Archive for the ‘Instruction’ Category

How I Write: I Think

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Instruction, Philosophy

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you to think, or how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you learn how to think is to practice thinking.

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.  The more difficult questions offer the greatest opportunity for learning, but the easy questions must be mastered before you attempt the more difficult ones.

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there is nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first person was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Organizing Your Thoughts

The points I made so far are not exhaustive: there is more to think about. But let me move on now to the topic of organizing your thoughts. As a writer you must have empathy. You must be able to convey ideas in a way that the reader is able to understand those ideas. Good writing is just a recipe.  The topic may be difficult to write about, but the organization of the ideas is the same for every topic. A simple recipe for organizing your ideas goes like this: 1.) Tell them what you want to tell them, 2.) Tell them why you told them, 3.) Tell them again.

In the last paragraph, I included a heading. You really do not need to read that paragraph in order to understand that I (the author) place an emphasis on the importance of organizing your thoughts. A lot of people read quickly; they skim. As an empathetic writer, you know this and account for it in your writing style. You separate your paragraphs with headers when there is a shift in the topic.

Putting It All Together

You already know what this paragraph is about because you read the header. Let me return to the first part of this essay and insert headers to show you how their use increases readability.

Learn in the Correct Order

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

First Learn the Fundamentals

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you to think is to practice thinking.

An Example

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.

A Closer Look at the Possible Answers

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there are nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

Invest Time Improving Your Thinking

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Conclusions

A writer is a thinker. A great writer has practiced the components of writing for a long time. Those components, as I discussed in this writing, are thinking, organizing, and empathizing. There are many additional features that great writing includes. I believe the three I covered in this writing are fundamentally significant, and might help other writers consider what import they place on thinking, practicing, organizing and being considerate of their readers.

If you agree, then you will stop reading about what I think, and you will spend some time thinking about what you think.  And if I keep writing, I will be keeping you from thinking about what you want to think about. So I will stop now.

I am responding to this blog at Dallas School of Music which asks the question “What is a Music Educator?”

I cannot imagine how many different kinds of music educators are out there working to help people discover music, but I am guessing that most people would not immediately consider a piano tuner as a music educator.

What’s in A Name?

In business, the name we embrace is largely market driven. It is important to communicate to people, and part of that communication depends on their perceptions. I am a family musical education consultant, but that name does not communicate that I am a piano tuner. People are most familiar with the name “piano tuner” so that is what I use most often.  However, even the name “piano tuner” is not always understood to mean that I am also a piano technician, a piano restorer, a woodworker, a synthesizer technician, a bench repairer or a piano appraiser. I provide a lot of services based on my experience. I am also a music educator but most people would not regard me that way.

A Link in the Network

I provide an important link in the network of music educators. I am accessible. I am often asked to recommend a teacher, a piano dealer, a brand of piano, and many other piano related products. Second to a piano teacher, I have more contact with the members of each family – more than manufacturers, retailers and every other teacher who is not teaching students in that particular household.

What is Your Family Music Curriculum?

I field questions from my clients. New piano buyers ask me if they bought a good piano. They want me to validate that they made a good buying decision. They ask me what they should do when their children lose interest in piano lessons. We talk about the difference between a State mandated core curriculum and a family designed core curriculum.  That is, I explain that just because the State does not require piano lessons as part of the required curriculum, there is no reason why a family cannot add lessons to their family core curriculum.

If I add all of these subjects together, I feel pretty certain that I fall into a unique category as a music educator. There are a lot of people who do some of what I do, but no other person in the music educator network does everything that a piano tuner does.

What I Teach

I teach kids about their instrument. I open the magic box and show them how it works. We look at the foot pedals, the piano wires, I encourage them to touch the hammers, to move them and watch how the hammer strikes the piano wire. I teach them about room acoustics and how a tuning fork vibrates on a hard surface (like a wall) and not on a soft surface (like a carpet).  It might surprise you to learn how many piano students have never seen a tuning fork. For older students, I demonstrate what a harmonic sounds like, and show how different harmonics can cause an unstruck wire to vibrate sympathetically.

Yes, There Will be A Pop-Quiz

I ask them to play their song, the one they are working on. Usually, even the shy children will not hesitate when I ask them to play. I am an audience. I ask for pop-quiz recitals. If there is a young child in the family who is not yet taking lessons, I might teach him or her how to play chopsticks, to the wonder and amazement of the parent. In that light, I create new students.

Setting the Example

I try to set a good example. I want my clients and their children to have a positive experience with their piano tuner. The network of music educators depends on everyone in that network being a good role model. I know that music teachers do this. Band directors do it. School teachers do it. I expect it from other parents when they interact with my child, and I embrace the obligation of good parenting each and every time I interact with the children of my clients.

A Proud Member of the Network of Music Educators

I enjoy many teachable moments with children. Although I do not teach them how to play the piano, I still think it would be okay to think of myself as a music educator. I enjoy my job very much. Every visit to a home is very endearing. I know I am an important link in the music education process and that gives me a deep sense of personal satisfaction. I think the name “Family Music Consultant” is a better name for what I do, but few people would understand what that means. Instead, I just stick with the name “piano tuner”, a 300 year old profession that affords me the opportunity to be of service to people who are enjoying the wonderful journey of musical education.

Blues or Jazz: What’s the diff?.