Learning by Doing and Other Observations

When I took up the guitar a few years ago, I hardly knew what I was getting into. I’ve since gone through the tips of several pairs of shoes kicking myself for the decision. But I’ve learned a lot about learning over the course of my thousand or so hours of practice.

Because I don’t have the benefit of the typical lessons, I never know if I’m developing bad habits. This may or may not matter. One way of getting around this to to watch lots of YouTube videos. I type in the name of a song and find that the performance bears little resemblance to months and months of my learning the notes. Conclusion: learning the notes is not the same as playing the song.

The relationship between the left and right hand is partially the issue. I’m going after two modes: classical guitar and bluegrass/folk/Celtic. Conclusion 2: while folk uses a picking style, classical mode does not because of the range of polyphony possibilities on the instrument. They’re both totally cool forms, but one can’t play Sor with a pick. The modes here require different forms of math and complement the problem of notes and songs, or, perhaps better, music and copying. One can copy the notes to memory and not really play music. In classical mode, the right hand is playing simultaneous voices to a high degree of approximation. In folk, two guitars are required for this, but this has a lot to do with arrangement and, I would assume, the influence of the fiddle on scoring. I don’t know enough about this to be confident, though. But the violin is defined as monophonic, while the guitar is just as bizarre as a harp.

I struggle with the right hand, to find the proper structure of a song’s texture. These renderings of Stanley Myer’s Cavatina illustrate what I mean. The first is by Peo Kindgren. The second by Ana Vidovic. When I observe each these, I’m looking at the right hand, but not for too long as to become overwhelmed with grief at my own inadequacy. The skill here partially requires some sort of loosening up of the brain over many many years.

In any event, I’ve learned to be patient and to listen. I’ve also come to appreciate even more the significance of process in learning. For some skills, following patterns of developing–and thinking about those patterns–is critical to creative rule breaking. For example, I started to take strumming a little more seriously these past few weeks. Yesterday, I got into strumming for reel patterns and found that this is an interesting way of training the left hand to move faster, while at the same time being more precise about clipping the proper string with the right hand. The finger nails have to pluck the “noted” strings. Once this is done, the player can put some rhythm to work. Time to work on some rhythm.

Process learning. Traditions are important in this regard.