View Full Version : How do you learn music
02-01-2006, 03:28 PM
Is the learning process one of the mind thinking a piece through or is it a physical exercise of the eyes reading a written score ? How do you teach and how do you learn your music? Is there a preferred method of getting the music into your head?
I wrestle with this with so many students.
The Captain\'s Corner (http://www.thecaptainscorner.com/blog.htm)
02-01-2006, 03:45 PM
I teach phrasing. When I first start with students, I'll pick tunes that have the typical
A B A C structure
After parsing out a few tunes, I let the students parse them out themselves.
When learning a tune, play the phrase 5 times. The 6th time, play without the sheet music. I don't care if it comes out like garbage. The idea is to actively WORK on the phrase, not just play it over and over.
My experience has been that most learning doesn't come during the lesson, but on the drive home as they're humming the tune they just learned as they drive.
Just my method. It seems to work. My feedback from students is that actively working on each phrase, with the understanding that the 6th attempt is without sheet music, makes them that much more focused the first 5 times.
02-01-2006, 03:50 PM
Obviously you know the answer and I think you realize that you will continue to wrestle with this issue. Pehaps when you stop wrestling with this question is the day that teaching becomes 'just a chore'. :wink:
I believe that one-size does not fit all and that a competent teacher has the ability to recognize learning styles.
As for myself, I take the hybrid approach. I read the music several times through and get a feel for it. Then it becomes a physical exercise...more of the hands doing what the eyes & mind tell them they should be doing.
Preferred method of getting music into my head? *Listen and practice*
By the way, I read your blog and my first thought was this - In piping, it seems we are discouraged from doing anything more than learning "canned music". However that does not mean that many of us don't break free from this limited expression.
Regarding the statement about music "in the brain"..... I believe anyone who decides to learn and play an instrument (by their own choice) has music in the brain. Whether they decide to express that music via the piano or the bagpipe does not mean they lack the ability to think music. One must focus on the rudiments before applying their personal "in the brain" touch to any form of expression.
I believe Helen Hopekirk was probably blessed with music-ability and with her natural ability she was rather taken with herself.
02-02-2006, 06:12 AM
I find that everyone learns and memorizes differently. I have a number of students at all different levels. Some pick up and memorize music very quickly and others struggle endlessly.
I can make suggestions as to how to improve their comprehension and retention.
Some pupils just have to play a tune or phrase over and over. Others have to read it and play and some just seem to get it on the first or second time.
Like snooper I like to point out the phrasing in a tune to help them realize the structure and hopefully get a handle on the music involved and how the tune progresses.
But I also find some students do very well by me playing along with them as they are learning tunes, they seem to do better hearing it as they go. I have a piper in the band who tends to rush and crush when they play on their own. When I play along with them, we are spot on in the unison. So I don't know what gives there.
But it just goes to show that each pupil learns at a different pace and way to get the music in their heed.
I have another pupil who was taught basically by ear and that was the way the he learned a tune. Since taking him on, he now uses a metronome and can look at and read music on his own for the first time. Last night was a revelation for him in that respect.
Some have to hear, some have to see/read the music and some need both. But they eventually pick it up, it is just how they go about it that's all.
Bottom line it is getting the tune in their head and the muscle memory in their fingers!
02-02-2006, 07:30 AM
These are really good questions. And I do think there are definitely different learning styles. Those who have the biggest difficulty seem to do the tune note-by-note rather than as phrases or little patterns. If you don't see and hear the patterns, it's hard to make music.
02-02-2006, 08:51 AM
Dorothy, I agree with you 100%. I also appreciate the responses from everybody...there is a common thread here. A student must see the phrases, understand the structure of the music and use a variety of techniques to get the tune in their head. Relying solely on a single approach to fit all does not garner the success we might want. Needless to say, some students are a tougher "sell" that others. One thing for sure though, as Dorothy suggests, a note-by-note approach is the least efficient and productive in terms of understanding the music and the time needed to commit a tune to memory.
02-03-2006, 07:32 AM
I agree with Shawn and classicbagpipes, and the instructor's ability to recognize and adapt is key.
Still, structure and breaking down into phrases, half-phrases, etc. works with many. What's often overlooked, however, is the "type" of tune. Is it musical or is it rhythmic? Some are both.
In a band instruction setting (i.e., where I have a group), I may not have the luxury of deciding who learns best by what method. So I often break into phrases until everyone's aboard.
