I love to find creative ways to teach myself how to do new things, but I am impatient. I want to know it all now.
In these videos, jazz pianist Bill Evans shows how important it is not to get ahead of yourself when you are trying to learn or improve a skill.
He imagines a piano student who wants to be good at jazz improvisation. As a part of his learning, the student listens to a world-class pianist improvising over the framework of a particular song. The way that the master handles the song is complex, fluent and exciting, so the younger student, impatient to sound like the master, attempts to approximate what he hears the master playing. In his desperation to be a better player as quickly as possible, the learner skips the painstaking small incremental steps of improvement and goes for the sounds he has heard, even though he doesn’t understand how they are constructed.
The problem is this: back in the day when the master learnt how to improvise, he started with the absolute basics (playing scales and modes slowly, learning how to turn one scale into another, hearing how different chord extensions sounded and playing them in all twelve keys, etc.) The master player had the patience to understand that the problem of ‘jazz improvisation’ is very large but was willing to add one small piece at a time, never moving on to the next part of the problem until he was sure that he fully understood the element he was working on at that moment. When he was sure he understood a thing, he knew that the foundation he had made would support the next stage of learning.
As I said, I am an impatient person. When I started to build the site www.themirrorchildren.com I wanted to get it up and running as soon as possible. I wanted it to look like the sites of my experienced blogger friends who had been designing and building pages for years. Instead of doing what Bill Evans suggests, I panned around trying to get WordPress to do what I wanted it to do, without understanding the interface or the vocabulary. Eventually, I realised that if tried to build a site without knowing the basics, I would only be building on vagueness, which only leads to confusion. I bit the bullet and decided to consult an expert. By watching a tutorial by Tyler Moore, I was able to see, and assimilate, the absolute basics. I had to watch some parts of the video over and over again but, at the end, I knew how create a site with one particular template. Okay, it was clunky and not exactly what I had hoped to achieve, but I had a foundation. Knowing the basics of how WordPress templates work, I think I’ll be able to change it without too much difficulty.
I believe that this principle holds true in all self-teaching. To quote Bill Evans: ‘The person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and… knowing that the problem is large, he has to take it a step at a time and has to enjoy the step by step learning procedure.’
I’ve included, below the videos, a number of quotes from Bill Evans. I hope these are inspiring and helpful to you. The two videos are excerpts from a 45 minute film, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans, which you can find in its entirety at the bottom of the page.
Quotes from The Universal Mind of Bill Evans
‘From 6-13 I acquired the ability to sight read and play classical music so that I could perform Mozart, Beethoven… intelligently and musically, and yet I couldn’t play ‘My country tis of thee’ (God save the Queen) without the notes. Now this is a funny thing, to be able to play a masterpiece intelligently and musically and still not to be able to be creative and understand music enough to be able to play a very simple thing like ‘My country tis of thee’ without having the music in front of you.’
‘Now the whole process of learning the facility of being able to play jazz is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense, conscious concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious. Now, when that becomes subconscious then you can begin concentrating on that next problem, which will allow you to do a little bit more.’
‘I don’t consider myself as talented as many people but in some ways that was an advantage because I didn’t have a great facility immediately so I had to be more analytical and in a way… that forced me to build something.’
‘Most people just don’t realise the immensity of the problem and either because they can’t conquer it immediately think that they haven’t got the ability or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through.’
‘If you do understand the problem then you can enjoy your whole trip through.’
‘People tend to approximate the product, rather than attacking it in a realistic, true way at any elementary level, regardless of how elementary, but it must be entirely true and entirely real and entirely accurate. They would rather approximate the entire problem than to take a small part of it and be real and true about it.’
‘To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.’
‘The person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and that he has to enjoy the step by step learning procedure.’
‘They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general which they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress.’
‘If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.’
You can watch the whole documentary here: