Why Montessori bells get it wrong

There is no single Montessori system for introducing 3-year olds to music. Children are placed in a rich environment full of learning toys, of which the musical instruments, generally bells, are only one among several competing attractions.

Montessori bell sets have a range of one octave and come in diatonic (8 bells) and chromatic (13 bells) versions. In both cases, two sets are used, one on black and white stands as on a piano, the other on plain varnished wood stands.

montessoriBells2

Montessori chromatic 1-octave bell set

The idea of duplicating the sets is to test the child’s pitch sense by shuffling one of the sets and making him match two bells that sound the same note. The notion of error is thus instilled at a very early stage, and with it the possibility of failure.

Small children, especially the more sensitive and artistic ones, have a very ambivalent attitude towards success and failure. Some like to fail in order to make a point, and end up proving it to themselves.

Melodies, when taught, are the usual boring tunes in C major, and the expected end takeaway is that the child will hit his 6th birthday knowing the names of the notes and ready to start piano torture. Or will have decided music is not for him.

I find this sad.

Given that a set of bells like the one above can cost around $1000 (yes, you read that right!), it might be worth asking about the return on investment, and whether duplicating the set, rather than, say, offering a two octave range, is really the best use of resources.

The Montessori philosophy is all about letting children learn what they want as the fancy takes them. It’s about self-guided discovery rather than having teachers pump them with knowledge. The premise is that they learn best when they are interested in something.

So why is the musical equipment (or in Montessori-speak “auditory sense materials”) geared towards a boring piano-centric view of what music is? I suspect that this is a legacy of the nineteenth century, and that it is now time to move on!

My favorite example of the way the piano can compound errors and turn a small slip into disaster is a kid who had learned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in C on the piano, but then started on B by mistake. Knowing only the white keys, he couldn’t work out why everything he did sounded wrong thereafter.

My proposal would be to use a single 25-bell set spanning two octaves offering intervallic consistency, so that the same movement always produces the same interval.

montessoriBells7

Proposed 2-octave intuitive layout for Montessori bells. (Virtual model)

With intuitive layout, you don’t have to work out in advance which degree of which scale the song starts on to know which bell to hit first.

The flipside is you can play in the wrong key without even knowing it. But that minor failing is consistent with our focus: to play like singing in the shower!

The same colors used in Montessori mathematical games to give them appeal can be used for the bell stands. As with my intervallic xylophone, all major scales follow the same rule of “play 3 notes on one row then 4 on the other”.

But the aim here isn’t even to teach scales. Scales are just abstract constructs created by extracting notes from music. Or vice versa. They are not a pre-requisite for playing “like singing in the shower”.

Allowing a child to discover his own personal ritornellos on a logical and intervallically consistent instrument rewards his guesswork and reinforces his improvising muscle and musical confidence – the soundest basis on which to build his talent, and train his “auditory sense” – something not to be confused with keyboard knowledge.

And if you really want to put those kids to the test, why not let them have a go at placing all those bells in the right order? Who cares if they fail? That’s how Arnold Schoenberg got started!

Hmm.

Posted in Intuitive Instruments, Music Education | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Musical theorems: a bluffer’s guide

The idea of musical theorems is all about drawing simple conclusions from your basic knowledge about notes, and putting them to use in your playing.

An example. You know every major scale contains three notes from one wholetone scale and four notes from the other. Therefore, any wholetone scale playing over a major chord will contain three or possibly four “right” notes. In fact since playing the fourth (subdominant) over a major chord is a no-no, let’s just keep it at three “right” notes.

That’s half of your wholetone scale! So just keep going until you find your feet.

Here’s another one, that I suspect was one of Miles Davis’s favorites. The {+1 -2} pattern (see below) that he liked to use, especially in his early days,  is based on sound thinking.miles

Given that there are altogether 12 notes and only six of them can sound “right” over a major chord (still keeping that subdominant out of the equation), you have only a 50% chance of blind-hitting a good one.

I read in one of David Baker’s early guitar manuals, that any chromatic pattern will work so long as you end at the right place. Or maybe he said you have to start in the right place too.

