Using Your Senses Makes Sense

As I’ve been returning to guitar and taking on studying jazz, I’ve found that I’m bringing together a number of different elements to help enhance my capabilities. For example, in my efforts to (re-)learn the fretboard, I’m approaching this from several directions:

  • Sight reading
  • Ear training
  • Chord construction

Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. The important part about this is not the discrete activities, but rather the holistic effect that can occur when all of these elements come together. To better illustrate this point, have a look at this diagram I’ve created.

Tools for Learning

Tools for Learning

In this example, we see that the player (or student, if so inclined) is at the center of it all. These are only a few of the resources that are available for those that are interested in mastering their instrument. The key point here is that they can all be used in a way where they all complement and extend one another.

It’s not that you have to do all of them, but if you don’t, you’re likely missing out, limiting your progress or slowing yourself down. Can you reach your goals without doing all of them? Yes. Of course, this is wholly dependent upon the goal. What I’m trying to achieve is a combination of the different tools that engage all of my senses and approach my understanding and knowledge of the fretboard from several different perspectives (almost) simultaneously.

The more senses you can engage in the activity, the more that the player will be able to improve the hand-eye-ear-brain connection and their ability to integrate this. Below is a quick mapping on which senses can be engaged during practice or exercises:

Hearing Sight


Sight Reading P X X
Guitar Tablature X X X
Software Tools and Utilities X X X
Fingerboard Exercises X X X X
Ear Training X P X

Legend: X = Engaged; P = Potentially Enaged; Blank = Not a Factor

NOTE: If smell and taste are involved, you may wish to seek immediate medical assistance! :-)

While I don’t intend for anyone to view/hold this like some sort of formal research/paper, I think it does illustrate some fundamental things that many of us who’ve been practicing in this way can recognize — the more senses you engage, the more valuable the practice can be. In this case, by taking advantage of all of the different elements available to me, we get to learn the fingerboard more completely than if we only tried to do it by raw memorization of facts (note name, string, fret number). In addition, we are also helping to gain other (related) capabilities in the process.

I chose to use all of these because in doing so, I get the following benefits or become better able to:

  • Sight Reading
    • Visually identify note names
    • Associate staff position with pitch
    • Visually represent intervals
    • Identify key centers
    • Play songs (chord changes, melodies, etc.)
  • Guitar Tablature
    • Visually associate a specific string/fret combo with a specific note
    • Visually represent how specific intervals are fingered
    • Play songs (chord changes, melodies, etc.)
  • Software Tools and Utilities
    • Introduce variety into the training process by dynamically generating/reorganizing content
    • Blend visual and aural exercises simultaneously without having to worry about the instrument
    • Can provide “playback” capability for sight reading (for example) to confirm that what was read/played was correct.
  • Fingerboard Exercises
    • Associate note names with physical position
    • Mechanics of playing
    • Consider the options for note selection
    • Different qualities of same note played in different positions (change in timbre)
  • Ear Training
    • Develop the ability to “hear” intervals, chord and scale types, chord progressions/changes, etc.
    • Develop relative pitch — associate a given pitch with it’s note name
      • Be able to “sing” a desired pitch and map to a pitch name
      • Find where that pitch is located on the fingerboard

What I get from using all these tools together is providing benefits that go beyond the sum of the individual capabilities. When I was in music school, I really didn’t appreciate how all these elements worked together. I only understood them from the perspective of what I was being asked to do. Either no one knew or they didn’t think it was important for me to know. The way that I’m wired up, it’s an important element for me, as I track that kind of stuff (i.e. how things work at a systemic level).

What do you think? Are there benefits missing? Are there other tools or techniques that may be worth considering? Have you tried this approach or a portion of it?

September 2, 2009 · kengon · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Music

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