Learning and Teaching

Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about this week. Women Singing is an annual event held here in SW Scotland that I’ve been going to since it began almost 25 years ago. Everything is taught by ear and as a group they are awesomely quick aural learners. Every day there’s a harmony singing morning workshop which different leaders take. Arrangements are sometimes quite complicated but the group manages them easily. Some of my favourite teachers have taught on this week over the years and it’s grown into a wonderful community.

A few years ago I was driving up to the far North of Scotland in a car that only had a tape deck. So I dug out some old cassettes from Women Singing workshops in the early 1990s. It was really lovely to hear my colleagues and myself teaching over 20 years ago – we all sounded so young. But what really struck me is how long it took us to teach and to learn the simplest songs.

In fascination I listened again and again to us learning what we’d think of today as a quick warm up song – only here it took us perhaps 40 minutes to really get something. And I was reminded that the speed a song comes together isn’t about how quick or good people are at learning by ear but about all those little tricks you employ as a teacher to help people ‘get it’ quickly. All those things that now feel second nature were things we were all still learning 20 years ago: how to pace and structure a workshop, when to stop and leave a song to cook rather than flogging away at it, how to keep the whole room involved, and what songs and arrangements are really worth putting in effort to learning. The better the teaching, the better the learning. Obvious, I know, but I just need reminding sometimes – when a group isn’t able to learn it’s always because I’m not teaching well.

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