Miles was known for his cavalier attitude to rules and his love of the right “wrong” note.

Now, the longest distance between two “right” notes over a major chord is the 3-semitone gap between the third and the fifth. Therefore you never have to loop the {+1 -2} pattern more than three times to hit a right note from below. And it sounds like be-bop to boot!

We can keep collecting theorems by asking questions such as: How many major thirds/ perfect fourths are in a major scale? Using the answers (three and six respectively) can help us design all-purpose patterns that we can insert and use to play “outside” in an intelligent way, and be sure to land safely on terra firma.

An awareness of linksums can also be a boon for improvisers. (Check out the MOVES page if you don’t know what a linksum is). A pattern with linksum (transposition) of +3 when repeated four times gets you back into the original key. One with a linksum of +8 will come out in the same place two octaves higher when repeated three times.

Do you have a favorite musical theorem you would like to share? Add a comment!

Posted in Music Theory, Musicianship | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Enharmonic Experiment

I trust you are all familiar with Irving Berlin’s masterpiece Cheek to Cheek, made popular by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and recently given a new lease of life by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

This week I am working with a singer who wants to sing it her own way, that is: by making a little change to one note that she doesn’t like.

The second half of the bridge of Cheek to Cheek takes a surprise turn into the minor, and the melody treats us to a -9 move, aka a descending diminished seventh (A-flat down to B natural), where the lyrics go “my arms about you”.

This is the leap that she doesn’t like. She wants to replace it with a -3 move.

Two measures later, another -9 move occurs. This time it’s no longer spelt as a diminished seventh, but as a major sixth (G down to B-flat).

She has no problem with singing that. So what is going on?

Some months ago I wrote a post illustrating the difference between an augmented fifth and a diminished sixth. Both intervals span 8 semitones and are written as “8” in MOVES notation. And here we have another of those instances where MOVES doesn’t tell the whole story.

So to help you hear what’s going on I have prepared this little looping exercise, to which I have added easy guitar chords. It is a mishmash of Cheek to Cheek with Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

cheek2cheek2

Despite crossing over from four flats to four sharps, the actual notes used are in fact the same. The A-flat is the the enharmonic equivalent of the G-sharp and the E-sharp is the enharmonic equivalent of F. The D-flat chord is played the same as the C-sharp chord.

As you keep looping through the exercise, try to imagine you are inside the original songs and feel “the air change around you” as you slip from one to the other.

Now you are living the enharmonic experience!

Posted in Interval Training, Moves notation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Christmas carol game for two

Here’s a game for two players that you can use to improve your intervallic awareness, develop your melodic reflexes on clarinet or piano or just as a fun way to get into the Christmas mood.

You can play it in different ways. It doesn’t matter if you sing it or play it on your instrument(s). If you’re on your own, you can play it by yourself and you have my commiseration. Or you can print out more cards and use it in class. Clicking on the photo brings it up on a new page so you can just hit print (ctrl + P).

You will need the two cue cards below, a dice, and a starting note. You can get a starting note from your surroundings or pick one at random by singing the first note that comes out.

(Anyone who doesn’t know what the numbers mean, check out the MOVES notation page. It’s really easy: the numbers are semitones; and plus or minus mean up or down.  The other signs denote note-lengths.)

Then one of you takes the first card:

xmas carols

Card 1

And the other takes the second card (easy so far!)

christmas carol extracts

Card 2

The extracts are classified by linksum. That is, the difference between the first and last note of the extract (= the sum of all the moves in the chain “link“).

So one player has all the ascending linksums and the other has all the descending ones. It doesn’t matter, you can change round for the next session. Throw the dice to decide which excerpt to play. Play it. Then it’s your partner’s turn. And so on.

You will notice that all these extracts from Christmas carols  begin with =0.  That means that your starting note is the last note played by your partner. Since the excerpt she plays was dictated by the throw of the dice,  your starting note is also your own last note plus or minus the number shown on the dice, depending on who has which card.

