(510) 524-2055

Learning by Rote vs. Mastering Technique

My friend has several parrots as pets. Now, the interesting and entertaining thing about parrots is that they can talk, by picking up and echoing the sounds they hear around them. This is quite fascinating and entertaining. But, the birds do not understand what they are saying.

Now, there are some students who like to approach music as if they were a parrot. They would like to learn a song, by simply repeating what they hear, or perhaps by laboriously learning the notes by rote from a teacher, or from  sheet music.

But my personal preference is to learn by concept. I would prefer to get the “big picture” of what the song is about, how it works, how it is structured, where is the theme, where are the repeating sections…. all that kind of information. Knowing the composer, the style, and how this music is different from other music. All those concepts help to engage me, and my mind, so that I can travel deeper into the music. When I do this, I am more interested in the music, and therefore I can spend more effort learning the song…… and not just this one song, but other songs that are similar will now be easier because I can see the relations between the two songs, their construction, their notes, harmonies, everything.

There are many ways to learn a song. One way is to laboriously learn it by rote, note by note. The problem with this method is that every song will be just as hard to learn. A better way is to study music techniques, such as scales, chords, and music theory. These are the building blocks of music construction. Then, each time you learn a new song, you can use these “tools” to learn new songs faster and more easily.