I’m spending Thanksgiving with my lovely aunt Jill. I’m lucky to have her close by in California while the rest of my family is in the freezing cold on the east coast.

Jill is a musician. She’s incredibly creative and artistic, and it shows when you meet her.

Last night, I was in Jill’s studio at 11 pm playing with the African guitar shown in the picture above. I’d never seen one of these things before. I was instantly drawn to it.

In her soundproof studio, there are about 100 different instruments in it. It’s like a playground for creativity. It’s full of  musical equipment and instruments I’ve never seen or heard of before – anything from bongo drums to ukuleles to pianos, and everything in between.

Being in here makes me feel like a kid. New instruments to explore, new sounds to be heard, and best of all: no rules or instructions.

That’s the cool thing about music. Instruments are just that: instruments. Tools we use to implement sounds. Much like a surgical instrument is a tool for a person to do surgery, a musical instrument is a tool for a person to play music.

Without the surgeon, the surgical instrument lays uselessly idle. Without the musician, the musical instrument remains uselessly silent.

There are traditional ways to hold and play each instrument, but these are only suggestions. Beautiful sounds can come from instruments being played in nontraditional ways. Experimenting with a new one for the first time calls for pure creativity.

I couldn’t help but relate this process back to learning.

Experimenting with a new instrument is a most pure form of learning.

Using your sight, you develop a hypothesis of what it will sound like based on the material, and any previous experience you have with anything similar.

You test the hypothesis by touching it, hitting it, plucking the strings, or pressing the keys. A sound is created.

You hear the sound, and touch, hit, pluck, or press something else. A new sound is created. You start to recognize patterns, one by one.

This is exactly what I did with the  African guitar. After 10 minutes of playing, I became familiar with the basic sounds that the instrument makes and how to create them. I was able to create simple patterns and simple melodies.

From there, it becomes a matter of practice and muscle memory to actually develop some talent over time.

None of this can be taught in a textbook or in a lecture. It must be learned hands on. The tactile and sensory feedback of actually playing with an instrument engages our brains and bodies in a way that is utterly natural and coercive.

I can’t think of a time I experienced this feeling of pure exploration and creativity in school, other than playing on the playground at recess.

Be a kid again. Explore something new, and experience what it’s like to learn.