So great. The longer you play this, the more surprising transpositions you will find yourself playing in. The important thing is not to pay attention to which key you are in. Just play your fragment of Christmas mood starting from the note you are handed.

If you want to up the stakes, you can make your partner knock back a glass of punch each time she messes up.

Remember, the goal of MOVES practice is to play like singing in the shower. For this, the tune itself is what captains your instrument . Melody rules, OK!

And bring out the punch!

Posted in Interval Training, Moves notation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rubinstein loved it. Liszt loved it. Now you can buy it!

Black Future For Piano Teachers?

What will we do with all our used piano teachers when logical keyboards finally take over?

Well, they could be recycled. After all, some of them have a lot to offer on a purely musical level, and they could quickly adapt to the new layout themselves. Obviously they won’t be able to hang on to their star students as long as they do now, since the logical keyboard is twelve times quicker to master.

But the upside is, the smooth learning curve will mean less pupil drop-outs, so teachers will be spared those anxious moments on the phone asking Billy’s mom if he has forgotten his lesson again.

Yes, even teachers have the rent to pay.

I have it on apocryphal authority that the Jankó keyboard won the approval of Artur Anton Rubinstein who said that if he were to start again he would choose it, and of Franz Liszt, who swore it would take over the world in 50 years time.

He was out by a few years. So far 132 springs have slunk by since Paul Jankó’s patent. We have had to wait for technology to catch up. We are still waiting for mentalities to shape up.

Now you can buy it!

I am glad to see that Chromatone has finally made an English version of their shop, and are kicking off with 65% price reductions on their two models. The CT-312 has 5 wholetone rows + 1 chromatic row covering 6 octaves, while the Wholetone Revolution boasts 6+1 rows covering the whole 88-key piano range:

Here you have the 6-octave CT-312:

The Chromatone CT-312

The Chromatone CT-312

And here is the Wholetone Revolution with the whole 88-key shebang:

The 88-key Wholetone Revolution

The 88-key Wholetone Revolution

I read on the Chromatone website that these keyboards are based on something called the “Muto” learning method (and not the other way round!). You must ignore this red herring.  You may have noted my opinion of alternative notation systems as stated in an earlier post. The whole point about intuitive instruments is that everything you need to know is under your fingers. You just have to winkle it out.

Anyone who isn’t convinced, or who still finds their prices a tad too “aspirational”, should download their Android app and learn how to tap out tunes and chords the easy way. Seriously, you will be amazed and ask, why has nobody thought of this before?

Well they did a while back, and now it’s your turn!

[added 15/12/2014] PS. Anyone interested in the history of  logical keyboards should check out Dominique Waller’s very thorough research paper here: oops, see below

[added 08/06/2015] PPS. Sadly Dominique seems to have removed his very thorough research paper from Scribd

eyboardFollow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute

Posted in Intuitive Instruments | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Wagner’s Ring, Short Scales and Musical LEGO

Musical composition is commonly taught through analysis of standard works. A piece is broken down into a hierarchy of elements, chunking down from whole movements to subjects and developments, and breaking down themes into sub-units variously called motifs, or cells.

Program notes for Wagner operas often contain lists of those melodic fragments called leitmotifs to help you follow the story. Wagner himself called them Grundthemen (basic themes) or Melodische Momente (melodic moments).

So some – if not all – music uses sub-units or building blocks, and these can be readily identified and classed into a hierarchy of levels .

If it’s that easy, why do we have to wait till music college to learn about them? Couldn’t we use these very bricks used in composing a concerto to build a young person’s musical ability? But in reverse order, from the ground up, so to speak. In fact, isn’t that what kids do anyway? Chunking up.

Rather than giving them whole themes to follow, we could start with cells. Lets look at how this might work, taking examples of three-note cells used in grown-up music:

gazza

Check out Buster Williams playing that bottom line here:

Now, if you play the second subject of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture (that contains the passage above) to a not particularly gifted six-year-old and ask him to sing it back, chances are it will come back to you broken down to its component cells. A sort of instant musicological analysis.

The three-note figures are like words to him, basic musical units which he can recognize and reproduce. But there is no guarantee he will get the transpositions or the number of repeats right, let alone the entire theme.

And that is where we go wrong if we try to correct him.

I think we have here a stage in the development of musical cognition which needs to be acknowledged and which could be usefully catered for. To a certain extent, this has already been taken care of with tunes like Frère Jacques and its near mirror-inversion, Three Blind Mice.

3blindmice

These two tunes offer 2 ascending and 2 descending cells spanning a major and minor third. In MOVES notation we would write {=0 +2 +2} {=0 +1 +2} {=0 -2 -2} and {=0 -2 -1}. Or more simply, as the short scales {2 2} and {1 2}.

The selection of cells is culturally based, and could be expanded in imaginative ways.

By writing the intervals and not tying them to any key center, we open the way to whole new avenues of exploration, such as chaining and transposing, as well as an array of transformational possibilities (substituting the numbers, changing the signs + and -).

It’s a playful way to help the child acquire and broaden his basic musical vocabulary and get a feel for concepts such as transposition and modulation that are traditionally left till much later. There is no fear of making mistakes. No pupil wastage.

In a word: perfect musical LEGO!

And of course, while the whole idea works like a dream on intuitive intervallic instruments like the Jankó piano and the double-wholetone-row xylophone, the traditional piano can be used at a pinch. With discretion. Without blame.

Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute

Posted in Music Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why can’t music learning be as simple as LEGO?

The other day my 6-year-old son decided he wanted to get rid of all his toys, except his LEGO.

Not quite. When the moment came to pack them up, he decided he couldn’t part with his Bakugan brawlers either. You know, those balls that spring open to become threatening beasts when thrown.

So I ask: what is so captivating about LEGO and can we build that quality into music learning? How can we make music-learning a process of self-discovery and creativity by offering the right kind of building blocks?

The blocks need to be colorful, easy to manipulate, and must not intimidate.

Are you sleeping, Brother John?

xylo

My son wanted to show me he had worked out how to play Frère Jacques on the wholetone xylophone. He proudly kept repeating the first three notes – Do-Re-Mi – in a cycle. If you know the tune (how could you not?) you will remember that it is the first four notes that repeat, like so:

Do-Re-Mi-Do, Do-Re-Mi-Do, or in MOVES:

yn +2 +2 -4 =0 +2 +2 -4.

There was no way I could get him to understand the “mistake” by demonstrating how it should be played. Making him sing the lyrics worked as long as he sang it, but as soon as he got back to the instrument the three-note cycle reappeared.

Putting that aside, I showed him how to play the next phrase of the song, Mi-Fa-Sol, Mi-Fa-Sol, to the words: dormez-vousdormez-vous? To get the semitone from Mi to Fa on the double-wholetone-row xylophone, you need to cross from one wholetone row to the other.

To my surprise he had no difficulty crossing over to the back row, and since the phrase was already a 3-note phrase, that was no problem either. Except that he omitted to give the last note (on “vous“) double the length.

Evidently three-note figures are a winner. I wasn’t able to get him to chain up the two building blocks to make the first half of the tune, and unfortunately some of my frustration rubbed off onto him, and he lost his urge to carry on.

Not as good as Lego, he seemed to think.

Cross purposes

That got me thinking about our different mental frames, to try to understand where he was coming from.

I had a pre-programmed idea of the whole of the tune he was trying to play. I was judging his performance on how well it measured up to the tune that I knew. Whereas he had acquired this three-note brick and was trying to use it to build the tune. And like LEGO, the brick didn’t need to be an exact representation of anything.

He happily accepted a second three-note brick to build the next part of the tune, and stacked that without regard for the rhythm.

So my question is: should we expect children to learn music by reproducing tunes correctly? After all, we don’t demand that they draw lifelike portraits instead of stick figures. So what’s so different about music?

Had I been able to understand that he needed to play with those 3-note bricks and test them to see what he could build with them, we might have found common ground.

