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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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November 12, 2009 | Sharpening learning skills

The young toddlers were just starting to get the hang of their early language skills. Rudimentary sentences had just grown out of new syllables and words as they were cataloging the phrases necessary to request their basic needs in food, comfort, and social affirmation. When baby Erica was picked up by her parents from day care, it was amusing to hear the choruses of what was initially observed as nonsensical phrases.

"Bee yah!" the diapered club would pepper with glee at the first glance of a Mom or Dad.

It wasn't until a few weeks after that, the parents figured out what the kids thought they were doing were repeating the word, "Yipee!" They simply had the syllables in reverse order. What's astonishing about this phenomenon is the great insight into the human brain and how rudimentary sensory information is absorbed. They were intellectualizing the very last sound they heard first, "Bee" instead of "Yip."

Think of a very difficult phrase in a song, and what it takes to learn it. Say there are sixteen notes in a complex sequence you need to master. Most will at best slow it down to absorb, some will simply repeat it over and over until down pat. The problem, the latter inefficiently takes too much time and is rarely absorbed long term. The former, slowing it down, slightly alters motion of pick and fingers and though you may get the notes, loses the technical context of proper speed.

The best approach is to dissect the phrase in segments, and start with the last segment (say 3-4 notes) first. Get it down and proceed to the next to the last segment and splice it to the last. When you have both down, move to the third to the last and proceed (better, precede...) this way until you've mastered the whole phrase. Like the toddlers, your brain needs to master the end, plant it into the subconscious before retaining a thorough understanding.

The best musicians are capable of thinking in advance of where they playing are at the moment, and this sort of learning allows you to perform in a manner of consistent "mastery" through the music, easy sections and hard sections. Woodshedding the challenging parts gives you the finesse and ability to enjoy the moment as you play.

For an example of how this might work, check out our archive article, a vivisection of the Sonny Rollins Bebop standard "Oleo." The Regressive Method (Learning it backwards...)


Regress... And move forward!

Fingers, Ears, Brain
Dr. Mao: Four Exercises to Sharpen Your Brain
Don Stiernberg on Mindful Noodling

Posted by Ted at November 12, 2009 1:09 PM

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