As a hardworking well-behaved primary schoolkid I was seated at the back at the classroom
as I wasn't a troublemaker.
I could however barely read the blackboard text. Teachers were dangerous in those days
so I would never complain.
An alert teacher would have considered individual differences within the classroom
mix. An alert teacher would have checked these things.
Some teachers got excited when people started writing about sensory learning preferences
Some people are certainly stronger/weaker in specific areas: sight,sound, touch, smell & taste.
Good teachers don’t just cater for sensory mode preferences, they consciously
develop strengths across the other modes.
As I teach music I notice how diverse people are. Some struggle with written formats of
any kind, even formats which are essentially pictorial.
Music at first glance might seem to be just about sound, but look closer and you will see that
there is a vast overlap of skills using all senses. Yes even smell and taste come into at least
the language components of music.(lyrics)
Using and varying the senses used in lessons uncovers a load of extra detail both
within the subject and the way we learn, including favoured senses.
A lesson might focus on listening, physical dexterity, interpreting charts or mixed use of senses.
Gardner in 1983 described abilities as different facets of intelligence.
There are similarities to the sensory mode preferences helping us build a better picture of how
intelligence works. If you ignored any of these facets in education you wouldn't be considering
the complex process of building intelligent thought. Gardner chose the following categories.
Prior to cheap, modern sound equipment, most early stage school departments had a piano
playing teacher. Teachers understood the developmental stages of children & used music
deliberately to enhance and develop skills.
Movement to music with singing & action songs using finger-play were preparing students to
listen as well as ready their fingers and hands for fine motor skills used in writing.
They also helped maintain physicality and achieve these goals in a fun way. These
lessons ensured kids were present in the lesson.
Engagement is a pressing issue for educators- how do we keep students engaged?
Even good students drift off in private thoughts in classrooms everywhere.
Good teachers still know the importance of pre-writing-reading activities and
presenting them in ways that are palatable to the students. Relating these same
concepts to music lessons means getting fingers ready in small steps, getting wobbly
eyes focused on visual cues including charts, lyrics, diagrams and the instrument
itself, listening for a purpose, organizing and caring for materials.
Young students can have trouble focusing on small detail. BIG Print in beginner books is for good reasons.
Now households have media on tap, parents have drifted away from many of the
traditional nursery rhymes, action songs and poems that were once good preparation for fine
& gross motor co-ordination and auditory memory.
The repetition of rhyming sounds is also often part of the focus of early reading and spelling training.
Memory is not just a mental process but involves your body. Some educators underplay
the importance of memory as an essential component of learning. This probably came about
because too many tests were measuring memory, not thinking ability. True but memory is
The logic is “why should I try to remember everything (even anything) if I can just have good
research skills and look it up?”
Research and having a theory about something is not the same as doing it, practicing it
and perfecting it.
A failure to commit anything to memory hampers growth in the skills and knowledge to get
Memory is a platform to build on. When we encounter a challenge we draw on memory for
help and ideas. If we are sad, recalling a happy time can supply the feeling we need to lift
ourselves. Memory is much more than a bunch of dry facts that have no particular use.
Memory has been really misunderstood because some teachers placed far too much attention
on retaining facts instead of training more advanced problem solving skills.
Memory is not just a symbolic or pictorial thing filed in a brain.
Our brains will file generalities for convenience. A quick look at a flower gives you that recognition
of what it is but a glance won’t give you all the information there is to be seen.
Smell it, touch it, in some cases taste it. There actually is a physical side to the memory process
which in that case includes visual and textual. Can you close your eyes and see the object
after you are no longer looking at it? It's a mistake to bypass the effort required to be good at
"visualizing" or any other memory component. Would you want to employ an architect, engineer
or designer who hasn't practiced and refined this visualizing skill?
You cannot master anything without some commitment (often great commitment) to memory of
your subject material. Yes, it’s very useful to understand what it is, or what it means.
Understanding won’t go too far if you can’t lock it into the memory banks and actually dynamically
and physically manage the skills.
If I teach guitar, I might not need a long winded explanation of the theory before we start.
We just do it. After this we might have some concrete experience on which to pin symbolic
Many initial stages of playing music are locked onto the physical actions of getting your
body parts into the right places at the right time and actually listening.
The ‘anti-memory lobby’ use the words “understanding is the most important thing” as their
How we learn is heavily connected to how we remember.
excuse not to bother memorizing anything. Well often it is better to do the activity, then add
in other information.
Physical, visual, auditory, sense of smell & symbolic memory have to be trained and mastered.
We listen to it, read it, do it, write it down, repeat it, think it, play games with it, use mnemonics,
fall in love with it. Draw it. Touch it, listen to it.
The more ways we do something the higher the chance that learning will stick.
There are more types of memory than just the superficial “thinking memory banks”.
Simply having thought about it doesn’t cut it as far as deep learning goes.
