to play an instrument destroys the creative passion of making music as one wishes, which is why we turn back to our roots in garage music. Many musical instruments can now be put together in the form of the keyboard, which can be tuned to produce all kinds of sounds with just the press of a button. In the future there won’t be a band anymore, will there? There’ll just be a keyboard ensemble, and musicians just take turns playing the piano, guitar, drums, all on the keyboard. Will that be the case? I doubt so, since I’m not a musician and there must be a good reason why diverse bands still exist today. But I have seen people use a keyboard to substitute for a drum before, and also to produce various other ad hoc sounds. So this possibility may not be as faraway as I had hoped.
Either way, we should return to our caveman ancestry once in a while. Wear a toga and rub some rocks together. Who knows if you create the next musical masterpiece.