To quote Maimonides, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” As a band teacher, I have witnessed learning without understanding (in my own program and the programs of other teachers). Students learn a song (or group of songs) and then perform them in a concert. However, the students are simply physically performing a rote activity that was instilled through repetition. The students are still totally reliant on the teacher when attempting to “learn” a new song. They have learned how to play a song, but not how to learn songs. Understanding is the key to learning how to learn. This leads to an eventual state of independence from the teacher.
Acquiring vs. Applying Knowledge
Initially, the role of a teacher is both to acquire valid sources of knowledge for the student and aid the student in applying the knowledge. We never become independent from the need to acquire knowledge. When we learn how to learn, we become independent from the need for an intermediary who explains how to apply knowledge. With an increased understanding of application comes an increased discernment of good and bad sources of knowledge. This leads to an increased ability to seek out good sources of new knowledge (better ability to acquire) which leads to more application (the process is a cycle).
Specific Teaching Method Being Challenged
I have had a commenter question my approach to teaching the possible pitch names in music. He insists that all names which are redundant due to enharmonic equivalence should be omitted, and that I should teach only 12 pitch names. However, when we insert these 12 tones into the realm of music theory a problem occurs. Although there are only 12 tones (pitch sounds) in music, there are not only 12 possible pitch names. The language of music contains multiple names for each tone depending on the context of the situation. If a person only knows 12 pitch names, what will happen when the music they are reading asks them to play a pitch name that they haven’t learned? In the accompanying video, I provide several examples where a 12 pitch name approach may cause confusion.
I have selected to teach pitch names a certain way for a specific reason. My goal is to help students understand concepts, not to have them just memorize information. I do not want students to memorize the 21 possible pitches in my illustration. I don’t want them to even memorize 12 pitches. I want them to understand where all of the possible pitches come from (why they exist).
If anything is being memorized, it is the seven letters of the musical alphabet (which are the 1st seven letters of the English alphabet). Each letter can be either sharped or flatted. This concept leads to an understanding of the existence of every possible pitch name.
The best example of the concept I am explaining today is in my lesson called Memorizing Scales. I teach memorization in this lesson, but it is based on an understanding of the formation of key signatures (I still use the 21 possible pitch graphic). The 1st time I used this graphic was in my lesson called The Musical Alphabet, where I teach about enharmonic equivalence. Even in my Chord Progressions lesson, I implement the practice of teaching for understanding instead of rote memorization. I believe this practice is why so many people have found this lesson helpful.
This Learning Music With Ray video compares and contrasts teaching (and learning) styles that emphasize memorization against ones that emphasize understanding. The primary reason for this video is to respond to a question generated in the comment section of my Chord Progressions lesson. I do not want my viewers to be confused about the teaching methods that I used in my lessons. I hope that this video helps to bring clarification.