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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Optimum Learning

You've probably heard the saying, "Them that can't do, teach. Them that can't teach, teach teachers." Well, I happen to be the antithesis of this saying! I do; 2-4 gigs a week - back in the day I was gigging every day. I estimate close to 9,000 gigs since the mid seventies. I teach; around 45 personal students a week + the web-based teaching. I've taught thousands of students over the last 30+ years (back in the late '80's through the '90's I had 90+ students a week and 3 dozen on a waiting list). I also teach teachers - I have teachers in 18 states using my method books and many of my students teach. I've also learned that one of the keys to success is shameless self-promotion!

Anyway, back in March I received this email from a site member who is also one of my personal students. He also teaches personal students. And he plays in a part-time band that does clubs and events as well as playing in the band at his church. So he is the antithesis of the above saying as well. So not only do I teach teachers, I teach the antithesis of those who can't do, can't teach, and teach teachers. On top of that, he sent me this email to teach me, which is the antithesis of my antithesis! Now I'm responding, which is the antithesis to his antithesis of my antithesis to the saying, "Them that can't do, teach. Them that can't teach, teach teachers!" He said:

Thanks, Jay - as always your material and teaching is like parts of the Bible, it's just there in simplest form, beautiful and revelatory, good stuff happens when going from there to other things with it in hand. I think we've chatted about this, may be simply a matter of personal preference, but for some of the stuff I've created for students, I use a bit more color and typically drop in a legend of some sort.

Not a criticism, but I thought taking an example in your material and sticking in the sort of thing I usually put on outgoing materials to students might be worth sending across the bow. Thanks again for your materials and putting your creativity out to students in a form that is a blessing.

Now I'm not dissing the info or methodology in the example above. It's all good. I'm sure many people would find it very informative and worthwhile - especially in the context of a personal lesson wherein the teacher could explain and expand on the information given in the diagrams. It would be useful in a "one-shot deal" where you have one lesson and you want to impart a lot of information at once that can be mentally digested later. No problem there at all. However, I'm presupposing regular personal lessons, or a lesson series like what I do here at Master Guitar School. Plus, I'm always looking for website and newsletter fodder and so am using this as a "teachable moment" to help explain a little bit of why I do things the way I do. I have reasons for everything I do - those reasons are based on years of experience and research. Remember, I've been where you are - I took lessons for a total of 10 years (from a couple of genius teachers) - and so I've been on both sides of this equation.

Those of you who have purchased Unit 3: Triads will recognize the diagrams above as Root Position Major Triads on all four 3-string-sets. My diagrams looked like this:

As you can see, his graphic has more information than mine does. It is more colorful, and because there's more information, a legend is necessary.

Question: If the purpose of this lesson is to teach the student root position major triads, why present them with the locations of the 3rd and 5th at the same time? That is information that is irrelevant to the purpose of the current lesson and so requires the student's brain to process unnecessary data right now. I.e. - it's less efficient. The 3rd is presented when minor triads are introduced because the 3rd needs to be flatted to create the minor triad. The 5th is introduced when diminished triads are presented - the 5th of a minor triad is flatted in a diminished triad. One thing at a time, in order, slow and steady. The tortoise wins the race.

L-Mode / R-Mode

Any time information is codified (that is, organized, labeled and presented in a systematic manner), you are in a left-brain mode of operation. The left-brain/right-brain distinction is a major component behind my teaching methods and the way I organize material (I use the terms, L-mode & R-mode). Both are necessary to learning but R-mode takes care of itself as I will explain in a minute. In a formal guitar lesson, L-mode is predominant.

L-mode is linear, sequential and cannot multitask. It goes from A to B to C in order. It cannot perceive patterns; pattern recognition is R-mode. It is concerned with naming and defining things. As a teacher, one of my responsibilities is to organize the data in the most logical, linear manner possible, and to present it that way. In other words, I input the data in the most optimum order. The more linear and sequential the information is, the less time it takes for L-mode and R-mode to integrate the data. This integration is essential in order to really play music. The human brain is mediocre at best when linear processing - computers far surpass the human brain as far as linear processing is concerned. But to really play music, R-mode is necessary.R-mode is parallel processing. It is visceral, that is, emotionally-based. It is holistic; it can recognize patterns.

(Holistic: adjective: PHILOSOPHY; characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.)