However, I've found that many pick up the tune very quickly, without the method of phrasing, if it's a very melodic tune. Rhythmic ones, however, are a bear!
02-03-2006, 10:08 AM
I have to take it in three distinct phases.
First, I get the overall sound of the tune, either listening to someone playing it or going through it myself from the music without any embellishments (except those which come without thinking). This sets in my head how I want the "music part" to go.
Then I have to "get my fingers around it" by playing note-by-note with all the embellishments, paying minimal attention to the rhythm, not necessarily all the way through at once. This seems to let my fingers know "you've got one of these, a couple of these, and a whole bunch of those in there, now you remember how to play them."
At this point, I can usually go through the tune, somewhat in rhythm (although slowly), putting in the embellishments, with only a couple of sticking points. And then, to memorize it, I play it through, and when I come to a phrase (say, 1 or 2 bars) I get stuck on, I work backwards from that phrase 2 bars at a time, until it gets zippered into the parts I already can play.
At the end, I work on something else for a month, so I can come back to this tune and find I have to memorize it all over again. :p
02-04-2006, 12:31 AM
My understanding is that we all have one of three different dominant modes of learning: visual, aural, and kinaesthetic. Visual learners look at the score and remember it. Aural learners hear the score and learn it. Kinaesthetic learners have to work out how to move their fingers and learn the patterns that their fingers make.
It can be pretty difficult to work out what a students dominant mode is: for example, in my case, I am an excellent sight reader - It's rare I hit something I can't play on sight. But don't be fooled. I learn tunes kinaesthetically. Likewise, just because your student happens to be good at picking someting up by ear that that's how he or she actually learns it.
It's important to develop all three aspects of a students performance - I am a poor ear learner and would have benefited immensely from systematic help as a beginner, but unfortunately ear training is not seen as a priority in pipe teaching.
Anyhow, to get back to the original question: I think first and foremost that familiarity with the genre of music that you are learning is vital. I reckon about half of my students have zero - literally zero - exposure to Scottish music of any kind when they start playing. When I was young, Scottish Country Dancing was compulsory and the house was full of records of the great and not so great. I grew up with this stuff in my ears a long time before I ever thought about playing pipes - not piping, but SCD music, old music hall records, the Corries, that kind of thing. That provided a base for all my subsequent learning. What I tend to do now with new students is copy a load of different tracks onto a few CDs and tell them to listen to them non-stop until they're sick of them.
The next stage of learning, to me, is technical competence. I think one common thing we do wrong as piping teachers is ask pupils to start learning too soon. I prefer to wait until the tune is being played in a steady and correct rhythm and the student is confident that they have a good grip on the tune. Until this point, I won't really talk about memorisation. Then we'll spend a major chunk of a lesson on memorising techniques and hopefully have a part or more learned by the end of it (irrelevant question: do Americans say learned or learnt?). This avoids the pain of learning a score note by note: I remember doing this and I quit piping for a while because it was so grinding and unrewarding. When I came back to it a year later, I could get the music right first and then learn it, and things worked much better.
Once I have taught the student the basic idea of breaking music down into phrases and learning individual phrases, I tend to let them develop how they then choose to memorise, and I just keep a supervisory eye on the process. In my case, I don't really learn music any more - I just play a tune a few times from the score and then a day or two later I try it through, resolve any sticking points and that's it pretty much learnt (learned? This is really bugging me now).
I try to encourage students to learn as much material as possible. Even if they learn a tune one week and never play it again, the practice of getting it into the head will be beneficial.
Woah, this is a whole bunch of words. Time to stop.
02-04-2006, 09:59 PM
02-08-2006, 10:50 AM
I have a 13 year-old student that plays 7 insturments, including the piano, violins, sax, viola, guitar, etc. She is a fantastic audible learner, but she had many problems learning with the music. I gave her Arthur Bignold (a 4-parted 2/4) to learn, showing her the phrasing and how the phrases repeated themselves, and sent her home with the tune. Two weeks later, she came back with the tune and had memorized all 4 parts.
I had told her when I gave her the tune to work over each phrase 6 times before going on to the next, and then playing both phrases 6 times etc. Between a recording I had made of the 1st part and the music, she had memorized the whole thing. And although it wasn't perfect, she had figured out for herself where the expression came in and where some notes were held/cut, etc.
