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Author Topic: Inductive or deductive? Novelist Cormac McCarthy on how the real deal happens.  (Read 1205 times)
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sabutin
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« on: February 15, 2012, 10:20:25 AM »

I see so many people teaching a "how to do it" approach to brass playing.

Where to put the tongue.

How to manipulate the embouchure.

How to breathe.

Etc., etc., etc.

Essentially, how to induce good brass playing by dealing with specific aspects of the craft. This is the mainstream academic approach now, it appears to me. "Take this specific action to become a better brass player."

I studied with Carmine Caruso, John Coffey and Jack Nowinski, all of whom approached the idea from another angle entirely. A deductive angle. Whether it was the "Tongue and blow, kid, tongue and blow. That's all there is to it" concept of John Coffey, Carmine's "Play this exercise in good internal time" idea or Jack's approach...he once told me that the best way to find the proper place for your m'pce on your chops was to play a midrange note and then kinda "squinch the m'pce around on your chops until it sounds better," and it works like a charm...I never heard a word from any of them about what to do with any part of my anatomy. Not a word.

Ditto Jimmy Knepper. When I tried to copy his approach to holding and moving the slide...I eventually evolved something similar only influenced by my own physiology rather than by his...and had some trouble in a rehearsal playing really challenging unison mid-to-low range parts while he was just sailing through them, I asked him a question about what I was doing. Whether I "had it right." His answer...after a pregnant pause...was very simple. "Maybe you ought to move your hand faster." Duh.

So here I am, having my morning coffee and wandering through the internet is search of...in search of the miraculous, I suppose...and I run into an article about one of the truly great American novelists, Cormac McCarthy. I have read a great deal of his work but know very little about him except that he is kind of a hard-tack American western type who pretty much stays out of the hype culture and does what he does no matter whether he gets rich or just scuffles on through. My kinda guy. So this article informs me that he is a resident "humanist" in a high-level scientific think tank called "The Santa Fe Institute," and that he has an extremely broad knowledge set that includes a deep understanding of mathematics and physics as well as the pushes and pulls of elemental human behavior that so inform his writing.

Oh.

No great surprise there, any more than if the article told me that he refuses to leave his ranch somewhere in the badlands of of the southwest and spends all of his spare time training quarter horses. Genius does what it does.

But here's what he had to say that prompted me to make this post.

Quote
McCarthy noted a deeper link between great science and great writing. “Both involve curiosity, taking risks, thinking in an adventurous manner, and being willing to say something 9/10ths of people will say is wrong.” Profound insights in both domains also tend arise from a source beyond the limits of analytic reason. “Major insights in science come from the subconscious, from staring at your shoes. They’re not just analytical.” To explain why he doesn’t like to analyze the sources of fiction too closely, McCarthy told a story. “There was a guy who was a great wing shot on a quail hunt in Georgia. He killed everything he saw, he dropped 'em all morning. One of the other guys said, ‘You’re the best wing shot I’ve ever seen.’ At lunch the guy asked him, ‘Do you shoot with one eye open or both?’ He paused and thought about it. Finally he said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Duh squared!!!

Like dat.

Bet on it.

Back to work...

S.
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Wayne
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« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2012, 05:30:08 PM »

There gotta be something in this for a mathematician to graph how the teaching input might change from inductive to deductive as the student moves from zero skill to artistry.

Someone taught that crack shot how to safely load, unload and clean his gun and how to hold it so it didn't break his shoulder or his cheek. Someone probably taught him about the basics of breathing to steady his aim. The rest was practice.

It comes down to timing again. The right type of input or stimulus at the right time. That's the art of teaching. What does this student need from me today?

Wayne
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sabutin
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2012, 11:03:04 AM »

There gotta be something in this for a mathematician to graph how the teaching input might change from inductive to deductive as the student moves from zero skill to artistry.

Someone taught that crack shot how to safely load, unload and clean his gun and how to hold it so it didn't break his shoulder or his cheek. Someone probably taught him about the basics of breathing to steady his aim. The rest was practice.

It comes down to timing again. The right type of input or stimulus at the right time. That's the art of teaching. What does this student need from me today?

