Joe's Blog

More about teaching beginners: how we label a sensation.

March 15, 2018

Example: High and Low – Right and Left.

A note whose pitch we normally use the adjective “High”, will with certain students be termed “Low”.  This is not because the quality of sound he recognizes is any different than the quality we hear.  It is rather the student’s choice of applying an adjective like ‘high’ or ‘low’ to label the quality he hears in the sound.  The student may be unaware that the common convention among most people is the  opposite*

If the teacher does not understand that the student has reversed the usual terminology with regard to pitch, a lot of information will be exchanged with the student that results only in reinforcing confusion in the student.

If at the same time the student doesn’t know his left from his right, then a maze of confusion is created.  These four possibilities result:

1  A Lower Pitch is paired with More To The Right on the keyboard

2  A Lower Pitch is paired with More To The Left on the keyboard

3  A Higher Pitch is paired with More To The Right on the keyboard

4  A Higher Pitch is paired with More To The Left on the keyboard

Let us look just at case 1.  There is more than one way this confusion can have arisen.  A) the student may know his left from his right but has reversed the conventional usage of high and low.  B) the student has not reversed the usage of high and low as adjectives but does not know his left from his right.  C) There is also the intriguing possibility that he seems to have the proper association between left and right on the keyboard as well as high and low in pitch, but there has been a double mix up leading to false positive: what we term a high pitch the student labels as a low pitch, and by mixing up left and right he places this low (sic) pitch to the “left” (although he is thinking of the end of the keyboard on (our) right.  Outwardly the information seems correct, but isn’t.

This is, to say the least, confusing both to the teacher as well as the student.  It takes a steady mind on the teacher’s part to disentangle a situation like this.

* and happens to tally with the physical causality of a sound which we call a sound wave, where higher frequencies and greater muscular tension (in the case of a singer) correspond to pitches we label as higher.  But this remains invisible and inaudible when we are dealing with the level of sound as a  conscious phenomenon.

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