Ken, you know that it is next to impossible for some to learn to play the music, while with others, you hand them a tune and 5 minutes later, they have the whole thing memorized.
I also agree with Dorothy though that some terrible learners CAN be taught how to recognize phrase patterns and note patterns and eventually learn the music. Though with some its definitely a struggle.
02-09-2006, 12:03 PM
Originally posted by dorothy:
Those who have the biggest difficulty seem to do the tune note-by-note rather than as phrases or little patterns. If you don't see and hear the patterns, it's hard to make music. Patterns. That's how I learned to play guitar, Bass and now Bagpipes. I can relate to the phrase way of teaching.
This is one reason I have found The Pipers Primer by Russ Spaulding, a valuable teaching (and for myself - learning) tool. I see myself as a normal type person (don't go there Dorothy hehehehe) and within a few minuets of Dale and I going through some of the excercises in timing and gracenotes etc. It just "Flashed" in my head. I love when that happens.
Another great way to learn (and teach) a tune is to vocalize it. It works. So that "humming and whistling the tune on the drive home after the lesson" really does become an extension of the lesson for the rest of the week.
02-13-2006, 06:53 PM
great thread.... agree with everything in various aspects...
One additional aspect....approach....
I teach phrases for overall memorization.... most frequently two bar phrases.... and what Ken taught me ... question and answer 1, question and answer 2, etc.
But I also teach two and three note "rhythmic words" ... like overgrown dthrows ... except little memory words (arpeggios?)... for the fingers.... easier to explain....
one of my rhythmic words is "feeee ga rooo" or "yump ba dump" (e.g. first three notes of Road to the Isles.... fee ga rooo..... second three notes... yump ba dump.... next four notes: an' one-two-three)... the goal is dancing with fingers.... for any one of these words (almost always ending on a long themal).... I never want my student hesitating on ... hanging up executionally on either the first or second note.... always playing to... resting on the last note of the word...
I want the student learning ... putting into his/her subconscious....these little word groupings as a UNIT... and the goal is to never START one of these UNITs without having visualized the entire unit... (similar to not playing a chord on the piano or guitar .... without first placing all your fingers in their right places)
(and you know that once a multi-note unit is in your fingers.... that unit WILL come up in the "next" tune you learn [e.g. loA D F, first three notes of Road to the Isles]..... I think this is how pipers successfully sight read and play music.... they don't just see the next note and play it.... they scan ahead and see a familiar grouping and play that from muscle memory... while the fingers are executing the word from memory....the conscious mind is scanning forward to recognize the next grouping/unit....
Folks this is how you read text.... not word by word ... but visual gulp by visual gulp, phrase by phrase.... "I pledge allegiance .... to the flag.... of the United ..... [finish the phrase])
and rest on the last note of the unit.... and visualize the next unit.... and then execute.... I almost always get my student to give me a musical, rhythmic performance with EXPRESSION this way.... even/albeit at the slower tempos...
and with successful repetition comes familiarity... and, in turn, the reward for familiarity is speed/tempo.
(Pre condition.... when the student is still in the learning the execution.... programming the fingers stage.... I do not bring in timing or metronome, or grouping....
Execution first, beat notes on the beat second, expression (longs and shorts within a beat) third, speed last).
Another alternate goal/method.... I certainly agree that different strokes for different folks... some aural, some visual, some kinesthetic, some analytical....
BUT I always try to get a student to learn and express a tune in a multi-sensory fashion...
If I can get a student to overcome normal nervousness... and humm the tune to me, sing the tune to me, onomatopoeia the tune to me (e.g. opening part of STB eeeee chum badahun an hadadumm hada-eeee.... etc)... beat out the rhythm of the tune (including grace notes, like a drummer with flams)... finger the tune on an imaginary practice chanter.... recognize what tune is being fingered on a practice chanter.... without hearing the chanter being blown... "conduct the tune" i.e. becoming proactive as opposed to reactive... know the tune well enough to listen to the tune and tell me the next note/or show the next fingering if I stop in the middle... even writing the tune phrase out on manuscript paper.... or dictating the notes with gracings that should be written down...
Any one, or more .... or all these ways (and there are more ways).... the more ways the student is willing to know the tune/express the tune.... the more the student will have mastered the tune.....
becoming more able to think the music.... becoming more able to play not only by heart.... but being able to play "from the heart."