Your computer like brain is attached to a series of tools: eyes, ears, nose,
touch, muscles, etc that all require use to get skill. There is also such a thing
as muscle memory, auditory memory etc.
Music lends itself to repetition.
Readers of books tend to see the end of the book and think "it’s done.” In many
situations, (particularly young children) people become better readers if they
read a book more than once as they often glance over things in superficial ways
& make incorrect assumptions in their predictive reading skills. When challenged
to explain a meaning or colloquial expression, they are often way off base.
Refreshing & reviewing through singing are often an enjoyable way to improve
reading. Repetition is necessary for both effective memorization & deeper understanding.
TEACHING MEMORY TOOLS
The mnemonic is a memory training tool.
When reading scored music, we remember “Every Good Boy Drives Ferraris" or similar which
denotes the names of the lines on each stave.
Easter Bunnies Get Drunk At Easter, or Eddy Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddy
denotes the notes used for standard guitar tuning- E A G D A and E.
Visual Memory Can Be Enhanced Through Associations
This picture below is a D chord showing where to place fingers and what strings
to play. What does it look like ? Not much.
And now, can you see a face with 2 eyes and a nose on the one below ?
Using visual memory cues can be developed through music training.
Improving memory uses conscious approaches in how you do things.
Our vast and confusing world gives us too many things to remember.
We have a generation who remember very little, not necessarily because they
are lazy or brainless. Some just haven’t had sufficient help in choosing worthy
targets to commit to memory. In previous generations, math tables drill was
routine. Just remembering the answers to simple tables was enough to make
quick everyday calculations of value to daily living skills.
A generation of theorists entered and the claim was “ you don’t have to
remember it, you must understand it.” Sounds fair right, except the first part.
They should have been saying at least about some especially useful things
“you must remember it and also understand it.”
Like the Suzuki students who learnt playing violins rote style with repetition and
physical engagement, the theory could come along a bit later.
(Some) Educators have given away the goal of memorization skills and replaced
it with “as long as they know how to work it out.”
As if explaining something with words is the same thing as doing it?
A master of any subject needs to have a ready set of memorized knowledge.
It’s handy to know how to work it out, but without core knowledge memorized,
there can be no mastery of a subject. These memories are often a complex mix including
many of our senses.
Take an everyday example of getting your car repaired. What would you say to a
repairman who told you he couldn’t remember how to do the job but he would
work it out? Naturally you would be billed for the time it takes him to work it out.
You might immediately look around for an expert.
As a young man repairing my own car I knew the theory to replacing a steering tie rod and ball
joint. Separate the parts with a hammer hit. Couldn't do it in 30 minutes of bashing.
The mechanic did it in 2 seconds.
I asked a computer specialist for help with my music software.
His response was "I don't know it but I can work it out." Not at $100 an hour, I'll find an actual
user of this software to help me, or work it out myself.
Naturally many things including known “facts” change over time. Is that a reason
not to know what you are doing today?
STRATEGIES AND MUSIC EDUCATION
Math lessons like most subjects involve a number of strategies which are
explicitly taught :
Observing patterns, listing, putting things in order, recording information, labeling,
pattern recognition, categorizing, predicting, summarizing, explaining, making
guesses and testing whether they work (trial and error),drawing, using processes of
elimination, taking a patterned example and applying the principles to a similar
but different example.
All of these strategies can be similarly and explicitly taught in the context
of music and lead to orderly, systematic thinking.
In most cases the more ways you do something improves your depth of skill:
read it, write it, say it, sing it, think it, listen to it, do it, play it, modify it,
apply a rule to a different example.
DIVERGENT THINKING and USING THINKING TOOLS
These ideas should be considered as strategies in learning and decision making but are
different from the ones mentioned already.
Edward De Bono got into the nitty gritty of thinking with his colored hats. Each
hat represented a way of thinking such as emotional, critical, positive. There
were a lot of hats and I don’t care to memorise them all but looking at issues
from many different perspectives is valid. People have benefited from listing
ways to think through problems. Comedians & their audiences have benefited
from wearing the purple hat of stupid suggestions.
Edward De Bono had fun and earnt money at the same time training people to
wear one of six coloured hats. Each hat represented a singular thinking role :
information, weaknesses, strengths, feelings, creativity and an overseer.
He just divvied up the roles so all aspects of an issue were thought about,
weighed and organized before decisions were made. I guess that’s called
“doing your homework” to a normal human.
Other “thinking tools” looks at the pros and cons of ideas or plans as
Mind-mapping is another strategy to planning. Anything that you want to plan
out becomes clearer at some point if it’s been written down. I truly should have
written a mind map before working on my “pedagogy of music” and it may have
been more orderly.
The idea of choosing the best bits and synergizing that knowledge so that the
whole thing is greater than the sum of the parts is our ideal.