Learning How to Learn (AKA, the Myth of, “I Know Kung Fu”)

i-know-kung-fuAs a teacher, I can’t magically transmit knowledge and skills. All I can do is help students learn how to learn (hint: it involves smart practice)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about The Matrix (and trying to not think too hard about how it is now as old as many entering college freshman). We all know the scene in which, after being unplugged from the aforementioned matrix, Neo is implanted with a series of martial arts programs. After the mental upload, he explains, utterly mesmerized, “I know Kung Fu!”

Even at the time of it’s release, I felt this scene represented a common fantasy – to just have a given set of knowledge and skills uploaded to your brain. While most people recognize this mental uploading as fantasy, there’s still a common assumption that the role of a teacher is to transmit all of this to the learner as quickly as possible. That’s why you’ll often hear musicians use similar language, “Oh, she knows how to play jazz bass.”

The reality is that I don’t “know jazz bass” any more than one can “know Kung Fu” (even if you understand it mentally, trying a roundhouse kick or the like without the necessary strength and flexibility is a recipe for disaster). Whatever knowledge and skills that I have, I owe to consistent learning and (smart) practice.

As an instructor and author of instructional materials, I’m trying to move away from compiling content and toward providing more specific guidance to learners and practitioners. Smart practice is designed to streamline and optimize the learning process – but it still requires a time investment and constant dedication.

Do you imagine an endpoint to your learning, an “I know ________!”? How would your (continual) learning and practice change if you accepted them as not only necessary, but as enjoyable and fulfilling in and of themselves?

Note: This post was originally posted on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

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