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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Theory of Learning Series > Part 3 Contact with the subject
Summary: Is your student bored? - The first step in learning is to contact the subject matter directly

Contact with the subject

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This may sound obvious, but the first thing that has to happen before learning can occur is CONTACT of some kind with the subject. The more direct the contact the better.

We are focusing on the subject of learning to play the guitar so the most obvious thing that the student needs to contact is the instrument itself. For this reason, at the beginning of the very first lesson my first instruction to the student is usually:

"Pick up your guitar"

I observe how they do this and right away I discover a whole lot of things about the student. Some will immediately pick it up with confidence, hold it the right way up and may even play a note or two on it. Others will pick it up very gingerly - as if they're afraid to break it or as if it might bite them! These students are going to need a much gentler introduction to the instrument than the first kind because they are not yet remotely in contact with the instrument.

Here are a set of instructions and questions I might give to students right at the beginning of lesson 1 purely to get them into contact with the instrument.

1. Pick up the guitar
2. Look at the strings how many are there?
3. Play the strings one at a time and listen to their sound
4. Which string is the highest sounding?
5. Which is the lowest sounding?
6. These are called frets
7. Stop a string at the first fret like this (show) and play it
8. What has happened to the sound?
9. Stop it at this (higher) fret - what has happened to the sound now?

For those students who really haven't contacted the instrument before, this approach works wonders. It immediately builds confidence and removes mystery - two things that you should be concentrating on all the time you teach.

Notice how I immediately involve the student in this process - it is they who have to make the contact! Its not much use lecturing or explaining all this stuff - real learning requires contact with the subject by the student!

What about the more conceptual part of the subject - how do you get someone to contact the relationship between a chord and a scale? I use three methods:

1. Piano Keyboard
2. Pen and Paper
3. Guitar Fretboard

Most musical concepts are easier understood on the piano keyboard than they are on the fretboard. Getting your student to write out a scale on paper ensures that they really have developed a true understanding of what you teach and are not just relying on mechanical memory. Finally, as it is the guitar that you are teaching - being able to relate the theory to the guitar fretboard is obviously vital.

So lets assume a student with no prior knowledge of music needs to learn the notes of the chromatic scale. I get them to sit at the keyboard and say:

"Look at the pattern of black and white notes and describe it to me"

They might make any number of observations, but the one you want them to make is that the black notes are grouped in twos and threes. Once they have spotted this you get them to play the note C and say:

"Notice where that note is in relation to the grouping of black notes. Ok so that note is just to the left of the group of TWO black notes. Now play all the other Cs on the piano"

They usually get the idea pretty rapidly and, once again, you are creating confidence and removing mystery.

You would go on to get them to realise that the pattern of black notes provides a unique reference system to find each of the white notes anywhere on the keyboard ie:

C is just to the left of the group of TWO black notes
D is between the TWO black notes
E comes just after the group of TWO black notes
F comes just before the group of THREE black notes
G is between the first two of the group of THREE black notes
A is between the second two of the group of THREE black notes
B comes just after the group of THREE black notes

Now you get them to play the BLACK NOTE that is one step higher than C:

"We call this note C sharp" And we write the '#' symbol on a piece of paper "But it can also be called D flat" And we write the 'b' symbol on a piece of paper "Play the next black note up. We call that D# or Eb - get the idea?"

Finally we get them to play the chromatic scale in C using sharp (#) names on the way up and flat (b) names on the way down. Once they can do that with little or no hesitation, then you have completed a very useful step in their music theory education. And you have done it by getting the student to contact the subject.

A minimum amount of explanation and a maximum amount of hands-on contact for the student.

Next lesson you do a quick review of the keyboard exercise above to check that it has taken a firm hold then get them to write out the names of the notes of the chromatic scale on paper:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C (ascending) and

C B Bb A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db C (descending).

This exercise promotes the knowledge gained from the keyboard exercise into pure conceptual knowledge. If they can't do this step they should be taken back over the keyboard exercise a few times more.

Finally we get them to contact the guitar fretboard and play a chromatic scale up the bottom string naming the notes (#s on the way up, bs on the way down). At each stage it's the student who is being brought into contact with the subject.

So cut the waffle, minimise the explanations and demonstrations and GET THE STUDENT TO DO THE WORK!

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Related Pages
.   How learning got a bad name for itself
.   Motivation Moves Mountains
.   Mental Processing
.   Assimilating
.   Relative Importance
.   Information Overwhelm
.   Information Retention
.   Making and Breaking habits
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