SEPTEMBER ISSUE, I ASKED READERS
to name any subject that one pays to learn, where the facts
are not taught first and foremost. Nobody wrote me with any
suggestions. This is important to consider. If no such subject exists, then music
instruction for pay should fall into the
same criteria. It has to, because every other type of instruction for pay does.
Here is a question: If you are investing
money to learn how to play better and you are not getting
musical content or factual music to practice each day, then
what you are paying to learn? Write to me with your answers
and we can discuss them here.
A fellow named Geoff wrote: “Good day Jeff , glad to see
you writing a column for BP. I think there are a number of
things you learn where you don’t learn the facts first:
1. Riding a bicycle. The facts of how a bicycle works are
based on principles of physics.
2. Hitting a baseball. You learn to hit a baseball by trying
to hit a baseball, no two ways around it.
3. Learning your first language. Again, trial-and-error.
You don’t learn about sentence structure, nouns and verbs,
subjects and predicates; you learn by copying what you hear
Hi, Geoff . I asked people to name anything that one pays
to learn—that is, where one invests money to learn a skill or
to improve in one. Bike riding is learned for free, a self-taught
experience. Hitting a ball on your own is a free experience
as well, except in the major leagues, where batting coaches
are paid to help batters improve their swing. Finally, learning your first
language is a non-paid-for experience as well,
a self-taught evolution learned by ear since infancy. Yet all
self-taught linguists go to school to learn the facts of their
language by learning how to read and write. They are taught
by people who are paid to teach factual language information.
Let’s carry this thought over to music: Self-taught players who
learn by ear and choose to pay money to go to schools, events,
or to buy DVDs should be taught musical facts to practice.
If learning the facts fits every other learn-or-teach-for-pay concept, then
music needs to function the same way. If you
have other ideas about this, write to me and we can discuss
them here. Thanks for your great comments, Geoff .
A reader named Tim asked, “How would you go about
developing chops and a sense of groove through a practice
routine? What should I be doing in my practice time to make
the most of it? Thanks!”
Hi, Tim. Chops need a reason for being developed, or else
they are just fingers moving on an instrument. Chops are
developed from all the experiences you have as a self-taught
player, and also from learning academic music. As self-taught
experiences and academic training merge over time, you will
become a vastly improved musician, technically improving
over time. Groove, meanwhile, is an overrated principle of
learning. You do not need a sense of groove when you are
practicing; you need to be practicing when you are practicing.
As an analogy, drivers “groove” in traffic by driving within
the traffic flow. But, new drivers can’t “groove” in traffic. They
are self-conscious and often drive “out of time,” as they are
figuring out how to feel the tempo of driving with other cars
around them. As they acquire more experience, their driving “groove” becomes
more natural. Music is the exact same
thing: First you need to learn how to play, and then you will
know how to groove. This concept is guaranteed. It worked
for every top player on every instrument in music history—
but they had to learn how to “drive” first.
If you disagree, please name a top bass player in any style
who claims to have learned how to groove via paid lessons
or instructional DVDs or online clips that focus on grooving. Send those names
to firstname.lastname@example.org and
I will compile a list that we can discuss here.
Finally, to make the most out of your practice routine,
make sure you fix mistakes the moment they happen. Count
and tap your foot. Stop when you aren’t sure what the notes
are that you are learning. Practice slowly. Don’t perform.
And remember to review what you are working on. Thanks
for reading. Best from Jeff .
Since establishing himself as a
jazz and fusion
Bill Bruford, Allan
Cobham, and Yes,
Jeff Berlin has
solo albums and
founded the Players School of
Music in Clearwater, Florida. He is
currently ﬁnishing his latest solo
recording, as well
as a trio CD with
Scott Henderson and Dennis