Learning Tips from the Jolly Librarian: Remediate When You Must

Two weeks ago, I hit a wall in my  music class. My instructor asked me to play my practice piece in a different key, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she asked me what key my practice piece was in. I didn’t know that either. So she told me to stay after class for a little individual tutoring.

Our tutoring session went something like this: My instructor drew a diagram on the board of something called the Circle of Fourths and Fifths. She obviously thought that this was going to clear up my confusion. She was wrong. Still, when she asked if I understood, I nodded yes. I don’t think she believed me because she went over it again. And again I nodded yes when she asked if I understood. (And I now have sympathy for all the students who nodded when I’ve asked similar questions over the year. There is a point when you are so confused that you know that nothing further can be done at that moment. And your only wish is to escape the situation.)

So I left class disheartened. It was clear that my lack of knowledge of basic music theory was a problem in this class. At some point in my past, I probably would have gone straight to the computer and dropped the course. But I was determined not to do that this time. Instead I got on my iPad and looked for an app on music theory. I found one that was cheap with good reviews.

Then I sat down to read and practice. The first time through I didn’t understand much more than when I started. And I failed horribly at exercise one, blindly hitting keys hoping that somehow I could find the relationship between the notes. I wasn’t much better the second and third times through. Two days later, I was at lunch, reading the instruction part again and suddenly one sentence made total sense. Working from that one sentence, I drew my own Circle of Fifths. And I finally understood. I still had a lot to learn, but at least now I knew what my teacher had been talking about, and I would be able to move on with the class.

When learning something new, there may come a time that you find you have a gap in your knowledge that is preventing you from moving on. It’s up to you to fill that gap: You can talk to your instructor. You can get a friend or professional tutor to help you. You can do what I did, go online and find an app or a program that will help. But don’t give up.


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