Day 34: Learning Style

“Learning Style” is a modern buzz-phrase in education circles.  What is “their” learning style?  How can I adapt my material to “their” learning style?  Just what is a learning style?

I am peripheral to these discussions at work, and in my own practice I teach using visual and auditory methods to get the information from my head to “theirs”.  I can hang with that.

Taking music lessons, at least in this particular instance, is a pretty didactic and auditory experience.  We are given information verbally, we are exposed what it is supposed to sound like.  There was a terrific set of handouts at the first lesson, but as of the second week this changed to just the week’s songs with words and chords.  There is nothing wrong with this.

I am a visual learner, to go farther I can say I am a solitary visual learner.  I learn best when given the chance to stare at information and process it at my own speed before having to  pull it back out and use it.  Given these two things I can learn anything, but without them I find I need to go away from the lesson, work it out on paper somehow, and then return with my new knowledge in good working order.  If you ask me to watch you play something, or read along while it is played, I can turn around and play it back to you (at a beginners level).  Where I run into problems is when information is presented verbally, like music theory and how chord patterns relate to music theory.  I can understand this if given time to absorb and turn it over in my head.  It will be quicker if you give it to me on paper.  I can’t turn either around during class and answer a question that asks me to use this new information.  To put it in education lingo – I haven’t built a mental schema to process that information yet.  More bluntly: this site is under construction, please come back later.

I bet I look like a deer in the headlights when I’m asked something new in class.  I sort of feel like a dumbass (sorry to get so technical).  Ask me something about last week’s homework – I might surprise you with what I’ve figured out.

Now something for my sweetie – who has become obsessed with Julia Nunes

This week I’m supposed to let the instructor know what song I would like to learn to play during the last class.  I’m thinking George Harrison’s “Give me Love”, mainly because I love to sing it.  What do you think, too hard?

Day 26: I have had a lesson.

This is what it’s all been leading up to, hasn’t it?  I had my first ukulele lesson last night.  Much like falling in love it was everything I hoped it would be and a complete and total surprise.

The music school is in a trendy neighborhood, or maybe it’s post-trendy – I don’t keep up with these things very well.  On the street it is only a door with a sign and sandwich board.  You enter the door and descend down the stairs a good 20 feet into the basement of an old retail building.  I had been here before when I bought my ukulele, but the music school occupies the other half or more of the basement.  They have soundproofed the rooms and everything was well lit and clean.  I got checked in and given the standard flyer on what happens if a class is canceled or a teacher is sick, and then I was sent back to the “green” room.  I need to pay attention next time, I wasn’t aware of anything particularly green about the room.  The instructor was already there, he seems to be a nice man about 10-15 years older than me.

I was very nervous.  This is so  new to me and I’m not always  good at change or new things.  I figured my discomfort meant I was doing the right thing.  I showed him my ukulele and he strummed it a bit and declared it a good beginner’s uke.  I had tuned it before coming to class and he didn’t make any adjustments.  As he tuned the other uke’s as they arrived I think I must have done it right.  Go me!

There are 7 people in our class, all adults and all but one with little or no musical training.  This really put me at ease as I naturally had assumed that everybody else would know a lot about music and the ukulele would be their 6th or 8th instrument.  Nope, all rank beginners.  whew.  John (the instructor) had a handout with lots of information, definition sheets and diagrams, songs and scales to practice.  He lost me for a minute when he asked us to write each note on each string at each fret.  I saw his lips moving but my brain just wouldn’t understand his words.  I kept paying attention and sure enough in a moment the lightbulb went off and “ping” I understood what he was asking for.  I love that feeling, that beautiful “I got it” moment.

We all got to try some chords and strumming along with a basic song and before I knew it the class was over.  The pacing was a bit fast, but there is so much to learn and I don’t want to waste a moment so I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I walked away with some assignments and practice for next week, along with the stern admonition that it is better to practice 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day, than grinding through an hour just because.  Will do.

This morning I couldn’t wait and I busted out the handout and tried my hand at “I’ll Fly Away”.  I played it reasonably well, good enough that my partner could recognize it while getting out of the shower.  I can’t wait to get home and practice tonight.

Now for something completely different.  On the topic of feeling like the dumbest person in the room I came across this episode of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson where he interviewed Stephen Fry.  At the 1:30 mark Stephen starts talking about just this topic.  I like the way he describes it, and am comforted to know that everybody gets that feeling.