Thursday, October 23, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

The secret to problem solving, is asking the right questions.  Until we know what the problem is, how can we solve it?

Solving the wrong problem, now there's a waste of time and energy.

As a customer, I see it all the time.  As a business owner, I see it all the time.  As a teacher, I see it all the time.  As a wife, I see it a lot too.

We jump in with a solution, because we want to help, find someone to blame, cook dinner, move on, show how smart we are, and most of all, not think too hard!

Can't get those tricky bars of notes smooth and even playing some music?  Problem is you're just not practicing hard enough!  

Or, wait, could it be you've been practicing too hard and your hand is tired?  

Could it be you're reading the notes wrong because you're too focussed on what you're trying to make your hand do?  

Could it be you're hungry and your blood sugar is dropping?

If the first answer is right, working harder will help.  If it's one of the others, then you're actually going to make the problem worse!

As a customer, I'm often offered incentives that don't entice, and products I don't want.  (Just a tip for all phone company telemarketers out there, I really, really don't want to save money on my long distance calls.  I just want you to stop ringing me.)

When you think you have the answer, keep asking.  You might surprise yourself.

So here's one I like to ask myself, "who's problem am I solving?"  

If my suggestion makes you go away and not come back, well there's my answer!


How much time do you need?

"I didn't have time to..."

We say it all the time.  I do myself, so I don't exclude myself from this.  My students say it whenever they haven't done their homework this week.

It's not really true though.  The fact of the matter is, platitude notwithstanding, we each get 24 hours in a day.

So it's not that we don't have time, it's that we choose to spend it on something else.

Some of our choices aren't exactly voluntary - I do realise your boss won't be happy if you "choose" not to go to work tomorrow in order to pursue your musical interests.  Ditto for your school teacher.

Still, how much time do you waste?  

I waste time a lot, but not as much as I used to.  I had a health scare last year, and it forced me to really look at where I put my time.  Along the lines of, "if this is all I have left, is this how I want to spend it???"

I spent a lot of my time being tired.  Tired, and too tired to do anything about it.  So I forced myself to slow down, and do one thing at a time.  More often than I used to, anyway.  I also learned to order take-away.

I spent a lot of time watching TV or DVDs, because I was too tired to amuse myself.  I still enjoy watching movies, but I don't just zombie out in front of the box.

I used that time to teach myself some new music.  I used that time to go for more walks.  I used that time to write, so I really notice what's going on around me.

When I try to "blob out" to relax with TV (or surfing the net ;0) I actually feel more tired, and less relaxed when I'm done.

When I practice my music, I feel less tired,  and more relaxed when I'm done.

So maybe you could choose to spend 5 minutes making some music today.

After all, how much time do you need to be happy?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On NOT being musical

It's well-known among my social circle that I was declared irredeemably UNmusical at the age of 5.  Glue-ear, with only about 40% of my hearing might have had something to do with that.

Now I've taken another test that shows the same thing.

So I guess it's a pity I'm a music teacher, eh?  

Here's what the test said.  It was on the internet, so it must be true ;0)

Your result for Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test...


18% Logical, 41% Spatial, 61% Linguistic, 37% Intrapersonal, 37% Interpersonal, 4% Musical, 8% Bodily-Kinesthetic and 37% Naturalistic!

"Verbal-linguistic intelligence has to do with words, spoken or written. People with verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words and dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and via discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

Careers which suit those with this intelligence include writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians and teachers." (Wikipedia)

Take Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test at HelloQuizzy

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Reading thrillers can increase your understanding of Bach

I've found a new thriller writer, Lee Child.  Imagine my surprise when I found a great passage about playing music in the midst of his fourth book, The Visitor.
The fifth of Bach’s three-part inventions was labelled BWV 791 by scholars and was one of the hardest in the canon, but it was Rita Scimeca’s favourite piece in all the world. It depended entirely on tone, which came from the mind, down through the shoulders and the arms and the hands and the fingers. The tone had to be whimsical, but confident. The whole piece was a confection of nonsense, and the tone had to confess to that but simultaneously it had to sound utterly serious for the effect to develop properly. It had to sound polished, but insane. Secretly, she was sure Bach was crazy.
Her piano helped. It’s sound was big enough to be sonorous, but delicate enough to be nimble. She played the piece all the way through twice, half-speed, and she was reasonably pleased with what she heard…. (p.428)
To play this thing properly, you needed to be in some kind of a trance….She sat down and played it through again, a dozen times, fifteen, twenty, all the way from the first measure to the last. She was note-perfect, but that was nothing. Was the meaning there? Was there emotion in the sound? Thought? On the whole she reckoned there was. She played it again, once, then twice. She smiled to herself…She was making progress. Now all she had to do was bring the speed up. But not too much speed. She preferred Bach played slowly. Too much speed trivialized it. Although it was fundamentally trivial music. But that was all part of Bach’s mind-game, she thought. He deliberately wrote trivial music that just begged to be played with great ceremony. (p.432-433)

So, inspiration is where you find it.  The books are great too, if you like thrillers with a renegade but decent hero.

Cheating with Chords

I love cheating when it comes to music.  Chord progressions are a great way to get a lot of "bang" for your practice "buck".   My students and I are always amazed when we hear a fun song and realise it's just:  C F G Am (I-IV-V-VIm if you feel like transposing into another key)

Who would have guessed that The Beatles' "Let It Be", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", and Five For Fighting's "Superman" used the same four chords?

Today I came across a great article by Roger Bourland about the development of the classic progression using the song "Heart & Soul".  

Apparently we can blame it on the popularity of "Blue Moon".

Here's a great video of the amazing variety of 4 chord songs out there:  A History of Music

Hawthorn Music Studio will soon be offering a short course unveiling the mystery of chords and how to cheat with them.  Perfect for weekend pianists and pianist-wannabes.