Folks, sorry for the tirade.... and the mysticism Zen-like approach.... my philosophy is not only is there NOT just one way to teach a tune to any given student.... but the teacher should try MULTIPLE ways to reach each student...
Ken and John and fellow instructors, hope this makes sense...
Bagpipes are like childeren..... I used to have a number of theories on playing bagpipes... Now I have a number of bagpipes.... and no theories.
Richard Mao, The Peking Piper ( PekingPiper@mao.org )
02-13-2006, 07:32 PM
I always break down the tune (any tune) into sections of the form- whether we're talking about bagpipe tunes or tunes for a concert band- there are repeating sections and question/answer pairs of phrases as mentioned above. An additional advantage of the form approach is that the kids learn not to be afraid of longer tunes- they can see that they use the same phrase over and over, sio that when they get further into the piece, they find an old familiar friend rahter than something new on every line.
I try different approaches as well- some of my kids read music like they read prose- read it , hear it, play it. Some struggle with it (against it?) and can only learn by continuous rote repetition. For many of the kids, Mnemonics help- (like Richard's "words") I'll make up nonsense lyrics to fit complicated rhythms (mostly for the drummers)like "don't be a chucklehead. Play the darn thing right", or for a drume part we're working on now that looks much harder than it sounds, I'm teachung it to the drumers as "the Poutines Song"
How about some nice french fries , even better with some gravy and cheese, hubbahubba[repeat] It may be corny, but it works and the kids love it.
one last thought- one of the simplest, but most profund comments I ever heard on learning a piece of music came from Matt Seattle, regarding Dixon's Dorrington Lads- you have to learn it first before you can understand it.
03-14-2006, 09:38 AM
My teacher, and I when I taught, broke the process into four stages:
1. Go over the new music in slow detail, examining every note and ornament to be sure you recognize and can play everything. My teacher even had students manually copy the music to another sheet. Be alert for anything new or unfamiliar and learn how to do it before moving on.
2. Slowly play the notes and ornaments, being absolutely sure to play everything correctly. Do not worry about timing at this point. Continue playing everything perfectly until you have it all memorized.
3. Continue playing the tune very slowly so you are always able to play it perfectly, and turn it into music. i.e. do the timing.
4. Continue playing the tune as music, slowly and perfectly and it will gradually come up to speed. Play no faster than you are able to play the hardest movements perfectly.
It may sound like grunt and groan, but it surely does produce accurate fingering and prevent unlearning.
03-14-2006, 10:17 AM
There's a saying that goes, "if you can sing it, you can play it." I found this to be especially true when memoriziing piobaireachd. I also use this for light music too. I've found it to be the fastest way for learning tunes. This is why I've always stressed to my students the importance of learning how to read sheet music.
Repetition also helps.
04-01-2006, 04:49 PM
I think it's virtually impossible to teach a kid to read music unless it's in conjunction with learning an instrument. Went to elementary school which had a music teacher. Tried to teach everyone to read using a pitch pipe. Not one kid could get it...me included. Took up the pipes...learned to read in 2 weeks easily. When I had an instrument to relate it to...it made sense.
04-02-2006, 10:09 AM
I am with PyperGurl on this. Only downside is that I can't play Green Hills ...... without impersonating Andy Stewart singing "There was a soldier .........." (In my head that is)
Sky boat & Mingulay have a similar effect!
04-03-2006, 05:46 AM
Originally posted by Malgremor:
I think it's virtually impossible to teach a kid to read music unless it's in conjunction with learning an instrument. Went to elementary school which had a music teacher. Tried to teach everyone to read using a pitch pipe. Not one kid could get it...me included. Took up the pipes...learned to read in 2 weeks easily. When I had an instrument to relate it to...it made sense. This has been my experience as well. I have a 6th grade general music class this year which is learning to play tunes on tin whistles. I'm thinking they will have a bettere understanding of form and tonality than any of my other general music classes, because they will be relating the theory to practice- see, touch and hear.
04-19-2006, 09:12 AM
I'm partial to the question/answer phrasing method. It works superbly for me. A
nd I teach it to my students. Some need it more than others, however.
04-19-2006, 09:40 PM
I sight read it a few times through until I get the melody in my head. then I go away and play what i hum on my steering wheel, table, pencil, knees, keyboard, and PC until it's really stuck in there. occasionally, I get stuck for a note and try to work it out in my head by the pitch I remember, or I break down and go back to the music. Helps to have a recording of it to listen to also so when your internal CD player breaks down, you have something else to go on. :) This doesn't always work for tunes that don't flow intuitively - for those it's just a lot of playing through each part over and over and over until it all works out.
04-20-2006, 12:48 AM
The way I learn is this:
1. First I hear a tune that I like. Then I ask my instructor what the title is and if it's appropriate for my level. I noticed that I am partial to melodic, flowing tunes, and not "fingering exercises" :) . These tunes stick in my head and I often hum them during the day.
2. Then I get the score, have a look at it and divide into phrases/patterns.
3. Then I go through separate phrases veeery slowly and build muscle memory (without blowing). After I have repeated the phrase several times in a row perfectly (i.e. w/o any errors, crossing sounds etc. If I make an error I stop, the counter goes back to 0 and I start all over again).
4. Then I try to play the phrase slowly but rythmically (again several times in a row perfectly).
5. And then I try to play it faster but still keeping the rhythm.
Sometimes (for tunes that are more diffcult to me) I invent words that I sing along in my head, they make no sense at all, but are of great help to me.
04-20-2006, 06:15 AM
Melissa Bautz posted: "I'm partial to the question/answer phrasing method." I, too, love the question and answer phrasing, Melissa. And I do utilize it in teaching.
I find it more useful, however (and as you state it), in phrasing, than necessarily in memorizing. Then again, the occasional student does respond very well to that method.
In the end, I find that many of us don't challenge ourselves enough. When I have a student--or band members--turn their music over, it's amazing the percentage who will plow further through the music than they thought. Sort of a "cast aside the crutch" method!
05-02-2006, 07:03 PM
John Fisher made me understand how important was technique, being the very basic of the music you play. Without a good one, you cant play phisically well, and therefore everything is harder (most of the time for nothing). SO this is what I m the most picky about: grip (teaching drums).
I also explain my student how importanyt it is to actually know the theory, because you then get to understand the purposes of things iin the music, how it s written etc. After you work on it on a score sheet, it s then much easier to remember the music you play. Therefore, learning well the value of the notes is the 2nd thing i work the most on, being the very basic of the drumming music.
By my personnal experience, i have found that visualizing a score and how I should play it makes me understand its phrasing and compostition better than qhen I actually play it. I can feel how I should play it. Therefore, I say that thinking of the music is as valuable as the physical part. Because everything becomes then muscle memory. Once you understand (mind part) you can then work on your playing to improve it as much as you can (physical part).
05-22-2006, 04:10 PM
good thread, lots of interesting stuff here and a lot of it said many times. I employ the Q&A method often if the student can understand it. I have found success in teaching technique as rhythm sounds. I make sure that the student knows how this or that movement should sound rhythmically so that it will fit the music.
I have to say that I guess some people need to just go through the tunes by playing every note the first time with no regard to anything is not such a great way. To me, it only proves that you can play all the desired movements so maybe that is some sort of advantage, that's a double standard,oh well.
If the person has good technique, I try to get them to use it to their advantage to help memorize the piece and that often works. What I do with some folks is get them to read through it a few times, maybe play it once, and then ask them to finger through it, singing it or playing it but not blowing. This has often been quite successful as I believe that when the person struggling a bit with a little piece of technique, it can throw the whole thing off.
They never get anywhere because they are always hearing something wrong.
The biggest item I would say is that no matter what way they choose to learn, you must convince them that the bottle is almost full, not half empty. I cannot tell you the number of students I have that get so upset becuase they just don't "know the tune" when really, it's just a little passage in pt 2 and say something in part 4, perhaps the change. They figure they suck because they hit roadblocks but if they forget about it and put just a little time into those areas, then insert them back into the tune, often it gets better.
Last, once they can sort of play the tune right up to it being better. I get them to record themselves and listen to it. I really don't know why this works but when you hear yourself play, it seems to work pretty good. This is a method I use when I am not with music for some Piobs. Some of those tunes, I just can't get into at first but after hearing them played by myself since I recognize that "style" it seems to help me get them into my head.
Sorry for the very long response, exactly what I didn't want to do..BTW I think that I wrote out my first 12 or 14 tunes when I was young. I maybe got to play them once at a lesson but then the teacher would not even listen to them until he saw the manuscript. BY HAND ALSO, not some program that tells you when the bar doesn't add up.