Getting Right Answers With "Wrong" Hearing

Comments and questions about AP Avenue.
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Post by aruffo » Sun Aug 05, 2007 12:23 am

Do you also play an instrument? If so, do you agree with the idea that it's more about the location than the name of the pitch? That is, when you want to play a pitch, do you think of the name and find it, or do you feel the pitch, know the location, and can name it if needed? Or something else entirely?
I'd be inclined to speculate that this is the sort of thing that's supported by the half-keyboard research-- although I've been wondering about that too. The half-keyboard research supports the idea that we don't track the physical location of a key but rather whichever finger is meant to press it. I've wondered two things about that.

One is that my hands each feel substantially different when I'm typing. The left hand sits calmly and smoothly presses its keys without much movement or "seeking". My right hand carries much more tension, raises itself more from the keyboard, and is more likely to be thrown off by my "thinking" than is the left (i.e. it will be more likely to try to type mindfully, and therefore make mistakes, than the left hand which is always on auto-pilot). The half-keyboard research works only with the left hand, which may represent information differently than the right.

Another is that, if the keypresses are mapped to finger rather than location, how does this account for pattern typing? As I've recently observed pianists at the computer keyboard, they possess a fluidity and ease with the keyboard-- very blatantly, pattern typing-- which isn't present in other instrumentalists or non-musicians. Perhaps pattern typing is also key-to-finger mapping... maybe this would explain why transpositions are possible to keys where black becomes white or vice versa.

In any event, it's true that the only time I ever become consciously aware of the physical process of sound production-- whether with my voice, with the computer keyboard, or otherwise-- is when the pattern is unfamiliar.

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Post by etaxier » Mon Aug 06, 2007 4:46 am

Sorry in advance for using my reply as a segue into a longer bit, but I guess all these things are related, huh...

I do think that "physical location of a key" is what neilsonite meant by "location," and I totally agree with the notion that it's a central ability for producing a pitch on an instrument, since you can't have kinesthetic memory without a mental map, can ya. Maybe the term is spatio-temporal mapping, or something. And I think that such location-mapping has correlates in other skills -- like typing, and AP:

As far as just knowing the computer keyboard is concerned, it's all about mapping it, knowing intuitively and immediately that "O" goes here, "Z" goes there, and so on. Even though the most convenient -- and therefore fastest -- way to type FISH is to use L2-R3-L4-R2 (left second finger...), most of us can look down and immediately know how to type FISH with just one, two, or three fingers. Convenience and habit do the most for typing speed and accuracy, but your mental map of the keyboard (not necessarily visual like a photographic image, but spatial) is still a powerful -- and separate -- ability! As a short experiment, imagine a keyboard floating before your face, and now with your eyes closed, use one finger to type out "pie." Now do the same thing with "gwyht." The exercises require the isolated use of computer-keyboard "AP." I don't mean to undermine the importance of practice and convenience, which allow you to type familiar words and phrases quickly and accurately, but I do firmly believe these are different things than the computer-keyboard "AP." And although it's possible to be a pretty good typist without really spatially mapping the letters on the keyboard (by learning finger-key associations, memorizing word formations, and so on), I do think that a good memory for letter locations makes it easier to quickly learn to type new words, and to do things like type with just one hand or a couple fingers with pretty remarkable speed, given the practical constraints.

And I should add that just because you can learn one-hand typing, doesn't mean the skills involved are the natural strategy we employ when typing normally. Inversions are easy, thanks to physiological symmetry, but not necessary.

In any case, I think I have a pretty clear understanding of AP now. It's like having that "map" in your aural imagination. Note names, large-scale musical patterns, "symbolic structures," phrases, and so on are different: they're products of convenience and/or practice. Those are essential musical skills for doing all the things a musician does, and larger kinesthetic and structural impulses allow for developing a splendid talent in interpretation, improvisation and composition. But they aren't AP. We shouldn't make AP out to be something it isn't: it's the product of long-term note memory. It is an intimate aural knowledge of any given pitch according to a mental mapping of sorts. It's easy to have short-term AP for any given pitch as APB demonstrates. And I get the feeling that with practice players can extend both the duration of note memory and the quantity of notes.

How much can AP help with music? Well, if you're a performer -- keyboard player, singer, etc. -- you can hear the note in your mind before you play it, which aids greatly in memorization and sight-reading. It certainly makes it easier to learn melodic patterns, chord progressions, and so on. If you're a composer, you don't need to constantly check what you imagine against an instrument -- writing it down or remembering it has the same function. Of course, analysis, remembering whole phrases, and other complex high-level structural impulses are all separate, learned abilities, but I'd think that (just like with typing), an active mental map -- the long term memory of individual sounds -- makes those abilities a whole lot easier to learn and employ.

We're left with a chicken-or-egg question; of course AP helps with all those high-level skills, but how much does learning all of those high-level skills contribute to acquiring AP? Do they feed off each other? When learning to type, you start with memorizing key-finger positions and so on, and after enough practice at typing words and phrases, you gradually form a mental map of the keyboard. Is the same true in music? Does practice make perfect pitch, even though it's a separate ability?

I guess my point is, I agree there are so many more things that may or may not play an integral role in AP development for adults and older children, but I also think we should NOT conflate those skills and experiences into AP, especially when it comes to something as fundamental as making definitions.

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