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Linda T. Kaastra
Inter-disciplinarian = cognitive scientist (pair analytics, music performance)
Inter-disciplinarian = cognitive scientist (pair analytics, music performance)

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Moving Forward

When I was 13 years old, I won a record album at a fair. It was the first record I ever owned and the only one I would own for a long time. My parents had one of those “hi-fi” stereo systems with built-in speakers that took up an entire wall in the living room. (Ok by now you know that this was a long time ago.) The record was Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” and I must have listened to that record thousands of times. [BTW: IMHO, the recorded version sounded better on vinyl than it sounds on the Internet.]

One piece that always fascinated me was, “Never Going Back Again”. Whatever the lyrics might mean, Lindsay Buckingham manages to convey a light hearted sense of movement and wonder through this fun Travis picking pattern. Whenever I hear this piece, I am lifted up. I get energy to move forward. Perhaps the music conveys the will to push through whatever insecurities might lie in ones path. Finally, after all these years with this piece lurking in the background, I am learning to play it for myself.

Strategy: Practice in chunks: measures 1&2, 3&4, 5&6, 7&8. Then work on the seams between the chunks: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7. Then put it together. Yes, it takes time. Work slowly, like in this example of measures 3 & 4:

Tricky right hand fingerings: moving from measures 3-4 the score shows the G on beat 4 as part of the bass note pattern, but it is easier to play it with the index finger. Measure 7 use the index and third fingers (i a) for the slides.

If you are interested in this piece, you can find a printed score in this book: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to: Acoustic Guitar Songs” Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., pages 98-103: (2007). If you can’t read music, you can learn it the way Lindsay Buckingham learns music – by ear. Or find a lesson on Youtube. Enjoy!

“Slow Music” - Practicing

Slow music follows this idea that as consumers of music, sometimes it is more fun to learn to play the music ourselves than to listen to someone else do it – over and over again.

Music practice is a kind of personal transformation. One starts in a state of wanting to play something, finds a way to make it happen, and - over a period of time - moves from [not being able to play it] to [being able to play it], encountering the goals, thoughts, and connections of other musicians along the way. When we practice, we experience, through our own efforts, the efforts of everyone else who has played this piece. We begin by learning to mimic what others have done. As we follow through with that process, we begin to make personal discoveries and personal connections in the music. As we progress, we extend our personal knowledge of music making into new territories. (If you are interested in these ideas, see M. Polanyi’s ideas about the structure of tacit knowledge.)

Sometimes the process of transformation includes not just learning to play something, but changing how we play something, going from one kind of performance to another. This is what instrumentalists do – we play a piece of music one way, then play it another way, constantly seeking that edge of newness and interest in the music. It helps to understand that music making is “situated”. Our music making is shaped by the situation in which we find ourselves – in private or public spaces, for formal or informal performance. How that happens is a topic of interest in the study of mind.

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This is a wonderful idea! So happy to see this infrastructure for the public sharing of musical instruments.

A great music teacher knows how to listen to students in a way that brings out the best in them.

A great music teacher meets students where they are and gives the right level of information for the age and experience of the student. A music lesson is not about what a teacher "knows". It is about putting a student in touch with his/her musicality and skill.

A great music teacher demonstrates how to attend to the activity of making music by performing for and with the student regularly.

A great music teacher constantly strives to find material that will compel a student to want to do more, because self-motivation is the key to life long musical enjoyment.

I have had many great music teachers. These teachers inspired me, challenged me, and shaped me.

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The materials of making music

Many of us are familiar with the materials of music: melody, harmony, texture, rhythm, register, and some add timbre, dynamics, and orchestration to that list as well. When Western Art Music is characterized by the roles individuals play, we talk of a composer as someone who jots down a musical idea and a performer as someone who presents that meaningful work to an audience. This is a very simplistic understanding of what actually happens, as composition and performance are iterative processes that can span individuals, and performances are situated and responsive social activities. There is no one-way transmission from composer to audience, and the boundaries between individuals are not as clearly defined as the literature on music has previously assumed.

So why insert the word “making” in “the materials of making music”? The basic mechanisms that underlie music making are deeper than the materials of music listed above. The basic mechanisms that we use to make music are the same basic mechanisms that we use to interact with people and the environment, tailored for a special purpose. For example, when we work on a repetitive task, we entrain to a rhythm or pace that makes us efficient (if we work alone) or helps us coordinate (if we work with others). We share much of what we know and perceive in the environment with others nearby. If I show additional effort on one end of a repetitive task that you and I share, chances are that you will adapt to accommodate that effort. We assume knowledge on behalf of others and we monitor our activities and shared knowledge to make adjustments as we work, provided we are paying attention and are willing participants. Our systems are not foolproof, but they are robust and redundant, and “good enough for current purposes” much of the time.

There is no longer a black box around the materials of making music. We do have words for the tacit processes of negotiation in musical sound. The most powerful concepts I have found in my research come from Herbert H. Clark (1996), who developed a conceptual framework to study the tacit aspects of face-to-face communication, called “Joint Activity Theory”. When we speak to each other, the meaning we exchange is rarely carried in the words alone. Rather, one word can take as many meanings as there are contexts in which it can be used. So, the fascinating question becomes – how do we understand each other? (We do it all the time.) How do we create meaning on the fly? There is much fascinating science in this area, and if you are interested in reading more, send me a note and I will send you a reference list or two.

See: Herbert H. Clark. “Using Language”. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

For additional references on concept formation, creativity, and tacit knowledge, please feel free to ask me. Also check out some of my research at:

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Hornby Island Rag - articulation and timing

I love musical problems. They are the best kind of problems to have. Problem 1: how to add emphasis while keeping the right kind of pacing.
Problem 2: how to be patient while new physical adjustments are made.

Sometimes we gain a lot by being able to attend to the end of a note as part of the articulation. I'm still working on getting a broader range of articulation on the guitar, but in this practice session I was experimenting with something Paul showed me - shortening the ring of certain chords. It does help to break up the wall of sound a bit.

My last practice sample recording of this piece has a few wonky rhythms in it. So here I clear those up as well.

Learning a new physical skill takes time. As I get more skilled, it takes less and less time, but it still takes time. No one has ever accused me of patience!

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BC's revised curriculum: There is light at the end of the tunnel.

I recently attended a parent information event on BC's newly revised curriculum. We hear so much bad news about education these days - schools closing, people losing jobs, programs being cut. But,

Teachers have been working to bring an up-to-date curriculum to our kids. They seem to be doing all the right things. Too many to review all at once, so, I will limit myself to one at a time.

1. Teachers are aiming for inclusion. Inclusion means that there are multiple pathways to any particular learning goal. More specifically, when students are interested or fired up about something, learning and engagement come quite naturally. It also means that when something is not done right the first time, there are chances to do it over and learn the material by way of having made a mistake.

This is in sharp contrast to the idea that some are talented and some are not; some are smart and some are not; that multiple choice tests and fill-in-the blanks tests are an indicator of understanding. That there can be only one winner.

The truth is we are all intelligent beings capable of a great deal more than we expect. We are individuals and we thrive when we work together well. We win when we support the people around us to be their very best.

Parents, check it out!
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