Legos and Jazz – a response to Mark Moorhouse at Matthew Moss

March 19, 2010 at 11:58 am 1 comment

Photo by Brick-Me! (Flickr)

by Alec Paton

(In homage to the Bridging Differences blog, the following is a response to Mark Moorhouse’s blog post on the Learning Futures blog)

Your distinction between ‘I finished’ and ‘look what I’ve made’ is useful, but I think really important learning takes place when you build the model like it says in the box.

I haven’t built much lego, but I remember putting things together according to the instructions, and halfway through it, thinking ‘why on earth am I sticking these funny round blocks here? That doesn’t look anything like what’s on the box.’ But then I’d get to the end, see how it fit together, and I’d have an understanding of the versatility of funny round blocks that I didn’t have before – and that I might not have discovered – or discovered as quickly – if I’d been left entirely to my own devices.

Right, that’s enough on lego. Now I’ll address something I actually know about- music. One of the most tedious, frustrating, and valuable things I ever did as a jazz sax player was transcribe other peoples’ solos and learn to play them. Imitating the ‘masters’, learning how they strung notes together and fit unlikely patterns into chord structures, was essential to finding my own voice as a sax player – because it provided me with a vocabulary to speak with (and to depart from).

Jazz soloists who don’t have a sophisticated melodic vocabulary all tend to sound similar – imitation is a step towards distinctiveness. Imitation along with endlessly playing scales and patterns so that you’ve got them ‘under your fingers’ when you’re onstage.

Where you get a problem is when you get mixed up, and see imitation as the destination, rather than a step on the way. I’ve known a whole lot of sax players who were technically brilliant, could play John Coltrane solos in all twelve keys, but listening to them solo was like reading the dictionary – all the vocabulary was there but they weren’t saying anything of their own.

So I’ve got no problem with students in any discipline imitating ‘what’s on the box’, I think we just need to make it clear it’s an exercise, not an end goal.

One final point: at university I discovered that jazz musicians generally know vastly more about music theory than classical musicians – because you need a much more sophisticated understanding of music in order to improvise than you do to follow sheet music down to the last demiquaver.


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

Academies: a good model for the wrong reasons Don’t downplay the crisis, play the crisis

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Amin  |  March 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Mantab Bos, Nice info Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

The Innovation Unit website

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 29 other followers


Twitter Updates

Follow innovation_unit on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: