Casiotone nostalgia, or the way we learn
Hello everybody, and thank you once again Raul for letting me show up at your wonderful blog; I’m honored of being a guest here in Alien Ghost, for sure one of the friendliest aliens on this side of the galaxy! My article today is about learning. I hope you find it enjoyable.
Some of you may remember it; in my country it got to be sort of a symbol of the 80’s, one of those many objects from that decade which have become a dear memory. The Casiotone PT-1 was not longer than a laptop screen, its keys were so tiny that they were almost square, and it had a very recognizable rhythm that was sort of its anthem (too-kee-too-kee-too-kee-too-too-too-kee-too-kee-too-kee…)
That cute and comic electric keyboard was my first one, the instrument that introduced me, and many people in my generation, to the delights of playing music.
But the Casiotone PT-1 had one more feature, the one I want to focus on: it was monochannelled. In other words, it only allowed you to play one note at a time; no sound appeared when you pressed a second key unless you released the former first.
Now you might say it was a limitation rather than a feature, but try and see it through the eyes of a kid who is approaching for the first time the world of music, of making music. Fascinated, I practiced every catchy tune I could think of, in the mood of someone who disassembles a toy to see what’s inside.
Obviously, you need no more than one hand to play a single note, so I could help myself with the other hand when I had to play something that was fast or tricky, and the result was always gratifying. I used to practice over and over until the notes came perfect. The only variation factor I was allowed was the four different instrument sounds to play with.
I did not know it at the time, but it turned out to be a perfectly natural introduction to music. A succession of single notes, one at a time, is what in musical theory is called a melody. And melody is the skeleton of any musical education, the first thing that humans tried out when they intended to make pretty sounds.
So the limitation imposed by the instrument kindly forced me to train myself in the basics of music; all my attention was focused on the melody, and the quality of sound. There was nothing else to care for.
That way, when, later on, I moved to a new, more potent keyboard, which allowed simultaneous channels (I think they were four), I was ready for the new challenge ahead: simultaneity of notes. Harmony. My next step, then, was fleshing out the melodies I had learned; to my surprise, I discovered that any song allowed a lot of possible ‘dressings’, the choice was not limited to finding a single ‘right one’. My research took me to new stages, to more complex ‘toys’, as I started to try out different chords and series…
Learning is the process of practicing an ability under controlled circumstances. The first surfing lesson is taken on land. The skilled spokesman records himself at home, with no people round, to see how he looks and sounds. The child gets familiar with the bike using small supporting wheels before heading for the challenge of balance on only two…Sometimes I wonder if I would have learned music the way I did if my first keyboard had been one of those high-tech monsters around in our days. I’m no specialist, maybe there are still monochanelled beauties out there, but the mainstream seems to be dominated by keyboards with zillions of instruments and virtually no channel limitation, where pressing the demo button bursts into a Sting song or a Wagner, loud as hell.
Maybe I would have learned just the same, but I would have had to figure out the ‘chunks’, the limitations by myself. So my conclusions are: 1) learning is one of those fields in which less is more, and 2) when trying to help someone learn, removing options is not imposing a handicap; it is being considerate.
Can you think of other examples of learning under controlled circumstances? Do you impose yourself limitations to help you learn something? Ever had a Casiotone PT-1?
Nacho Jordi is a psychologist and translator who lives in Madrid (Spain). He is the author of the Zerebria blog, where he offers tips and hints for personal development and conscious living, besides all kind of contemporary musings.