Just-in-Time (and Just-Enough) Learning
How to become the kind of musician you want to be – even when time is limited.
Frequently, my students will tell me some variation of, “What I really want to do musically is ________, but I don’t know if that’s even realistic because I’m 40-, 50-, or 60-something years old and just getting started.” While it’s true you need to be competent to achieve your musical goals, the situation isn’t quite so dire. Students can get overwhelmed because they feel pressured to learn everything about history, theory, improvisation, and their instruments.
Enter just-in-time learning and its complement – just-enough learning. The idea to this educational method is that learners learn what they need to know when they need to know it. Here are some suggestions for implementing these concepts into your practice, study, and performance:
- History: trace influences, rather than trying to learn the full, linear narrative in one sitting. Typical jazz history courses start with the birth of jazz in New Orleans and progress up to anywhere between the 1970s and the modern day. This approach can be challenging for learners who aren’t already familiar with the early history of jazz. Instead, I suggest that learners trace the influences of their favorite musicians, as well as subsequent musicians influenced by them. This approach is often more effective because it’s personalized and it allows us to make connections that eventually weave together into a historical narrative.
- Theory and Improvisation: view improvisation as a chance to apply select theoretical concepts. As with history, students of theory are often encouraged to learn theory progressively and fully – starting with small intervals and ending with elaborate chord-scales. Instead, it’s better to ask yourself, “What specific theory concepts do I need to learn in order to be a better improviser on this tune?” (Note that for bassists, walking basslines are a form of improvisation too)
- Your Instrument: break technique down into its fundamental components. In my own practice, I focus primarily on technical exercises because these are the things that will better allow me to apply concepts and improvise. Bass playing is basically four components: right-hand attack, string-crossing, single-position fingering, and shifting. Master these four and you can play an endless array of music and styles (even if you expand into other genres, you’ll be better able to learn new right- and/or left-hand techniques).
Do you struggle with feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to learn? Do you think you’d be more likely to reach your goals using this approach?