Testing Your Vocabulary Or Practicing Part VI

In the last post on practicing, I focused a great deal on the importance of listening in general and I’d like to focus and frame that importance a little more this time.

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Before I move on, you may want to read my previous posts on practicing.  If you have missed those posts, you can find them here: part 1part 2part 3 , part 4 and part 5.

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It’s important to realize that scales, arpeggios or any other kind of melodic or harmonic device is only a tool in the service of making music – and is not music in and of itself.

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One way to get to making music with these devices is to learn other people’s music and phrasing, either by transcribing or learning by ear.

As a guitar teacher, I occasionally to run into students who are resistant to this idea as they only want to learn “their music”.

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Learning other people’s music is learning your music because it’s part of a process in developing your voice.

The point of music is to communicate and to communicate with people you must have something to say.  This is done not only with vocabulary, but with a familiarity of language that comes from constant exposure and interaction.

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When you learn other people’s music, or licks or chord progressions you learn vocabulary.  You learn phrases that work their way into your being and begin to form your aesthetic.  When you talk about “your writing style” for something you’re writing – do you make up all of the words you are going to use?  In reality, you use words that you’ve used before.  You use phrases that you’ve seen other people use that have now become part of “your writing style”.

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If you’ve ever been around a child that’s learning to verbalize their thoughts – you’ve heard a lot of sounds coming out that are not recognizable as words (much less sentences).  It can be a real struggle to determine what it is that the child is attempting to do (or perhaps wants).  If you were to isolate that child at a certain point of development and refuse to interact verbally, the child would eventually develop his or her own language – but it would be completely inaccessible to you.  You would be unable to communicate verbally with the child and have to do things visually to convey ideas.

I’ve heard some singer/songwriter music that was done with this mindset.  The lyrics represent things that are so personal that it is impossible to gain any meaning from them without an intimate knowledge of the person.  Harmonically (because the performers use sounds that “are theirs” and nothing more),  the approach is severely limited and the chord progressions tend to all sound the same.  If you’ve ever had this experience you may find that you tend to tune out after a song or two as I do.

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Learning vocabulary

When learning vocabulary, there are several steps (this is a profoundly oversimplified list):

  1. Exposure (or more likely multiple exposures) to a word (usually in a context)
  2. Use of the word
  3. Integration of the word into conversation/writing etc.

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This means that there is a lot of word use to get to the point of integration.  In musical terms, you may have to shed a lick or phrase a lot not only from a technical standpoint (use of the phrase), but also to have it be “available” when you’re improvising (integration).  And this is a real test of your vocabulary.

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You might think you have something down – but no matter how much you shed something,

if you can’t access it when you’re improvising – it’s not fully integrated into your playing.

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It’s important to realize that integrating vocabulary is a conscious decision.  It isn’t passive at all.  Just because I hear a sound – doesn’t mean I know what it is or how to react to it. This is the real difference between hearing and listening.

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Hearing is biological, listening is mental.

You can get a lot from working with transcription software (like transcribe) and using it as a phrase trainer (i.e. taking an advanced technical or shred lick and slowing it down to such a slow speed that it becomes playable).

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Don’t be afraid of working on complex solos or phrases!

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All you have to do is:

slow it down and

break it into small components that you can play and

try to increase the speed a little every day.

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In this way you’re actually getting more complex patterns under your fingers and gaining some refined ideas to draw upon.  By working in this manner, you can develop phrases so that you have something that you can use at a variety of tempos. Having ideas that work in a number of contexts  makes it easier to integrate into your playing..

If this is an area of interest, you may also want to read this post on music as language.  You can also find some posts that may help with practice/motivation stating with one on focus here, a thought on music theory in performance here, or the importance of deadlines here.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for dropping by!

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If you like this post you may also like:

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PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

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PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

Some Useful Online Practice Tools

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FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

What’s wrong with playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for a world speed record?

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