September 27, 2011  |   Tips & Tricks

Why Take a Music Course When You Can Learn for Free?

On my days off, I help people to use their computers. Here’s the most common issue I encounter: The operator needs to move a paragraph of text from one part of a Microsoft Word  document to another section. I watch them carefully select the paragraph that they need by positioning the mouse on the first word and dragging it down to the end of the last. They then move their mouse pointer back up to the ‘edit’ menu, select ‘copy’, hit backspace to get rid of the text, and then scroll to where they need to be and carefully select ‘paste’.

Job done. But it’s taken ten seconds of their lives to do something that could have taken just three! I show them that they can triple-click on any word in the paragraph to select it all, press ‘cmd-X’ on the keyboard to both copy it and delete it (otherwise known as ‘cut’), use their up-down keys to get to the page they need and then press ‘cmd-V’ to paste the text back in. This has taken three seconds. They are amazed. I am a genius.

You might be thinking; ‘what an idiot, everyone knows how to cut and paste text!’. But that’s not true. And it’s not because the operator is an idiot, it’s that they simply did not know that there was an easier way to do the thing they wanted to do. They assumed that their way was ‘The Way’, and carried on regardless. As a consequence of not even being aware that there was a problem, they didn’t think to ask the question; ‘how do I speed up my use of Microsoft Word?’. I had to show them.

This is what an online course does; it gives the learner a head-start. It’s an effective way to get a whole year’s worth of discovery packed into four focussed and concentrated weeks. It takes the guess-work out of learning a skill and equips you to do what you want faster and better.

(Click to see full key command tool)

Here’s an example of this process from the Logic courses I teach. If you want to solo a track, you click on the ‘S’ button on that track’s header. You probably find yourself doing this all the time, but have you ever wondered if there was an easier way to do it, like without having to click on anything? The answer is key commands. You can specify a key command for just about every facility in Logic so you hardly ever need to use your mouse. Using your keyboard rather than your mouse enables you to work at a much faster rate. But Logic users don’t rave on about key commands like they might do about the latest compressor or soft synth. They’re not sexy, you won’t get into the charts simply because you know your ‘cmd-shift-S’ from your ‘Save as…’ but they will get you there a whole lot quicker.

How would you discover key commands? You could have waded through Logic’s 1330 page manual, but that’s clearly not going happen! You didn’t know that facility even existed, so you wouldn’t know to ask for it either. They’re obvious once you know about them, but you were too busy making your music. When, and how exactly were you going to find out? You need help.

‘OK, point taken’, you say, ‘but what about all those courses that tell you how to make Minimal House, surely all they can do is make you sound like your online tutor?’. Not exactly. In education there is ‘surface learning’ and ‘deep learning’ (this is related to a concept called metacognition if you’re interested). If you simply follow a list of instructions and remember them, then that’s essentially a memory exercise, ‘surface learning’. It stays in your mind when you do the task, and disappears just as quick. But, learning a technique by following a list of instructions and then applying that technique to your own circumstances, solving your own problems and maybe eventually expanding or modifying it in your own way…that’s ‘deep learning’. The learner has reconceptualised the information and made it their own. They have eclipsed their tutor, the course even, and become better at making their own Minimal House.

That’s how an online course works. In fact, that’s how education works, whether you’re at school in Iceland or on the internet. Simply learning ‘by rote’ doesn’t happen online and is totally ineffective in music full stop. Take the Point Blank Music Business Course as an example. It would be quite easy to simply create an online ‘book’, cram it with facts about record companies and leave it at that. But that’s not a course, that’s not education, that’s a website. Instead, you’re expected to find information for yourself, work out how it all fits together and use this ‘fresh information’ to make your own plan for world domination. Why is this better? Because this information is now yours. That’s because you went out into the world to find it. It’s not something that someone else told you; you’ve made your own connections between concepts and developed a strong and well-informed view of the world.

‘But’, you say, still clinging to your argument, ‘I could do all of that without taking a course!‘ Not exactly. Donald Rumsfeld gave us this amazing quotation:

‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’

This might seem like gobbledegook, as good as the best cognitive brain twister that Sir Humphrey Appleby could dream up, but he’s right. You might know that you need some guidance with your beats, but did you also know that you’re using way too many compressors and none of them sound right? And that you’ve been monitoring in mono for the last two weeks? And that there is way too much bass in your mix? And that your synth sounds went out of fashion in 2003? Well did you?!

Steve Hillier teaches Music Business at our London College and Logic Music Production Online.
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