Wayne

I dunno exactly how much "teaching" actually went into this guy's shooting ability. I really don't. I grew up in a hunting family and although I was cautioned on things like always checking to make sure a gun was loaded or unloaded, using the safety and never pointing it at myself or anyone or anything else that I did not absolutely, positively mean to shoot, what I learned about "shooting" had to do with...shooting. As in "practice makes perfect." How to hold the gun so it didn't break my shoulder or cheek? Maybe someone might have said something, but all it took was one shot with a powerful gun or shotgun to fairly well learn that lesson. Yup. Same thing with riding horses in the same family. Once you knew how to put the tack together on the horse...saddle, bridle, bit etc...then it was basically a matter of getting into the saddle and riding. Everything else was unconscious emulation. Ditto driving a car or piloting a boat. You did what the good shooters, riders and drivers did. If you did not do that, you got scolded or even perhaps rapped upside the head (not so gently as to be easily ignored but neither so hard as to be truly injured) until you either got the message or decided that this particular activity was not going to be your primary field of interest. There was no extensive "studying" of the subject; it was strictly seat-of-the-pants stuff. My father was a very high-level fighter pilot in WW II (Spitfires, the Battle of Britain), and when pressed on how he learned that skill on a survivable level he said basically the same thing. Actually, he didn't say much of anything, because he didn't know "how he learned," he just damned well learned or else he died. And this was no dummy...he later became an aeronautical engineer and "learned" all kinds of stuff about what made planes fly. But when he got into the cockpit...and I flew a great deal with him over the years...he basically just started the engine; did the requisite pre-flight checks and then took the **** off. He knew the plane; he knew its stall speed and its maneuverability envelope, and then he flew where he was going by the shortest and safest route possible.

How much "teaching" went into the playing abilities of Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker? Mostly emulation, I think. And then the requisite 10,000 hours of simply doing it. Plus some serious talent, of course.

That's my take on it, anyway.

I hear player after player these days in NYC, all of whom play the instrument very, very well. But they are absolutely unidentifiable aurally. Could be this guy; could be that guy; could be almost anybody with talent who has successfully navigated the history of their instrument in a given idiom or two. They have been overtaught, in my opinion, and they are shackled by that knowledge. When I came to NYC in the late '60s after a couple of years of Berklee, the very first thing that I did was stop playing anything that sounded like what I had learned at school unless I was being paid for it. For a number of years I played only the outest freebag music, fusion stuff and latin music. I did this at least half-consciously, in an attempt to find my own voice. Like my playing or lump it, I at the very least succeeded in that effort. Only after that did I re-enter the history wars, and I did that fairly consciously too, in the secure knowledge that I had to some degree found my own way into the music. Of course, it was easier to do that in NYC at that time because one could live very cheaply whereas now if you're not pretty well working (or you have some kind of inheritance) you cannot afford to live within an hour's travel of the city, if even that close. Things have closed up here stylistically and in terms of work, and people who take chances are quickly marginalized in favor of those who are "good" players. Good little boys and girls.

So it goes, and so go the idioms as well.

Into stasis.

You know when change really stops?

When something dies. Once the decay period is over, it's just another fossil. Word.

So that goes as well.

May you be born(e) into interesting times, and always remember, these are the good old days. Stay alive. You be bettah off in the long run.

Bet on it.

Later...

S.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2012, 11:13:48 AM by sabutin » Logged

Wayne
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2012, 08:38:48 AM »

I was hoping more voices would chime in on this topic.

There is so much here. The "modern" educational debate between
natural learning and a more prescriptive approach has been going on
since at least the time Piaget sat in his house watching his children learn through play.

I work as a high school teacher and can attest to the struggles we all have
between the reality of trying to deliver what the government wants, what the kids actually need and care about and
finding a way to structure things that will develop classes full of "independent learners and critical thinkers".

That is our actual mandate.

Then there is the side of how the market dictates or at least effects the music that gets
played.

It even effects the amateur crowd. This big band I used to play
with used to play everything from Mingus to Miller to Canadians like Phil Nimmons and every genre that a big band could play. A few years back they made a deal with a hall for rent free performance space if they would play swing dances several times a year. The book has narrowed to music from the 30's and 40's.

Fun but gets dreary as a constant diet.

Wayne
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