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Old 03-03-2018, 04:37 PM
martianmambo martianmambo is offline
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Default Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

This is a long post, sorry.

Some background info to contextualize my question:

So, I live in Hong Kong, which, like other parts of East Asia, has a really exam-oriented culture of education. This also applies to music, and I've been asked on numerous occasions if I'm "grade 8" (I'm from the US, where we don't use the ABRSM grading system). Something I've noticed about a number of drummers here is that they don't have a developed sense of feel, dynamics, and finesse behind the kit. Among drummers--and, really, all musicians--there is great emphasis placed on learning how to read charts, to such an extent that many people seem to rely on them rather than listening to the song, and even drummers who are skilled still rely on charts when playing a basic pop song (insofar as I can tell from watching their Youtube channels). My unresearched guess as to why their feel on the kit seems to be lacking is because of the culture's over-emphasis on reading. (This is a conclusion I drew by analogy with the general education system, where students learn lots and lots of English grammar, but don't speak mucb or read or listen to much real life English, so their English sounds stilted and unnatural). NOTE: I am absolutely not saying that this applies to all Hong Kong drummers; there are some fantastic drummers over here. I am simply referring to a general situation that I've noticed.

The point of my post:

Do you think learning to read music too early can hinder one's ability to listen to and feel the music, because of the inherently academic/analytical nature of reading music? Should music in general, and drumming in particular, be taught the same way one learns language as a child--that is, learning to speak (i.e. play) and listen before learning to read? Or do you think it doesn't really matter, as long as equal weight is given to both listening/speaking and reading?

When a couple of Hong Kong friends asked me to teach them drums, my thinking went: first, I'll teach them some basic beats and fills and a couple songs; afterward, I'll teach them to read, because the written language of music will make a lot more sense once they've internalized some basic vocabulary and grammar, so to speak. However, one friend found a different teacher closer to home (we live an hour apart), and the new teacher was shocked that I hadn't taught her how to read (though, to be clear, I had only had like 3 lessons with her).

Anyway, what are your thoughts on all this?
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Old 03-03-2018, 06:39 PM
toddbishop toddbishop is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

The problem isn't being able to read music, the problem is lack of awareness of any other way of playing music. Or maybe awareness of it but lack of understanding/respect for it. Who knows.

There's no reason to delay or de-emphasize reading-- it's the first thing I teach: how to read and count quarter notes, 8th notes, 16th notes, quarter rests, and half rests. Once they can play a basic memorized drum beat, we go into teaching them to read interpretively, which is the most effective way I've encountered for teaching people to play. Total immersion in a musical community from a very young age would be ideal-- that's the only way to actually learn to play like learning a language or "by feel." Most humans don't have that, and we're stuck with learning it through a playing technology, and as much immersion as is available.

I don't think there's anything gained by showing them a bunch of stuff by rote before teaching them to read. Rote teaching a bunch of parts to a song is nothing but a very inefficient way of doing the thing you think is bad about reading. The end result is still that they're just mimicking somebody else's drum parts while having little or no understanding of what they're doing. And since we're constantly seeing people who never learned to read struggling both to pick it up and to be able to progress without it, I think it's a mistake to delay teaching it, even in the short term.
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Old 03-03-2018, 07:01 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

This isn't a yes and no thing.

I'd recommend anyone learn how to read. Not necessarily to be the best sight reader in the world, but to understand the written language of music and all the learning possibilities it provides. It's also a common language in my teaching environment.

I would prefer to start things by ear, it's the best, but I don't. The reason being lenght of lessons and the type of students I have. There always some sort parroting exercises and such involved, so there is some ear training.

With limited time, limited interest and demands it's easiest to keep track with a good old basic progeeeive reading method. Mind you that's no all we do. I teach styles on the kit, play around and put things in context right away.

My approach is really whatever I can do to create a self motivated student with a pracice routine and understanding of how things tie togeher. With an 8-9 yo child this is a proces that can take 2-3 years, depending on the stdent, their arents and othr general surroundings. They also have to function as a group with all my other students, so we're back to the basics of reading again.

