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Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique

20 Aug 15 - 04:39 AM (#3731695)
Subject: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: Will Fly

Recent threads on learning material (or not) and performing with music stand and books (or not) set me thinking about some positive way of describing how I learn words and music in a reasonably short space of time. Having taught guitar on and off for many years, and having produced innumerable instructional videos on YouTube, I'm very aware that different people may learn in many different words and that a technique suitable for one may not be suitable for another. But here's one way that I find useful when getting to grips with new songs or tunes - and I call it the "jigsaw" technique.

When I go to a session, it's inevitable that someone will play a tune I don't know. I have a choice. I can choose to play backing guitar and, if I'm the only guitarist in the room, I might do this. Alternatively, I can opt to play my mandolin or tenor guitar and pick up the tune as best as I can. Assuming I go with the second choice - on a completely unknown tune - here's how I go about it:

1. I listen to the tune and (very quietly) locate one or two of the prominent notes on the fretboard, which I call "anchor points", noting whether the melodic line goes up or down from those points.

2. As the tune goes round, I listen out for those points/areas of tune and try and play them, extending the melody line where possible to include more and more notes.

3. The tune begins to appear like pieces of a jigsaw in my head and - hopefully - I can fill in the blanks and do enough to play along.

Many session tunes are played several times and, by the end of many tunes, I've got enough to be able to play along with the other musicians and slowly up the volume to be part of the overall sound. This doesn't always work, of course - some tunes are quite complex or quite fast - but it's still good training for the ear. I can honestly say that playing jazz increased my ability to pick up a chord sequence pretty quickly, but playing in sessions also really improved my ability to pick up tunes. Practice really does help the ear.

Don Firth described his technique for learning words - which is very, very familiar to me - and here's my additional take on it all using the "jigsaw" technique.

1. I listen to a song and, if need be, write down the words in longhand on paper. It's amazing how much this simple act can make words stick in your mind.

2. I listen to the song quite a few times so that I've got the basic feel of it in my head and - as with the tune session learning - start to play it while singing the words.

3. Some of the words will stick straightaway - but some parts of the song will be blank spaces. I approximate what I think the words should be when those spaces come along. Then I check the spaces on the paper and play the song again, filling in (hopefully) more spaces.

4. I do this as many times as needed until all the spaces in the jigsaw have been filled in and I can dispense with consulting the paper.

After the basic learning process, I play/sing the thing over and over and over again - not only while with the instrument but in my head - in the shower, driving the car, doing the vacuuming, walking up the road to get the daily paper, in that quiet sleepless hour just before dawn…

That's my way of doing it. I hope that helps some people.


20 Aug 15 - 04:45 AM (#3731699)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: Will Fly

I forgot to add here that the purpose of getting to grips with the words in bits and pieces can sometimes be more profitable than trying to swallow the whole whale in one gulp!


20 Aug 15 - 05:54 AM (#3731719)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: GUEST,Samuel Mickle

Clipping Path Service


20 Aug 15 - 06:35 AM (#3731729)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: nickp

Well apart from the intervening out of place advert which may yet get removed by a Mudelf, that is exactly the way I do it Will. If I can find the music later so much the better (although it doesn't help much because I can't read it apart from absolute basics). Jigsaw... must remember that!


20 Aug 15 - 07:08 AM (#3731736)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: The Sandman

a song often has a beginning a middle and an end, learning a song in ections can be useful.


20 Aug 15 - 05:13 PM (#3731909)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: Steve Gardham

That pretty much describes the way I learn both tunes and words. Solid advice, but our brains don't all work in the same way. Others may find a different method more workable.


20 Aug 15 - 05:44 PM (#3731919)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: Will Fly

Indeed Steve - as I said in my original post. :-)


20 Aug 15 - 08:18 PM (#3731940)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: McGrath of Harlow

Esslentially I think that's how I learn a tune in a session - find a note or a chord that fits, play that when it comes around, and extend out from that. I generally find soon enough my fingers know what to do, even when my head doesn't - I've a terrible head memory for tunes, where there aren't words, but my fingers seem to know their way round.

With words, writing them down by hand helps. So does singing while driving, using rather the same method as playing, just singing the words I know and stretching out from their. If I'm learning a song to sing it I tend to do it backwards, by which. I mean last verse first. That way as the song goes along it's likely to get more familiar, you're going home.


21 Aug 15 - 03:51 AM (#3731988)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: Les in Chorlton

All good stuff! I think the main enemy of learning songs is other music. We are swamped in music all day - radio, CDs, ipods, car radios - I have to be very disciplined to get quiet times. A walk to the shops, a drive without the radio.


21 Aug 15 - 10:27 AM (#3732095)
Subject: RE: Learning with the 'jigsaw' technique
From: GUEST,leeneia

Thanks for the pointers about the jigsaw technique. I'll try that suggestion about remembering the 'high points.'

When I am learning lyrics, I focus on the rhymes and the narrative.