What Are You Paying To Learn?

IN THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, I ASKED READERS to name any subject that one pays to learn, where the facts are not taught first and foremost.
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IN THE 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.

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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 around you.”

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 talkingbassnotes@yahoo.com 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 cornerstone with Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, and Yes, Jeff Berlin has released eight 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 Chambers.