I'll say this much. I put great effort in having the students understand WHY we do things the way we do. I never do anything without explaining why and also relate to how I myself practice and things they can relate to.

Can you become a decent time keeper without reading, working your rudiments and bla bla bla...... , Sure. Can you become a really good drummer? NO WAY.

It varies when some people are ready for certain things. Being good at explaining things and understand that they are not obvious to everybody can make a lot of difference there. I like to think that's what makes me the teacher I am.

We have to find a balance.

Sometimes the less academic approach seems valid to outsiders and young children who themselves don't know better yet. The problem is that if they don't learn how to practice and work they will fall behind and loose interest forever. It's amazing how few people see that connection. They can't see past the shallow entertainment right now.

It's probably starting to sound like I'm all out on a tangent here.

Really. We need to open the doors for any type of knowledge. Reading is also a visual aid. It's ofen expected from both the student and the parents that reading is part of it. Again it's not really what, but how.

With typical lessons with young children, I'd say start with the reading, but just be aware and change it up once in a while. Once you've through a basic beginner book, unless thy need it for school band or othr things, I'd take it easy with that and focus on other stuff. That foundation of reading and understanding rhythms will make all the difference in the world.
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Old 03-03-2018, 07:26 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

I donīt think at at all that learning how to read is the problem, the thing is those "charts" you mentioned are not real CHARTS (on those so called GRADE tuition) but note by note parts (to be played verbatim), like in classical music.

The concept about reading/interpretation/improvisation is lost if you donīt emphasis this at the same time with supplementary education.

Again, it doesnīt matter if you use a GRADE system or not, if the teacher is not skillfull in this area himself (in his own playing) the output might be the same...but reading in itself is the most basic important skill you can have to start drumming... but itīs not enough...
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Old 03-04-2018, 06:08 AM
martianmambo martianmambo is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Excellent responses, guys! You've all certainly given me a lot of food for thought! Thank you!
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Old 03-04-2018, 07:15 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Learning to read doesn't affect musicality any more than learning to play to a click. I personally think that learning to read is essential, and I would urge anyone who is teaching to make sure and include it as early as possible.

The challenge is to keep learning how to read from sucking all the fun out of a younger drummer's lessons. But there's ways to do that too. I especially like the words-as-rhythms chart that has been floating around here a while - it's possibly one of the best tools I've seen to teach rhythmic figures to younger students.

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Old 03-04-2018, 11:16 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

I am currently helping small kids learn about Rhythm. That words-as-rhythms chart is amazing alparrott! Thank you so much
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Old 03-04-2018, 01:05 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

To me those "systems" with words make no sense. Other than the number of sylabes (and for that the person should know how to break up words by sylabes, do little boys/girls know how to do that? - not to mention a good number of grownups, hahah), those words implied no specific rhythm, people can make up longer figures and rests everywhere!. Then you have to lear the word AND the rhythm, ahaha

Besides when you learn a subdivision is always the same, here (at the graphic posted) 2 eights, for example, could be "Pizza", "Chicken", "Apple", and whatever...hahah

I teach kids from 5 years old and they learn music like any human being, play all kinds of things...like rolls with abreviations, etc.
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Old 03-04-2018, 10:21 PM
AndeeT AndeeT is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

The systems make sense when you have a group of children with very small attention spans! Of course, it is not the only method I would use, but is definitely a nice game to play to re-focus wandering attentions...
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Old 03-04-2018, 11:19 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

To me if it is inaccurate it doesnīt work, music is accurate (well, at least the music I listen to, haha).

Iīm talking about learning, not baby sitting...

Again the concept of sylabes is probably very advance for them, but letīs take "CarrotSticksandDip", why would they think itīs 4 sixteenth and a quarter (as stated in the example) and not 4 sixteenths and an eighth (and start repeating in 3/8).

