Learning Arrangements Without Using Support Materials
I would like to respond to both of the following Forum questions. (And having read through my own response, wish to apologize in advance for some of my long, wordy sentences.)
Question 1: “….. are we allowed to photocopy the music of the Arrangements to give to the students?….”
Question 2: “… How are students supposed to remember the Arrangements since there’s no guidebook or audio/video?…”
One of the many aspects of the Arrangements Program is to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to map strategies directly on to the keyboard. In addition to this, we can use it as a tool to support students in developing their ability to memorize music.
More accurately, it is not students’ memory that we are developing, but rather the ability to benefit from their already, highly developed memory, and the learning of how to focus it in a particular way and towards a specific function.
In an attempt to be clear, here’s how I see things.
All human beings have a vast capacity to memorize. Our ability to memorize extends far beyond our capacity to use that ability. Routinely (and without one second’s thought), we function all day long, every day, doing tens of thousands of things, and all of which flow seamlessly and invisibly from our memory. We need to know this so completely that it lives as a ‘truth’ for us.
And from the moment we awaken it begins – demonstrated in our knowing how remove the covers from the bed; knowing in which direction the bathroom is; whether the door handle turns left or right; whether the door opens toward you or away from you; how to remove the lid from the toothpaste; how to brush your teeth; how to shower yourself; how to shampoo your hair; how to shave; how to put on your socks; how to tie your shoe laces; knowing the difference between hair spray and insect spray; knowing how to do up your shirt buttons; knowing where the kitchen is; knowing where the cereal bowls are kept; where the cereal is; where the milk is kept; how to peel an orange; how to make juice or coffee or scrambled eggs, or any one of the vast multitude of things that we are doing at any given moment, minute by minute, hour after hour, every single day, on and on and on it goes, relentlessly and reliably drawing from our vast, vast, inexhaustible memory.
In concert with this, all human beings are pattern-seeking, memory machines that have been set to music. We are steeped in rhythm and intonation in our gesture, motion, functionality and communication, and we would lose our ability to operate in the world were we not.
That some people believe that they don’t have a ‘good memory’ is quite amazing. It is as much an illusion as is believing that we are unmusical. And as we know, no person has the capacity to communicate their belief of being unmusical, without doing so via the use of complex variations of rhythm and pitch that are embedded in the very words that they use in an attempt to communicate their lack of musicality!!! Truly a vaudeville parody!
I, quite simply, do not believe that it is our memory that is the issue. The problem emerges not as a result of what it is that people are trying to memorize, but more so the way in which they go about trying to memorize.
When Simply Music was first being ‘road tested’, I was teaching about 120+ private students a week. These students, of all ages and various degrees of musical background, were clearly no different than the types of students that we all come across every day.
At that time, my entire focus was on teaching people how to play. They received no music, no student notes, no Playlist, no audio recordings, no video, no anything! They had a 25 minute lesson per week and that was it! They all had to rely on themselves, and I had to learn how to find a way whereby I could rely on their ability to rely on themselves.
I am certain that the results they achieved were less impressive than what we can achieve today, however, there was a definite advantage in students having to discover how to absorb material, knowing that there was no support system outside of themselves.
These days, whilst much has been gained, something has been lost. And interestingly enough, as time has gone by and more and more support tools have been provided, the more people have begun to rely more so on the materials and less so on themselves.
One of the declared goals of Simply Music is to produce students who can self-generate. This means far more than equipping students with the ability to read and ‘figure out’ music on their own. In fact if we were to merely achieve this, in some respects we wouldn’t be doing much more than what any good teacher achieves already.
Erroneously, we too often have our sights set on the playing of pieces. I believe that too quickly we forget that we are first and foremost responsible for teaching students a way of learning. Learning to play our entry level pieces, whilst initially satisfying to a beginning student, soon becomes a rather empty experience if the student is not conscious of how they are learning, why they are learning, what they are learning, how to use what they are learning, how to cross-pollinate their learning from one piece to the next, etc.
Ultimately, we need to form a partnership with our students whereby they know that they too are responsible for their ‘learning a way of learning’.
We often don’t communicate this clearly enough when we talk with potential students who have come from a traditional background. Oftentimes students, or their parents, make a judgment call regarding the appropriateness of this program, based on the ‘look’ and/or ‘sound’ of the complexity of the pieces.
When this happens, it is more than a misrepresentation of the program. It falls profoundly short of providing even a glimpse of the multi-sensory, single thought process, dynamic and comprehensive learning opportunity that this program fully offers.
I am committed to supporting teachers in producing students that have not only learned, but have learned about how they have learned.
Part of the process along the way to achieving this, is to provide developmentally-appropriate opportunities for students to test themselves and measure what they are learning. We need to provide situations whereby students can discover how to put to use what they have achieved as a result of immersing themselves in learning pieces via patterns, sentences, fragments etc., etc.
The Arrangements Program was partially designed as to support this very goal. My intention was to provide very little to the teacher, and nothing to the student other than their existing skill level – no music, no audio recordings, no video, no notes, no anything!!
I recommend presenting the Arrangements to students in such a way as to allow them to realize that the absence of support materials is part of the design. Learning without any support materials is fundamental to developing the ability to self-generate.
We must also know that students always mirror the unspoken concerns of their teacher. Consistently, those teachers who struggle to memorize, end up surrounding themselves with page-reliant students, and routinely find that their students’ parents are pressuring them to introduce reading!
Understandably, if a student has had a more traditional experience, and has typically relied on the page for instruction, then every step towards shifting this needs to be developmentally appropriate. The key to this is found in the words ‘developmentally-appropriate’, and this falls to the shoulders of the teacher who will need to make judgment calls. Giving students an arrangement that is too advanced, or giving them too many arrangements too soon, will undo the intended benefit.
For that matter, presenting any piece whereby the teacher is not absolutely clear about the playing-based strategies is a precarious thing to do. Doing exactly this is far more common when the teacher themselves is relatively new to the playing-based environment.
So as a strategy for moving forward, several things must be included – some being clear and practical, and others more vague and harder to grasp.
Most probably, it first begins with the teacher coming to terms with the fact the they themselves are as ‘memory-perfect’ as they need to be, and that all people are. It also includes knowing that they have not only the ability to successfully teach students to amass a vast repertoire of pieces, but equally important, the ability to self-generate.
At a more tangible level, the next step includes approaching the subject from the perspective of a fundamental question, that being: “… How do I have students connect with their ability to remember pieces of music, and do that without having to provide them with any external, material support?…” This question should remain as a background from which to come, and subsequently propel the teaching strategy.
And for every piece of music that we play, we should spend a significant portion of time looking at how it unfolds on the keyboard. We need to be asking ourselves, “… How can I learn this? Are these sentences or patterns? Do I fragment this? Are their obvious shapes? Are there not-so-obvious shapes? What thought processes are taking place, and how can I distill these into fewer thought processes? What is the relationship between the position of the right and left hands? What are my hands doing in their rhythmic relationship to one other? Are their rhythmic patterns, and can these be diagrammed? How do I use Mapping? …” Etc., etc.
Ultimately, these questions become the field of action. The process of processing the questions, becomes the source of instruction.
In a nutshell, don’t copy and provide the sheet music. More important than the copyright issues, is the fact that you actually lose the point of the exercise. And regarding how to teach the Arrangements without a guide book or tape, the question is far better to be asked and contemplated, than answered.