Monday, June 18, 2012


I've been spending a lot of time lately on pedagogy, the process of teaching and learning.  I've been doing this mainly because not doing it isn't working.

For example, for the longest time, rather than teacher, I've played the roll of answer-man when it comes to music. At band rehearsal we listen to a song we want to play. I hear all sorts of nuances that I immediately map to musical forms and structures. I hear that the Miles Davis tune So What is being played in D-dorian, not D-minor. Listening to Carol King's It's Too LateI hear the sharp-11 in the melody as she sings the word Something in the phrase "Something in side just died and I can't hide..." and know immediately that the underlying chord is a Bb-major-7. 

When it comes to music, the left and right hemispheres of my brain work so seamlessly that they seem to be connected by some kind of hyper-network. When I hear something, I don't stop to translate it into structure; I just "know" the structure. When I think of a structure, I hear it.

It's not something that I was born with. It's not something that came to me naturally. It's something I was I taught. 

My first sax teacher, Hobie Grimes would give me music assignments. I'd figure them out and learn to play them. At twelve, I didn't know that other twelve-year-olds weren't being handed the flute music for Flight of the Bumble Bee and being told to learn it by transposing it for Bb Tenor Sax. I didn't know that other kids weren't learning all the modal scales in addition to the major and minor ones. I didn't know that kids didn't stay after their lessons were over to transpose and play french horn ensembles with other students.

They were just my weekly music lessons.

I had no appreciation for the fact that my mom had spent months researching teachers to find Mr. Grimes or that she drove an hour each way to take me to lessons or that she waited in the car for two to three hours while Mr. Grimes gave us whatever impromptu assignments seemed most appropriate in the moment.

I had no idea.

I certainly didn't understand the implications of Mr. Grimes' approach. You see, he not only taught me about music; he taught me how to learn and understand things about music that I'd never been taught.

He taught me to see patterns and say, "Oh, that's really just this, but with a slight change."

He taught me to break things down into smaller chunks in order to learn them.

He taught me how to put the pieces together so they didn't sound like a bunch of pieces.

He taught me that, if you can't see it one way, then look at it another way.

Mr. Grimes taught me how to learn, not just how play. He taught me how to derive and apply music theory, not just what the facts and names were. He taught me that, if you stick with it, you can figure out anything.

Anyway, having had the results of what Mr Grimes taught me being so readily available, it's been easier and quicker for me to just hand out answers rather than teach how to derive the answers.

But you know what? That doesn't work very well if you want everyone in the band to be strong musically. So I've decided to slow things down and teach.

You know what else? It's really fun.

Any situation going on in your life where it might be time to slow things down and teach?

Happy Monday,

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