Also if you have one food for each "musical phrase" (to somehow have a name for those 2/4), how many foods has a to child learn to be able to understand every combination? (Itīs like a menu at the Sheraton, hahah).
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Old 03-04-2018, 11:46 PM
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Living Dead Drummer Living Dead Drummer is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

I have students of all ages. Some as young as 4 years old.

Typically I start with learning basic rhythms and counting while playing.
I introduce reading after a few lessons, or when I feel it's appropriate based on their growth. Then it's a balancing acted between reading and playing, while applying things like technique, feel, dynamics, etc. But it's really on a per-client basis. Some younger students who don't progress as fast, reading becomes secondary until I can get them a little more on their feet.

However, I will say I am a HUGE advocate of more formal music education, reading, and technique. So at some point, be it after 2 lessons, or 2 months, you're going to learn to read and use it regularly.
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Old 03-05-2018, 12:33 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Sanguinetti View Post
To me if it is inaccurate it doesnīt work, music is accurate (well, at least the music I listen to, haha).

Iīm talking about learning, not baby sitting...

Again the concept of sylabes is probably very advance for them, but letīs take "CarrotSticksandDip", why would they think itīs 4 sixteenth and a quarter (as stated in the example) and not 4 sixteenths and an eighth (and start repeating in 3/8).

Also if you have one food for each "musical phrase" (to somehow have a name for those 2/4), how many foods has a to child learn to be able to understand every combination? (Itīs like a menu at the Sheraton, hahah).
You mean like counting one-and-a, two-and-a... vs one-trip-let, two-trip-let? Or any of the other counting methods that exist?
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Old 03-05-2018, 12:48 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Al - I have been playing all my life, and I never saw something like that reading chart. That is awesome.
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Old 03-05-2018, 01:07 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

It's not the reading, or lack of it. It's the environment.

Quote:
that they don't have a developed sense of feel, dynamics, and finesse behind the kit
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Sanguinetti View Post
the thing is those "charts" you mentioned are not real CHARTS (on those so called GRADE tuition) but note by note parts (to be played verbatim), like in classical music.
These two things are probably related. The emphasis is on the individual ("Check out my video where I play the notes on the page!") rather than on the group ("Watch my band play this song live in front of an audience!").

Where I teach, kids (and adults) are placed in small bands. They choose songs, regularly perform them live as a group, and record in a studio at least once a year. Every performance is video taped and analyzed the following week. Emphasis is placed on how well the student performs their own part first, and how the group sounds, second. The groups make their own charts in rehearsal, and use tabs/transcriptions/recordings as needed. All students have private instruction as well.

After a few years, the drummers all (ALL of them, really!) have good feel for the music they're playing. Some read well, and some don't, but all have good meter and finesse.

So, my advice is: get your students into bands that have structured rehearsals, and that play music in front of people. Drummers that have good feel -- they learned by playing with others, a lot.
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Old 03-05-2018, 02:21 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

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You mean like counting one-and-a, two-and-a... vs one-trip-let, two-trip-let? Or any of the other counting methods that exist?
Letīs just call it: "reading notation": drum parts, snare parts using all figures, all rests, abreviations, etc... Everybody reads, no problem...
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Old 03-05-2018, 02:59 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

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Originally Posted by Alex Sanguinetti View Post
Letīs just call it: "reading notation": drum parts, snare parts using all figures, all rests, abreviations, etc... Everybody reads, no problem...
I agree that the end goal is to be able to read.

But different people find different ways of vocalising counting work for them. I recall not being able to 'feel' playing one-trip-let, two-triplet etc. I understood, on an intellectual level, that the quarter not was being divided into 3, but had no feel for it. As soon as I realised that this was the same as counting one-and-a, two-and-a it was easy. The goal is to play music, whether we learn to count using foodstuffs or any other item is totally irrelevant.
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Old 03-05-2018, 03:11 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Nothing to add but to share a story. Last night I attendedmy stepson's first jazz band competition. He's in 6th grade. Afterwards, I wondered out loud if when learning these songs, if the teacher required the class to listen to it. She said probably not. I could tell. They were doing songs from my era (Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Louis Armstrong et al)
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Old 03-05-2018, 03:23 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

JustJames

Well, it is a fact that some teachers produce a ton of students that read well and others not.

