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Thursday
Dec082011

The B.O.P. of Learning

Years ago, I read a book called Zen Guitar. It was a small book that had so much in it - totally changed my world. Later on, when I met Eric Roche (who also changed my world) - it made me so happy that he used Zen Guitar to start his workshop sessions. Probably one of the biggest lessons I learned from that book was that everyone is a master of something. This just means that even if someone sucked at cooking, he probably was good at something else (maybe clearing super difficult Japanese RPGs or something).

The point is - from one thing you learn many things. By having a clear idea in one field or area that you know really well, you can potentially apply it to other things you eventually learn. 

For me, music is the thing. Ever since I started playing guitar when I was 15, I knew that this was one thing that would stick with me for a long time. It didn't come easy for me but the good thing about being deeply passionate about something that is challenging to you - is that when you get it, you get it. This means that even though it would take me a million repetitions to get a concept, by the time I got it I would be able to really explain it.

This is super useful since I'm a teacher.

The bad part of all this?
I get students that will be able to do stuff that took me a year or more in a few lessons.

The good part?
I get students that will be able to do stuff that took me a year or more in a few lessons.

Recently, I gave my first talk to non-music folk. It was at this event called Educamp KL #3. I've been attending the events and have been really digging the scene since everyone was so into different ideas of education. Wu Han, the founder, mastermind dude and a guitar student of mine invited me to give a talk so I said yes.

My topic was, "What I Learned About Learning While Learning About Music."

I just loved the sound of it.

Essentially, I talked about three things and the key to it was "B.O.P."

B stands for Breaking it Down

O stands for One Thing At A Time

P stands for Practice, Performance, Practice

Let me elaborate.

B = Breaking it Down

This refers to my experience learning what seemed to be complex guitar parts. At first, some fingerstyle guitar parts can seem overwhelming with the amount of coordination and technique involved. Gradually, I discovered that breaking it down to smaller elements made even the more complicated guitar part manageable. Of course, it still took time but it was now within reach, even if it was 15 steps away! This kind of thinking was definitely inspired by reading Pumping Nylon by Scott Tennant and studying with people like Grisha Goryachev, Hal Crook and Jon Gomm. They all had a way of breaking it down so that the problem at hand became possible. 

O = One Thing At A Time

This refers to working on one single challenge at a time. In fact, it goes right after Breaking it Down. Right after we discover the elements that make a problem (right hand arpeggio+legato left hand+tone+tempo of piece+alternate tuning etc.), we can then work on one thing at a time. For example, I might just work on getting the right hand arpeggio correct first before I even worry about whatever the left hand needs to play. I might not even worry about the actual dynamics of the part yet - all I do is get the basic motion correct first. Then, I refine it gradually in the next step.

P = Practice, Performance, Practice

This is cyclic which means we start off in the practice room - working on a certain song, phrase, line etc. and then we take it into a real world context. This might be a gig or recording session or even just a lesson with a teacher. Then, we perform what we've practiced and see how it goes. Sometimes things go well and sometimes things are less than perfect. We observe what went wrong and that informs us of what we need to work on next in the next practice. This will ideally go on throughout our career - with every gig: a lesson learned, with every practice: a new idea to be tried out. 

And there you have it: B.O.P.

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