Musicians and left-brain logic

I’m going to say something rude.

On most musically inclined blogs, a post about left-brain logic would proceed to rip into scientific reasoning and deride it as insufficiently fluffy. I’m about to defend it.

Returning — briefly, so relax 🙂 — to my pet annoyance of the entrenched and completely indefensible hostility to left-handed string playing, that was a strong clue to me that musicians don’t reason like I tend to. Not the ones who do it for a living, as opposed to the hard scientists and mathematicians I know who are amateur musicians, a lot of them.

When someone says, “You can’t play a string instrument left-handed!” I tend to interpret that “can’t” as a scientist would, which makes sense given my training. “Can’t” means “is physically impossible.” My arguments immediately move to the target of demonstrating that it is not only physically possible, but completely reasonable and would change nothing whatsoever in the pedagogy, bowing, or fingering, as long as the instrument is also mirrored. “Is string playing affected at all under a parity reversal?” is the question in my mind. The answer is, of course, no.

The problem is that the string players who say it aren’t thinking in those terms. “Can’t” to them means, “Dear, it’s just not done by the right sort of people!” It’s the same flavor of “can’t” as “you just can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day!” It’s also a conveniently impervious statement to logic. Like the science fiction monsters who are always impervious to bullets because they exist in another dimension or something, these statements exist in a logic-free dimension, so logical arguments pass right through them.

“Why not?”

“You just can’t!

“Look, I’m doing it right now.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Yes, I can — look. Are you blind in the eyes or blind in the brain?”

And on and on it goes.

This is also why my viola teacher was fine with it; although a full-time professional musician and music teacher, he was trained as a computer engineer. His definition of “can’t” is the same as mine. (The sensible one.)

It also struck me that this was the issue with voice “experts” who are convinced that men can’t sing alto, despite having heard Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, and Steve Perry do it for years. Again, I’m hearing that “can’t” as “is not physically possible.” They are not hearing that way.

“They’re physically capable, listen.”

“But they aren’t classical singers! They don’t count!”

“Not always, but listen to this particular passage — how is that different from a classical singer?”

“Because he’s in jeans!

“Listen to him talk — he sounds like Russell Oberlin.”

“Russell Oberlin is a high tenor!”

“So is a tenor also a high baritone?”

And on and on it goes … I’m talking physiology and taxonomy, and they’re talking white shoes in October.

I know that it’s fashionable among musical types, which I consider myself to be, to disdain the left brain and logic. Eew, icky logic. I’d advance the idea that professional musicians or self-styled “experts” can stand to learn a little of it, so they would stop saying dumb things like “you can’t play a string instrument left-handed” and “men can’t sing alto.” Especially not when rampant proof is under their very noses.