Thinking, Knowing And Learning

The difference between information and knowledge

The deepest educational experiences that I’ve had all occurred at the school of hard knocks.  As a student in a traditional music school, I had blocks absorbing information that didn’t seem relevant to what I was doing because I didn’t see how it could relate to what I wanted to do (to be fair, this was also because most of the instructors I had were incapable to presenting the information in a way that showed how it could be adapted to individual styles).  


Much of the specific aspects of my style have come about from taking ideas or approaches that were interesting and finding ways to integrate them into what I do.  This might mean hearing a phrase or a chord progression and working it into my repertoire, or exploring unfamiliar ideas or new options in a solo or a compositional challenge.


A big part of gaining information is knowing what questions to ask and finding the right people to initially answer them.

Gaining knowledge, however,  is knowing what question is asked, what the real question being asked is and answering them yourself.


I say this because while I can say, “If you’re looking for a Melodic Minor application – try playing a melodic minor scale from the b7 of a minor chord (i.e. Bb Melodic minor over a C minor chord)” to a student, this is just information.  Knowledge of the concept is evident when the student is improvising over a tune and gets to a C minor 7 chord and starts playing phrases that they hear from Bb melodic minor over the chord.  It comes after playing the scale over the chord, developing melodies and phrases based on the idea and learning it on a deeper level.  In other words, when the question is asked, “what do I play over this chord?” the player answers the question.


This is the difference between thinking and knowing.  

To think something, you only have to read it.  

To know something, you have to experience it.




Learning then, is really a bridge between exposure to an idea and knowledge of that idea. In an over-simplified manner, I  see learning as a process like this:

  • Exposure to an idea, “Did you know that you can do this?”
  • Exploration and  integration of that idea, “I’m trying to see how I can do this.”
  • Knowledge of an idea, “I’m doing this.”


The Thinking Trap


In the process above, thinking occurs at every step between exposure and knowledge.  In other words, you can think something but know nothing about it.  This is where you get people writing scathing product reviews of things they’ve never owned or used based on manufacturer’s specs or people using dogmatic approaches to situations based on someone else’s “knowledge”.  It’s a perceptual trap to equate thinking and knowing something and for me, this has been a hard-fought and life long process of recognizing that differentiation, understanding it and integrating it but perhaps posting this observation here will save some of you some time.  


As always, thanks for reading!




For those of you who are interested, there’s some further clarification for how this relates to my pedagogical approach here.

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