Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slow Learner

Teachers spend a lot of time figuring out "learning styles," the preferred method a student has and the most effective way a particular student can be taught. My knowledge in this area is about ten years old so if my comments are decidedly old school, please consider the ancient source. (If not the Ancient Mariner.)

I think a useful way of thinking about learning styles is the mode the student uses to learn.  There are visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners,just to name a few types. These styles are related to the theory of multiple intelligences (which Amy tells me has been somewhat discredited, but bear with me, please), which says that there is no one type of intelligence.  Traditionally, verbal intelligence has been dominant, but there is evidence that there is social intelligence, emotional intelligence, spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic,musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.  I'm not sure what some of these are, but there are a number of articles online that explain them.  Suffice it to say that most adults are visual learners who rely on verbal intelligence to learn. In choir, for example, most people who read music tend to learn by visually reading the music(quite a concept, I know).  When we as a choir  have to learn something by listening, we are out of our comfort zone.  I know I am.

But I didn't come here to talk about that.  I came to talk about how I'm a slow learner.  Maybe a better term is "long learner."  If I grasp something right away, I get it (duh). If I don't, it takes me a long time to figure it out, but I have German persistence in my genes and I keep at it until I get it.  Or not, as in the case of statistics or cricket.  Not going to happen. I tried.

Playing guitar is a good example of long learning.  I am not gifted musically and have to work at it.When I first took up guitar at age 14, I was a long learner compared to other people I know.  I taught myself by watching and listening to other people play when I could and using books. Another method I used was to play records (those 12 inch vinyl disks that we played on turntables) at 16 2/3 rpm, a speed on some turntables for recordings for the blind.  Playing a 33 1/3 record at 16 2/3 rpm slowed down a song by half and lowered it an octave. I would  play along with the record that way for a while and gradually work my way up to playing the song at normal speed. I wonder what I would have done if I had been learning during the days of CD's.

Anyhow, I bopped along learning licks for a couple of years and then I plateaued and didn't learn much for the next 48 years. It's OK, I'm a hack guitarist and enjoy playing just for the sake of playing.

There was one figure from a Gordon Lightfoot song that eluded me until last week. I had tried to play it for decades with no success. It comes at the end of each verse of "Song for a Winter's Night," a beautiful song that Lightfoot wrote about the speaker being away from a loved one and thinking of him/her while the snow falls outside. Although it is full of wintery images and sensibilities, he wrote it in the summer during a thunderstorm in Cleveland.  Go figure.

Anyhow, I couldn't get the turnaround at the end of each verse.  The song is in A, generally played in G capoed to the second fret. (Guitar players, you know what I'm talking about.) The bit sounded like it was minor, but nothing I tried worked.  Then I saw it was a sample online video lesson. It was so simple I don't know why it eluded me for decades: Dm7, C, D, G. Wow. I got it.

Like I said, I'm a long learner. It may take me a while but I'll get there.  Maybe this is something to remember as those of us who work with young people try to understand how they learn and help them learn.

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