The scary scaly monster

I have never been a lover of scale practice. I have been told by accomplished musicians that you get to like – yea  – love it, as you get better at it. This kind of advice resembles the hard sell that people who run ten miles daily tend to use, and on me, is just about as effective.

My take on scales is that they are artefacts obtained by taking a chunk of music and hanging up all the notes in that chunk, in order of pitch. More like a table of contents than the book itself. When overused in music they become a form of conceptual pollution.

As a form of torture, scale practice is designed to overcome the shortcomings of the instrumental interface, and the design faults of the instrument itself.

On the piano, each scale has a correct fingering which has to be learned by endless practice. These fingerings were designed in the time of Bach to marry the unequal touch and length of the black and white keys to the uneven length and strength of the fingers, and specifically to organize the placement of the thumb undertuck.

Because scales usually require an entire childhood to master and build the right muscles, teachers are tempted to start imposing them at the child’s first display of interest in playing the piano, so as not to lose time or install those dreaded “bad habits”. Those who don’t respond to this treatment are quietly dropped as unsuitable.

But a good question is who drops who? When I ask people why they gave up piano the commonest reason is: the teacher I had.

So who’s unsuitable?

More on this to follow. Send me your ideas in the comments below, or on Twitter to @jazzpanflute.

Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute

Posted in Intuitive Instruments, Music Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The least practiced interval and why you should practice it

If I were to ask you the commonest melodic interval in today’s commercial music what would you guess? Well, with just listening to the radio for 10 minutes, I declare the clear winner to be: nothing. Or in MOVES notation: =0.

The word “unison” is the default term used for this interval that isn’t one, even though it’s a term borrowed from polyphony. It means two or more voices singing the same note at once. It feels kinda wrong to use it to refer to repeated notes.

And calling them repeated notes is not to say you have to repeat them the same way each time.

So today let’s look at this non-interval that rules the pop charts and learn what it has to tell us. In fact, it can be used in a multiplicity of ways, to express different things. So let’s see some of them.

Certainty

It helps you as a musician to build certainty, without which you can never have charisma. It may seem silly to point this out, but it is the one interval that someone with no musical ear at all can be sure to get right on a piano. Should you therefore despise it? Not at all! The quality of certainty is a key ingredient of successful music and stage presence, and is a great foundation to start building from.

Intensity

It helps you build intensity, a key ingredient of a great Gospel shout. Used by all Gospel musicians and anyone influenced by them from Elvis Presley to Junior Walker.

Springboard

Repeated notes act as springboard to other intervals. They give you time to get your next move spot on. When moving from your note to your next note try repeating your note while you center yourself in readiness for the following move.

Landing stage

The word scale comes from the Latin or Italian word for a ladder. So let your repeated notes serve as landings between flights of stairs. Give yourself time to catch your breath for the next stretch. In concrete terms you might want to mark time on one note so as to save the next step up for a strong beat or up-beat.

Communication

It works for people. It gets through to them. Why do you think it is the commonest interval in pop music? It is the foundation of rap. To feel this idea, take the nearest paragraph of text and play it on your horn as if speaking through it.

Saying NO

It lets you say NO, NO, NO when someone tries to get you into rehab.

It rocks

It can rock you in crotchets (quarter notes) as in Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again, or in quavers (eighth notes) as in

=0   (+2   =0)  (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (+1=0) (=0 =0) (=0 -5) (> +2) >
that Geor-gia’s al-ways  on  my  my my  my my  my  my  my  my    mind

or in combination, playing with the prosody of the text:

(=0 =0) (> =0) +3    =0       =0 (=0 =0) (-1   =0) (=0 =0) (=0 =0) (=0 -2) >
un-  til__    the  sun comes up  o-   ver   San-ta   Mo- ni-  ca  Bou- le- vard

Plainchant

Its pedigree goes all the way back to Gregorian chant and beyond. Use it to find peace in your heart.