I donīt believe this is an accident, do you? There must be a reason...different methodology, etc...


Anyway the original subject of the thread has slightly mutated now because of the food on display, hahah

Last edited by Alex Sanguinetti; 03-05-2018 at 04:25 AM.
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Old 03-05-2018, 06:32 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Some thoughts...

He’s posted it before, but I think that Al’s food rhythm chart is brilliant. I wish I’d have had that when I was younger. Yes, it requires interpretation, but it’s a teaching aid that I reckon will work for most.

I really don’t understand the idea that the ability to listen or feel music could be inhibited by learning to read score. No one be would ever suggest that creative writing would be inhibited by reading books.

I didn’t think that ABRSM had a drum kit syllabus, but I’m a big fan of the Trinity College London Drum Kit syllabus. It includes sight-reading, improvisation, performance and technical study (rudiments) in a variety of musical styles. Grade exams can be a great structure for anyone to learn all these things in parallel.

Despite all the great things that my boy has done on the drum kit, my proudest moment was seeing him pick up a tambourine and sight-read a piece with the school orchestra because another boy went home sick on the night of the performance. Fluent reading is awesome and I wish it was a skill I could boast of. Starting young and learning gradually is definitely an advantage.
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Old 03-05-2018, 06:49 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Musicians who can't play without written music aren't that way because they learned to read. They're that way because they haven't worked at playing without written music.
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Old 03-06-2018, 04:41 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Not to hi-jack this thread, but are we talking just drum notation or song-music charts? l only ask this because I can see using drum notation as being useful for learning drumming but more general, song charts more useful for playing the drums to music, songs, etc.

I don't think Zappa handed out drum charts to Colaiuta not did Dream Theater hand out drum charts to Minnemann for his audition.
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Old 03-06-2018, 07:55 AM
martianmambo martianmambo is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mrfingers View Post
Not to hi-jack this thread, but are we talking just drum notation or song-music charts? l only ask this because I can see using drum notation as being useful for learning drumming but more general, song charts more useful for playing the drums to music, songs, etc.

I don't think Zappa handed out drum charts to Colaiuta not did Dream Theater hand out drum charts to Minnemann for his audition.
I meant drum charts that you play along with the song note for note.

Thanks everybody for the great discussion!
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Old 03-06-2018, 11:29 AM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

I'm glad you brought this up! Being from and having taught in Malaysia and Singapore for almost four years now, I definitely know what you mean with the whole academic culture thing, for talent must be quantified in grades and numbers, so student's ability can be compared.

I don't think it really matters if you start with note reading or playing by ear first, provided you cover both aspects evenly throughout. There are no right or wrong here.

Given their strengths in academics learning, I like to always start with notation first. I find it easier for the students here to learn notes first, and most of them are able to catch up quickly.

But as for the musicality (sense of feel) part, this is where, like most of the other suggestions, you must approach holistically: interpretive reading, ear training, etc.


Here's my take on the issue:

What I find to be the cause of this problem is the lack of appreciation towards musical talent. Without being culturally disrespectful, historically people here in Asia are usually discouraged from pursuing artistic careers(though this may change within a few decades, I hope) and artistic careers are shunned upon.

This shapes people's perception of the arts; music in this case. There's a lack of understanding and appreciation towards music here. Musicians are what us Chinese call "cold door" jobs, AKA jobs that cannot feed your family.

It's because of this, the majority of music centres adopt graded syllabus systems like Trinity Rock and Pop, or Rockschool (the ABRSM equivalent for contemporary drums). This is the best method to attract students because they can actually be graded for what they are learning. Furthermore, the ministry of education here recognises these certificates and allow students to have additional merits.

