The Beach Boys and the Big Picture

A few nights ago I had a wonderful dream.  I was listening to the chorus of a Brian Wilson song that had never been written.  When I woke up, I was able to put it on paper, and I spent the morning recording it in the style of the Beach Boys with all the vocal parts. 

My family nearly went crazy listening to me.  They only heard me sing each individual line, sometimes falling badly out of tune, and they thought I was doing a terrible job.  It was only when I played them the finished product with all the lush harmonies that they appreciated my efforts. 

If they could have heard the finished product first, they wouldn’t have been nearly as angry.  They would have understood where I was going.  It might have been unpleasant, but they would have been able to tolerate the process more easily. 

I think this is where a lot of learning fails.  What’s often needed the most is an overall understanding of a subject before the particulars are filled in.  The trick is, you so often need to know the particulars in order to understand the subject! 

Jeanne Bamberger has described learning in terms of units of description and units of perception.  She explains that many children learn in large units of perception through actions like drawing, counting and dancing that take a certain amount of time.  In school, however, many are forced to learn through units of description like “lines, numbers and moves” that are often too small by themselves to paint a coherent picture. 

Only the students that already grasp the big picture do well.  Students who already have an understanding of math gravitate to an understanding of the operations.  Students who already tell stories care enough to want to spell. 

It is often possible to give students this overall view, but you have to be sneaky about it.  Subjects like music often contain other subjects like math and poetry.  Performing the music provides someone a kind of overview of both subjects, like a helicopter ride across confusing territory. 

This is why the arts holds the key to so many difficulties in education and, by extension, in human understanding, personal and interpersonal.  This is why someone like me, who has a comprehensive knowledge of music performance, can help others with specific skills like stage fright and presentation.  And the truth is, if you get the big picture, you might not need my help at all! 

I try to get people interested in this argument by giving them a big picture first.  I tell them about this song I dreamed, a Beach Boys song.  The story only takes a few seconds.


*** News from A Jazz Musician Who Writes Books ***

I was recently interviewed by Authority Magazine on the subject of mindfulness and jazz during our pandemic.  Read it here.  I hope you find it helpful.

Through the study of music improvisation, I teach my clients in public workshops and private instruction ways to maximize their professional and personal success. My clients recognize and quickly master their difficulties in the areas of communication, anxiety and goal setting. I utilize my years of teaching experience as well as a knowledge of the Feldenkrais Method to create a powerful learning environment that spans different abilities.  Visit for more information.

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