Paul Hawthorne's Web Site
Banjo Psych 105

banjo head, banjo psych logoA Brief Introduction to Learning Modalities (VKA)

We learn things from the outside world through our 5 senses, and when it comes to something like music, taste and smell are seldom involved. The principal learning modalities (visual, kinesthetic and auditory, or see/do/hear) are very pertinent and generally overlooked. People usually have a preference of the order of these modes they learn in, chosen at about age 4 or 5. Young children are like sponges, learning freely, and then begin to limit themselves by preferring a manner of learning. I believe this could be the first step in the process of *learning not to learn* that almost everyone has bought into.

The most *near the top* mode will be easy to use, it is then necessary to shut off some or the outside world and go inside yourself for the next mode, and to go deep inside yourself for the last mode. A typical order would be visual, auditory, and then kinesthetic, or VAK.

Socrates exhorted us to know ourselves. By knowing your order of learning preferences you can take steps (if you want to) to gradually strengthen the other two modes that you have to go more deeply inside yourself to access. One of the things I often do when tutoring someone is to have them discover their learning modalities so that I can present information they need on playing in a way that is most easily assimilated by them right now. Any really skilled communicator does this, I think it is a service to the learner to let them in on what is going on.

I do this by getting them to imagine that they have committed to learning to do something, an activity, which is 'way outside of their comfort zone, stressing that there is no right answer that I want to hear. I may make it clear the only wrong answer is to say what they think I want to hear. Sometimes I have to make a calculated guess of something that will fit this concept. If it was a non-physical person, for instance, I might suggest sky diving: something that will get them emotionally involved. When I see terror in their eyes, I know they will choose what they believe to be the best learning path.

I ask them to tell me in a couple of minutes the steps they would take, and listen carefully for the order of the learning mode verbs they mention as they describe how they envision their plan. The order is generally the same as that of learning preferences. I then repeat back to them what I feel their preference order is, and usually get agreement. This is important, because I am not the one to judge this, only they are. I would be arrogant if I was pasting the label on them.

(As an aside, this is exactly how I feel about the so called *music teachers* in grade school who administer a 15 second test which usually only tests if pitch matching has been learned, and on that basis pronounce the child tone deaf and non musical. That stigma often lasts for life, and is usually false. See Banjo Psych 104.)

People whose last choice for learning is visual for example, are often the ones who have difficulty with tab, and for whom strategies like the Murphy Method could be a valuable stepping stone. By the way, if this fits you and If you can read this page, you have the ability to read tablature, IF you will demand of yourself enough focus at first. I know Ms. Henry truly believes a lot of people cannot learn to read tab. This is horsepuckey.

All the modes are parts of the puzzle, though the visual one is not necessary to play well (viz., Doc Watson). This is not an excuse, if you have vision (and you do if you are reading this) use it. Any written music only conveys a very small portion of what is actually played, maybe 10 or 15 percent or so. The rest is supplied by the musician based on his knowledge of the particular musical language (e.g. bluegrass, bebop, beer hall), what sounds he has stored in his auditory memory. This is why you must listen until the music form's nuances are digested and the musical language is a part of you. To play well you must pre-hear, you will never play better than you can hear internally. Tab is useful for learning the motions before your ear is trained, and to convey arrangements in print (which will then be completed just prior to playing by the performer). When I read a tab in BNL (no banjo in hand) I hear it played in my head, on pitch, at speed, with all the frills. Acquiring this ability took awhile.....

When I surrendered to John Hickman for help after I had been playing for 15 years I knew 250+ tunes, none of them truly well. I was fast, but I had a lope in my rolls that my guitar player could recognize across a fog shrouded campground, but that I couldn't really hear happening. John was very gentle and sent me home with some underground Flatt and Scruggs tapes and the message: "You don't hear well enough, yet. Listen to these, a lot." He also recorded a continuous forward roll, a continuous backward roll, and repeated forward reverse rolls on my tape recorder with a lot of bounce.

He then said, "That's all I do." This was not an easy statement for me to accept, because the pieces did not fit logically, and I was really into reason and logic solutions. To wit:

It was not an easy time for my ego, and my (then) V, K and last, A(auditory) order of learning preferences. I had learned by primarily seeing and doing, an addict to tab after having starting out taking records apart note by note. I switched to tab because it was easier for me. I though I was hearing what I was playing, but in truth I was only hearing superficially. I had to strengthen my auditory learning skills.

There are certain psychological patterns that go with the six different possible orders of the VKA learning modalities. The orders are just different, none any "better" another. Knowing your learning preferences and patterns can help you in selecting effective study strategies (books, teachers, videos, immersion as a roadie....) with the end of learning more faster.

There is a teacher in the popular field about the learning modalities idea, Dawna Markova, Ph D. She has books and tapes out and I believe she also does classes. Her material is in print in trade paper editions. If you want to investigate this idea further to apply it to your banjo playing, her book, The Art of the Possible, is a good starting point.

A footnote.

Although I am right handed, I have been also playing left handed for the last few years and have a left handed banjo. One very exciting outcome of this is that James McKinney was able to tell that I access primarily kinesthetically when playing left handed, and (still) primarily visually while playing right handed. This means there are two different styles of learning naturally resident in my mind! This is a tremendously wonderful thing, and I am elated about the possibilities of learning and ???? that could come from it.

This is very much the cutting edge for me and the study has only begun......

PJH, 28 Feb 2000


Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH

Edited 01 Apr 2007 by WF