It is associative and delights in discerning relationships between things. It is visual. It is experiential, not abstract. It doesn't care about names, definitions or the order of things. Learning in an R-mode frame of mind has no conscious methodology. You must see, hear, feel...all sensory data that inputs simultaneously. When you go see a guitarist perform (or you watch a video of a performance), you watch, listen and feel. You observe his attitude, how he carries himself, how he relates physically to his instrument, what his hands look like on the instrument, his body language, facial expressions, and a thousand other variables, most of which you are not conscious of - and how it all feels. Then you attempt to emulate that - you attempt to cause it to happen.

This is learning by example - and is valid and very necessary. However, the L-mode is minimized. Now, this R-mode stuff goes on in a guitar lesson but is not codified, it's completely organic. It is, from a conscious perspective, a random process. If you codify or organize it in any way, it is, by definition, L-mode. It's Zen-like; it works best if you're not thinking about it. If you think or worry about it, you sabotage it.

So I usually don't even mention it in a lesson. I direct the student's attention and energy towards L-mode activities - doing things one at a time in the most efficient manner - and trust nature for R-mode. I require knowing and understanding the names of things, I teach students to focus on drilling, repetition, reciting names, increasing their awareness of the intellectual aspects of music and playing the guitar. There are many, many reasons why these things are important in and of themselves, but one of the main ones is that it deflects conscious attention from R-mode, which functions automatically and organically, but can be inhibited by attention being paid to it. As a matter of fact, NOT paying attention to it but rather inputting data in a sequential, organized way (L-mode) actually speeds up the process of R-mode learning.

Actually playing music REQUIRES R-mode. You can't produce real music without being in R-mode. It's all about feeling, visualization and pattern recognition. The only aspect of L-mode that HAS to be involved is timekeeping. R-mode is not aware of time, that's why it's not concerned with order or sequence. When you are so engrossed in a task that, once you begin, you think of nothing else and the next thing you know you look up and an hour has gone by without you being aware of the passing of time - that's being in R-mode. Timekeeping is essential to music, but other than that, it is possible to have no L-mode components and be a great player. The world is full of wonderful players who have no idea what it is that they're doing. But sooner or later, those kinds of players hit a wall that they can't get beyond. A very few are lucky; what they can do is unique enough or popular enough that they become successful. However, the more L-mode components you have in place the more you can surmount any wall you may run up against. L-mode will remove the boundaries that exist for R-mode. Those boundaries exist because of the randomness of R-modes' acquisition of data. Inputting data via L-mode - ordered, sequential and timed - causes R-mode to integrate data much more efficiently - which means massive progress after you hit the wall! For a first-hand illustration of this, read Part 1 of A Little Story.

There is much more to say about the integration of L-mode and R-mode and how important it is (it greatly enhances music, performances and personal growth) and some tricks I have learned on how to trigger R-mode in a student during a lesson, but that's a whole 'nother book that maybe I'll write someday, but probably not! Let's get back to the example at hand:

As you may or may not have noticed, I am not a proponent of the use of guitar tablature. There are many reasons for this, some of which I have written about elsewhere. However, I do use fretboard diagrams. Why? After all, fretboard diagrams ARE a form of tab, right? Yes they are. The reason I have no problem with fretboard diagrams is because they have a visual correlation to reality - thus assisting R-mode. Do you see?

The point at which I have a problem with fretboard diagrams is the point at which they are used as a crutch to avoid learning to read music (which is inherent in guitar tab) - Reading music; now we're back to L-mode again. BTW - written music is also a tab system. The reason why learning to read music is preferable to guitar tab is that written music is universal. It's used by musicians of EVERY instrument and has been for CENTURIES. Conversely, guitar tab is a completely proprietary language that exists ONLY in the inbred guitar subculture. Reading music is nothing to be scared of, and those of you who have studied personally with me know that I don't carry a big stick around, forcing my students to read. I'm very laid back about it, and different students acquire the skill at different points of progress. I'm fairly organic in my approach to it. But being able to visualize the neck and knowing what you are looking at is the essential thing - everything else is derived from that, including reading music. So I hope you can see why I consider fretboard diagrams to be helpful.

In conclusion; I hope you can now see why my Root Position Triads fretboard diagrams are more basic, with less information, less color, and no legend. It's more efficient for both L-mode and R-mode learning.

As my student and site member above said,

it's just there in simplest form, beautiful and revelatory, good stuff happens when going from there to other things with it in hand.

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Thanks, Dan, for your input and permission to share. And also your support over the years.

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