Should we use ChatGPT to learn about music?

Hey Improvisers,

Should we use ChatGPT to learn about music?

It’s a fair enough question, and the first answer that perhaps comes to mind is, “Sure, why not? Any learning tool is good if used in the right way.”

Again, fair enough. But let’s look at one aspect of ChatGPT in depth, and weigh the pros and cons. This aspect is the fast speed in which ChatGPT spits out information.

We can begin by asking ourselves, “Is a quick answer better than a slow answer?”

Here, I’m not so sure, since ChatGPT, at this early stage, often gives quick but incorrect answers. In a previous blog post, , I shared how ChatGPT didn’t even correctly list all of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s album appearances as sideman. This shocked me, since this information is accurately listed on numerous online blog posts and discographies. Yes, ChatGPT spit out the “answer” in a split second, but wouldn’t it be better to get an accurate answer, even if it meant waiting 2-3 seconds? Once again, we see that many of us humans prefer speed over quality.

Going further, we don’t have any way of quickly assessing whether ChatGPT’s answers are correct. Unless I already know all of Wayne Shorter’s sideman appearances, I can’t possibly know whether to trust ChatGPT’s list. So when we ask ChatGPT a factual question, we have to be like the proverbial lawyer who never asks a witness any question to which the lawyer doesn’t already know the answer! In this case, wouldn’t it be better to take a few minutes and look at a Wayne Shorter discography or two? Chances are that by comparing 2-3 human-researched lists of albums, we’ll get a much better (and accurate) sense of Shorter’s recording history. Many writers and musicians care about and love Shorter’s playing, and by checking out their work and supporting their efforts, we’ll become part of a vital, human jazz community.

The final point I’ll make here has to do with the speed itself. Back when I was a university freshman, I asked my English Literature professor if he ever did “speed reading,” which was highly touted at the time. I was amazed when he replied, “Why would I ever want to read faster. On the contrary, I want to read more slowly and deeply absorb what I’m reading.” Wow! This had never occurred to me before, and over the years I’ve learned to appreciate his point.

Yes, let’s use ChatGPT when it’s actually correct and productive to do so. At the same time, let’s not forget that a speedy ChatGPT answer may be incorrect and also limit our musical journey in ways that we only dimly suspect.

Perhaps the real efforts we make to search for answers and connect information from various sources helps our brains and musical development far more than we suspect. Perhaps our musical development benefits greatly from our taking the time to ponder musical questions that we don’t readily know the answers to. And perhaps we actually need to slow down instead of speed up.

Enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”


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