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learn by being made to engage. By doing, observing, experimenting.
By mentally processing what information we have, so that further
information is generated, rules deduced, patterns stumbled across
and systems developed.
Simply having a concept explained to us may, at best, lead
to our being vaguely aware of its existence, but does not
lead to a full and useful conceptual understanding of a subject.
Say you want your student to grasp how certain scales work
when used as a basis for improvising over major key chord
Imagine yourself telling them:
"You could use any one, or a mixture of, the
blues scale, the country scale, the major or minor pentatonic
scales, the major or dominant modes (Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian).
But if you're using anything with a minor third in it you'll
probably need to bend it up a semitone to make it major. Some
notes will work better than others over some chords , but
generally its best to..."
... They're not going to grasp anything from this sort of
explanation unless its the door handle as they run screaming
from the room !
My Golden Rule Number 6 says:
Take whatever time is necessary to lead the student
to make their own discoveries
You make sure they can play a couple of octaves of the major
pentatonic scale from memory. Then you start playing a major
key chord sequence and say:
"Try out a few phrases and listen to how well
they work over different parts of this sequence"
They play along with you for a bit (doing) and you make sure
they are trying out a few different ideas (experimenting)
and then you stop and ask:
"So anything you noticed about that?"
"Well" they say. "I couldn't help noticing
that the scale is a bit awkward to use over the second chord
you were using" (observing)
"Okay", you say. "That was the F major chord
and we're in the key of C major, so lets explore why that
scale is a bit sticky over that chord"
"Now" you instruct them, "Tell me which
notes you were using in that scale..Here" you say,
handing them a blank sheet of paper on a clipboard,"Write
them down on there"
Steam comes out of your student's ears as they painstakingly
figure out the names of each of the notes they have been playing
in the C major pentatonic scale (mentally processing). They
pass you back the clipboard with the notes: C D E G A scrawled
"Okay that's good" you say, careful to convey
pride in your voice. "Now I was playing the chords
C, Em, F, and G - so, in relation to the scale you were
using why can F be seen as the odd one out....?"
This is what I call 'leading' the student to make his own
discoveries. I am hoping he will spot that F is the only chord
whose root note does not appear in the scale. You have lead
your horse to the water but it may take a few more carefully
chosen questions to get them to drink! Be patient and resist
the temptation to explain rather than lead.
After writing out the chords themselves and comparing them
to the scale notes they suddenly explain:
"Oh I get it! The F note isn't in the C pentatonic
Now you lead them to work from the specific to the general:
"Okay, remember when we did those scale formulas
the other week? How did we compare the major pentatonic to
the major scale?"
"It leaves out the 4th and 7th notes"
they brightly reply! "Ah!" they quickly add (we
hope) "...and F is the 4th in the key of C."
"So how could we overcome the problem?" You prompt.
"Well we could just add in the 4th note temporarily
over the 4th chord, but leave it out over the others"
The student suggests.
"Lets try that!" You say.
It may seem a long way round. It may take a great deal more
time. But because you are getting the student to think for
themselves, whatever discoveries they do make, they will keep
The key to this is division of labour. You, as tutor should
simply instruct. That means give instructions - not explanations.
The instructions you give should encourage the student to
do the rest of the work:
- Write down
- Answer questions
- Draw conclusions
- Associate the specific to the general and vice versa
- Confirm conclusions by further experiment
People generally have the ability to do all these things,
but they all take energy, effort and discipline. As a tutor
you encourage the application of energy and effort and impose
a sensible discipline on your students to get them to apply
themselves to these tasks.
But if you sit there simply explaining to the student, they
will not engage. This means they will not learn and before
too long you will lose them as clients.
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