I find this to be the problem because the students are usually only taught to play the exam materials in lessons. What is worst is that there is also a lack of understanding that home practice is essential, so students here pretty much practised in their lesson, once a week.

Not to mention the competitiveness in the culture here, where sometimes parents force their children to take 2 graded exams a year, or jump grades. This is where the teachers undergo the pressure of preparing them for exams, and are forced to omit the other elements (like improvisation, especially improvisation, rudimentary exercises, etc.)

The result is that the students can only play their exam songs, nothing else. I'm fortunate enough to work with people who realise these issues, and we've even analysed the students' exam results. Generally speaking, the students always do well in the repertoire section ( since they have been learning those three songs only the entire year), but in the technical part of the exam, you'll notice that the median score is much lower in this section.

What is worst is that these students, when thrown in a real gigging situations, they can't cope. They'd be so intimidated to even go up the stage to jam random songs. They must at least know what songs are to be played in advance, look up for the score on the internet, and study it first before playing anything.


Apart from educating the parents what benefits music have on children, I like to introduce my students to other musicians. Sometimes I even assign them to check an artist on Youtube. The reason they are so score-reliant is because they have not consumed enough music themselves. I always tell them "You cannot open an Indian Cuisine restaurant if you've never ate any Indian food before."

Of course, this must be done with consideration. You cannot simply introduce them to Casiopea, or even Buddy Rich, for these may be too much for them to digest. It must be done in steps, starting out with pop songs they are comfortable with like Ed Sheeran, or for people in Hong Kong, start them out with Beyond, or even Mayday. Once they learn to appreciate music, then slowly introduce them to the vast genres of music.

Let them play some of their songs. Maybe tell them play interpretively once they copied the original version not for note (I like to do this and I just love the kids' reaction when I tell them to play something different from their notes).

In short, the people are not very exposed to music in general. Expose them to music, and make them appreciate it, then they will find the interest to learn more.

I hope this puts the environmental challenge you have more into perspective. I could probably go on and on, but of course, I, by no means are trying to condemn the people here. Despite the issue with music education here, you can still find some very good hidden talents around the local scene.
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Old 03-06-2018, 01:21 PM
dmacc dmacc is offline
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

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Originally Posted by martianmambo View Post
[u] The point of my post:

Do you think learning to read music too early can hinder one's ability to listen to and feel the music, because of the inherently academic/analytical nature of reading music? Should music in general, and drumming in particular, be taught the same way one learns language as a child--that is, learning to speak (i.e. play) and listen before learning to read? Or do you think it doesn't really matter, as long as equal weight is given to both listening/speaking and reading?
Perhaps I'm missing the gist of the question, but my answer to this question is - NO.... There is no correlation between reading music "too early" and lack (or not) of feel.

Feel comes from countless years of listening to music, seeing live established players working together and getting involved in playing with others. We all grow the more we do this.

Reading provides the path of learning without barriers. If you can read then there is almost no end to growth - unless it's self imposed by desire or something else that interferes. Delaying this process only delays progression.

In my mind, this would be the equivalent of telling a young child that it would be more beneficial if you listen to someone else read a book to them and not learning to read in order to better understand expression from the written book. Isn't this done simultaneously? The way a 1st grader expresses themselves reading a book will be different from when they are in 12th grade.

Last edited by dmacc; 03-06-2018 at 01:31 PM.
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Old 03-06-2018, 03:08 PM
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Default Re: Instructing new students: Speak/play first or read first?

FFFF,

Excellent description of a problem Iīm very aware of.

Itīs important to understand īthough that everywhere else is the same in different degrees of intensity (conception of "cold jobs", etc.), and also how far is average people from musical education in general. Most countries (more than 99 percent for sure) donīt have band playing like it happens in the US at any level (Primary school from University). But even at the US you can see (most forum memebers are from there) that there is a big FANTASY (to use a word) about how everything works in music ...

I have two students currently from there (on-line, Malasia), good students!

Take care, and again, excellent post!

Last edited by Alex Sanguinetti; 03-06-2018 at 07:18 PM.
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