August 21, 2013

Teaching is the best way to learn

Learning tunes is one of those never-ending challenges. The matter how many you learn not only are there thousands more, but great composers keep generating new ones! Although we know we will never get to the end and learn every tune ever, we keep trying.

But what do we mean when we say learn a tune? Do we mean that we have gotten it down enough that we can (barely) keep up at a session? Do we mean we have a down well enough to play to an audience? Do we mean we have it down well enough to never forget it (by the way – no such thing!)?

We sometimes fool ourselves by thinking we know a tune cold. But, how cold is cold? If you want to know if you actually know a tune, try teaching it to someone else.
You may make the mistake of starting to teach the tune off the top your head. This will quickly fail you. To be able to teach the tune, you have to know it – really know it. You have to learn not just the notes, but also the structure, the phrases, how the parts fit together. You will be well served to know which pieces are in the A part and appear again in the B part. Or what motif underlies every phrase? What is the underlying theme? Where will you be going? From where?

These types of analyses of the tune will impact how you choose to teach it. Really doing this work will allow you to teach the tune more easily. And all of this is exactly what you need to do… to learn it in the first place!

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