Nominal Fallacy

There’s nothing as refreshing to one’s professionalism as a challenging shot across the bows, particularly if it comes from a distant field. The admiral of thought in this case was neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, (chair of the Dept of Biological Sciences, Columbia University). His excellent contributory chapter to This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (edited by John Brockman of Edge fame) is entitled The Name Game. Early in the short chapter he cites a phenomenon which he and others call nominal fallicy – namely (pun intended) that being able to put a name to something equates to, increases or is the beginning of understanding. Often, in science, this can mean the end of investigation or, at least, a postponement in favour of nameless phenomena.

This caused me some alarm as, to say that naming is a big thing in my daily round, is an understatement. I always stress to pupils – and the younger the pupil, the more so – that without names things cannot be discussed. To offer young minds some context I ask if they would respect a teacher who knew all their names more than one who had to rely on descriptions like ‘the boy with the fair hair beside the window’. Without exception they unhesitatingly express a preference for the former.

Why am I so keen on names? Apart from belief in Wittgenstein’s assertion that “what can be said at all can be said clearly,” there are simply too many areas in music to survive otherwise. Pitches, durations and techniques cross the paths of new pupils from the outset. Later, myriad musical concepts – often in Italian appear. These feature heavily in SQA exams and it part of our job to support our classroom colleagues in this endeavour.

Soon, I began to relax as I realised that Firestein was referring solely to the naming and taming of unknowns. The elements of music which crop up in lessons have, in most cases, been established for centuries. So, crisis of confidence over – for the meantime. However, it was enlivening to experience a mirage of a fundamental shake-up.

 

Postscript: numeracy in music has its own taxonomy. We use the following:

Arabic numerals – fingering (left hand – as right hand uses initials for Spanish finger names)

Roman numerals – position e.g. 1st finger based at fret 5 = V

Circled numbers – string number

The above three are internationally used. We also use numbers written in a square to represent ‘phrase number’. To help pupils see and hear connections and variations we use, for example, 1, 2, 1, 2a.

Matthew Warnock

Most criticisms of social networking I come across share two common elements: the complainer often has less experience than those at whose ears the comments are aimed; the complaint features accusations of egotism.

I’d like to offer an alternative example – one of someone sharing their learning, free of charge.

Matthew Warnock is a man I have never met. However, he is a guitarist and teacher and posts useful material on his website, which he then mentions on Facebook – I came across this through a mutual friend – that’s the networking bit. This seemed sufficient grounds for making contact.

I was particularly impressed with recent posts on pentatonic scales (general Wikipedia explanation here). For some guitarists, there is only one pentatonic scale – usually used in blues. For many there are two – major and minor. Matthew’s recent posts featured the lesser known:

Dorian Pentatonic Scale

Lydian Pentatonic Scale

Lydian Dominant Pentatonic Scale

Mixolydian Pentatonic Scale

Mixolydian b13 Pentatonic Scale

Locrian Pentatonic Scale

Melodic Minor Pentatonic Scale

Each post features the scale, scale patterns and licks in the context of a chord sequence.

Thanks, Matthew.

Why not try them out?

Pattern & Surprise

From the earliest lessons pupils learn to make sense of the language of music through the idea of pattern and surprise. This is one of the best examples I can think of – from Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich.

Here is the first phrase – a 5-note motif: Shostakovich – Cello Concerto – Sample 1

Now, phrases 1 and 2 – same rhythm (making it a sequence) – change of pitch (distinguishing sequence from simple repetition): Shostakovich – Cello Concerto – Sample 2

Patterns usually break away on the third phrase and sure enough the space at the end of the 5-note pattern has been filled with a 6th note: Shostakovich – Cello Concerto – Sample 3

But there is is another über-surprise hot on the heels of that. What would you do next? This? Shostakovich – Cello Concerto – Sample 4

 

 

European Day of Languages

Tomorrow (Mon 26 Sept) is European Day of Languages. Like all Mondays I’ll be spending it in two primary schools. A really good way to involve pupils, without major distraction from the task in hand, is to have them ‘count in’ the tunes in a variety of languages. This table is very helpful. Handy time-saving hint to avoid lengthy scrolling, for those not already addicted to keyboard short-cuts:

  1. Control+F
  2. Type the name of the language you want in the search box which should appear at the top-right of the screen

Morten Faerestrand

I was pleased to receive a Youtube friend request from a great jazz guitarist and teacher – Morten Faerestrand. In addition to great videos – nice sound good film quality – there is the option to sign up for TABS for each of the lessons – all of it FREE.

You can find Morten’s site here.

In the meantime, here are a couple of samples: [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/7u3QL8RroO0?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mkpY2WahsQ8?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Prosody Revisited

Tidying up at the end of a primary school day, I was delighted when two P5 girls helped out without being asked. For some reason, best known to themselves, they burst into an animated version of Two Little Dickie Birds. Then one suggested, “why don’t we play that song?” I replied,  “we could, but I’m wondering if it’s more of a poem than a song. If we took the words away, would there be any tune left for us to play?”  After a moment’s reflection, one said:

Da dada dada da,  dada dada da  -

Da da dada – ,  da da da -

Dada da dada – ,  dada da da -

Da da dada – ,  da da da  -

The inflections in the voice were identical to the version with words.

So, what is the prosodic equivalent of the popular line, “I’m a poet and didn’t know it?”

Blackbird

You’d think a “lesson” with no dialogue couldn’t be up to much – but this one seems to get away with it quite nicely:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/U0Hbo0cVoME?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

In addition to the nice, clear playing, it’s as good a demo as you’ll see of the concept of parallel 10ths – and also a fantastic example of effortless, economic left-hand technique.