Contrast

It gives listeners a break from a lot of +25 and -23 moves. Coltrane’s track Offering on the album Expression goes from one extreme to the other, creating contrasts with explosive emotional power. Pentatonic scales played with repeated notes (as in the fifth measure  here) provide solace after the jarring dissonance that went before.

repeatednotes

Excerpt from “Offering” from the 1967 album “Expression” by John Coltrane

The takeaway

Notice that I mentioned nothing about getting your notes even, or working up to superhuman speed or practising triple-tonguing. Part of the charm of Charles Lloyd’s triplets on Memphis Green is how he messes up on the head. Like singing in the shower.

So all this information is useless if it doesn’t help you enrich your playing. I hope you will try out all these ways of repeating notes, and work them into your playing, in all their different aspects.

Posted in Interval Training, Musicianship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to work a lick

So you can’t get that lick or turnaround out of your head. You wonder how anyone can just come up with something that cool –  just like that! – in the middle of a solo. You realize it’s time to do something about it.

Let’s say you want to work on a little fragment of John Coltrane’s solo in Giant Steps. Obviously, getting used to hearing it in your head is the first step. No point in doing it unless your ear can be sure you’re doing it right.

steps

The next part is finding a way to practice it in all keys. Luckily this little passage chains up in semitones very naturally. I’ve written out 4 iterations just to give you the idea.

Now the important part is what happens next. Your practice needs to be targeted. What is your aim here? Do you want your Inner Ear to be able to recall this pattern when prompted by a certain chord sequence? Is it speed or dexterity that you’re after? Or do you just want to improve your sight reading?

Let’s just say you want to practice reading it in all keys. First you write it out in all 12 keys, or if you have software you select one measure,  hit repeat and then transpose up +1. You then select those 2 measures, hit repeat and transpose +2. And so on up in powers of 2.

Depending on your level as a sight reader, you will notice as you go through the exercise, your playing muscles begin to predict the next move independently of where your eyes go, and you might even find you can carry on playing despite having lost your place on the page. (This used to happen to me a lot when playing viola parts by the likes of Wagner!)

And at this point the schools of thought diverge.

Indeed, classical etudes and exercises often contain traps for the unwary to make sure you are playing from the score and NOT playing what you (O ignorant loser!) think ought to be there. Your teacher is looking over your shoulder for your own good.

But you, my best beloved, want to be able to play like singing in the shower, and want your music to answer to your intention. It actually helps to be a poor reader in this exercise, because what you will end up doing is playing the moves:

{-4 +5 +4 -9 +3 +3 +4 -2 -3 -2 -2 +4} 

…which when you add it all up comes to +1 meaning you go up a semitone at each iteration. Note that the numbers are not necessarily how you visualize it. That would depend a lot on your instrument. But numbers are the simplest way to notate what you are hearing since I can’t be there to sing in your ear.

This is actually a great warm-up exercise to play in first position on a violin or viola as it develops your melodic reflexes much better than endless scales do. You can then work it on just 2 strings going up the fingerboard to develop finger-led position shifting, a way to break free of the whole hand-position system you were taught… 

…or not taught if you were lucky.

Apart from the enormous economies in paper, practicing with MOVES develops your melodic reflexes. Which translated means, you will learn to play whatever your Inner Ear suggests without having to stop to think.

first

MOVES notation is a stripped-down way of breaking down the type of exercise that great improvisers use to keep in shape. I know what they do because I have had them in the room next to mine in countless hotels.

I don’t claim that these guys use this kind of notation. MOVES is just a right brain hack to describe what goes on in your left brain.

And did I mention it is tweetable?

Posted in Interval Training, Moves notation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to be talented

What musical talent isn’t

Musical talent used to be a mystery, and to many still is. Some people even want to believe that it is God-given. Not a very empowering  view, unless you think prayer will change your lot. And this belief may be simply down to a want of observation.

Indeed the moment – yes, the moment – when a talent is acquired often passes by unnoticed, precisely because it happens in the mind of the learner, unaccompanied by any external manifestation. Even the learner herself might not notice it.

“The idea that is possible to rapidly and unconsciously assimilate conscious patterns of genius and then display them in your own behavior shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s succeeded in surviving infancy” – John Grinder in the video below.

