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