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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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June 26, 2007 | How we learn

You're probably aware of popular thinking on "learning" or assimilating theories, particularly the "visual vs. aural" approach. The basic idea, some feed their brains more effectively through visual input (eyes, reading symbols) and others gather information aurally (ears, hearing, sounds). Some are slave to the printed page, not only because of traditional schooling but because they require a visual map for time & spatial reference.

Others succeed more quickly imitating something they hear. A recording, someone dictating (hearing by rote), these folks can "order" internally through sound. This is not an issue of sight-reading proficiency; it's about how individual brains process information.

Another look at learning is what we hold to as "Fingers. Ear, Brain." The basic premise is after we've gained tactile access (touch, patterns internalized through drilling and feel) by playing, we begin hearing things, from there our brains are able to assimilate higher concepts of order and music theory, but more effectively through the fingers than just cerebral concepts.

We were recently challenged by another well-respected teacher that this way only leads to developing the technician first, instead of the musician. Players who stress scales and physical patterns will sound like they're play, well... scales and patterns. While this may be true if some larger sense of theory isn't interjected, you can't speak eloquently meaningful messages if you aren't equipped with the basic words. Knowledge of words (ask any crossword puzzle junkie) is essential and you can't get to the side of the river if you don't know how to row, let alone how to grasp an oar.

Another proof in the effectiveness of learning through motion (fingering) and movement (scales and arpeggio tracks) can be found in elementary music pedagogy, through Kodaly and Orff teaching techniques. Young children learn songs in class by swinging their arms in rhythm and walking to the beat. You can't deny the "primal" in leaning. How many times have you counted off the number of people in a room by silently pointing your finger (1, 2, 3, 4, etc) to each person, establishing a "physical" or kinetic grasp of the number as well as the cerebral.

We certainly don't advocate stopping at the patterns, but once concepts like FFcP are reasonably mastered through physical drilling, the brain has something to hang on to later for higher mental activity.

If you learned chords by strumming them out in simple progression, C, G, D, etc, later you learned chord relationships and now you could transpose them by using their function with the key, IV, I, V. This opened up a whole new world for you, (You could play "three chord rock or blues" in more than one key!) but you had to master the tactile attributes of the chord first, how they fit your fingers and the physical transition from one to the next.

Fingers, Ears, Brain. It's not the only approach to mastering mandolin, but we think it's a good one.

Drill. Listen. Assimilate intellectually. Works for toddlers. It still works for the adult.

Posted by Ted at June 26, 2007 5:34 AM

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