Many talents are not even counted as such. And some talents can obstruct others, or have destructive results. We might say someone has a talent for losing things or breaking hearts. We don’t have to be ironical to mean this. So we have to ask, why call them talents?

Well perhaps we shouldn’t. The word is too loaded.

We admire talented people because their skills produce amazing results. Even the word “skill” has positive associations based on the usefulness of the fruits. By their fruits you shall know them.

Narrowing down the search

In the last half-century with the study of Inner Game and NLP, some useful thinking has been done on the subject. By “useful” I mean stuff that you can actually put to use if you want to acquire a given talent. Basically, it involves breaking a skill down into inner protocols or strategies, using the appropriate channels of perception/cognition.

In the course of breaking down mental processes, we come to realize that the most spectacular effects of talent – the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Coltrane’s Expression – are mere by-products, a flowering, a fruiting body. But not its essence. Our observation needs to be result-neutral.

Talents are acquired by a process popularly called “cottoning on”, or assimilation. A talent is something that is often transmitted surreptitiously, by micro-expressions and hints, by-passing any overt instruction being given. You might call it empathy, modelling yourself on that person.

That is to say, often enough, while the instructor demonstrates the outer steps or goals, the performance side, the student manages to fill in the appropriate mental, visual or kinaesthetic steps for herself…

…or gets it wrong and gets stuck in a frustrating sense of inadequacy. The process can seem haphazard.

Wastage

Nowhere is the mismatch between formal education programs and real (undercover) transmission of talent more gaping than in the teaching of music, with language teaching coming a close second. Just look at the drop-out rate.

Fortunately, research into the way the mind works has come to our rescue. NLP researchers can look at a flute-player’s eye movements and tell if she is using her visual, auditory or kinaesthetic channel. Eye direction can tell whether she is accessing a memory of the score, visualising the instrument’s key layout, harking back to or imagining a sound quality, or mentally preparing a complicated third-octave fingering.

She may be trying to patch together deficient strategies to cover the gaps in her technique. She may change horses midstream depending on the passage she is playing. This might be a source of glitches that only a trained eye can observe and correct.

These are the truly great teachers who teach one-on-one and can tell you what you are doing wrong and how to do it right. At great expense, of course.

Modelling excellence

Those of us without the time and money or access to private lessons need to break down what they are doing for themselves. The process is one of modelling the inner strategies that someone else is using in order to perceive, prioritize and manipulate so called submodalities.

In the video below, NLP founder John Grinder tells you to first find your genius. He explains that genius is something you don’t have to look far to find, something that everybody has in restricted spheres of action, or contexts.

The three steps to model excellence, which you can read about here, are,

  • observe the model
  • find the difference that makes the difference (then strip away the superfluous)
  • design a method to teach the skill

What MOVES does (and doesn’t do)

The MOVES method is the slow-maturing fruit of many years of personal observation of great improvisers, and particularly my very first mentor in improvisation, Dudu Pukwana. You can get an idea of the sheer force of his playing here (he takes the alto sax solo).

If I had to sum up Dudu’s “difference that makes a difference” in 3-5 words, I would say it was his determination to “cut out the jive” (to use his expression to cover everything that you think you need to stuff your head with). It was intimately connected with his amazing charisma.

MOVES notation is purposely non-visual. You don’t see notes going up and down on a line grid. MOVES is too cumbersome to notate whole tunes. Its job is simply to generate and notate ideas and building blocks to train your intervallic awareness and melodic reflexes. It makes you concentrate on the auditory side, regardless of tonality and written forms.

Goal-wise it doesn’t teach you to play or memorize pieces.

Its aim is just to enable you to improvise guided by what you hear in your head: to play like singing in the shower. By notating intervals instead of notes, it describes the inner dynamic of melody and shuts out the distracting noise of learned structures: scales, arpeggios, right and wrong notes. All the “jive”.

Hope it works for you.

Posted in Moves notation, Music Education, Musicianship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment