Most of the music coaching and teaching I do involves information gathering. It’s important for me to clearly identify what musical challenges my students are having so that I don’t fix something that ain’t broke and so I impact the problem in a way that is truly useful.
Are You Unconsciously Hitting Delete?
With all of my music students and coaching clients, I look for five specific deletions in their language.
- Simple Deletions
A simple deletion is when something important is missing out of a sentence, for example: “I can’t do it.”
Students often use the words “it” and “that” in sentences with simple deletions. The solution is to recover the information that is missing with open questions.
“I can’t do it.” “What exactly can’t you do?”
“I can deal with it.” “What exactly will you deal with?”
Notice your own simple deletions and question them by asking: “What or where or when exactly?”
- Unspecified Referential Index
A referential index is the person or thing that takes action or is affected by an action. When this is unspecified, all that is left is something being done but nobody doing it, for example: “Mistakes were made.”
Words like “him”, “her”, “they” and “one” are not specific. Passive verbs are another good example of this pattern. A passive verb says that something was done rather than a person did something.
“Mistakes were made.” “Who made the mistakes?”
“It seems like an impossible task.” “Seems to whom? Impossible to whom?”
Notice your own unspecified referential indexes and question them by asking: “Who exactly?”
- Unspecified Verbs
An unspecified verb deletes exactly how an event happened, for example: “My ear training is progressing.”
To recover the deleted information, I ask exactly how the event happened.
“My ear training is progressing.” “How exactly is your ear training progressing?”
“I can deal with it.” “How specifically will you deal with it?”
Notice your own unspecified verbs and question them by asking: “How exactly?”
Judgments are statements of opinion which are expressed as if they were facts: “That was awful.”
When students express judgments, I question the values that lie behind these judgments and uncover who is doing the judging.
“That was awful.” “Who says and by what standard is it awful?”
“This is bad music.” “Who says and by what standard is it bad?”
Unowned judgements can cause trouble. Prejudice is the result of thoughtless judgements. Notice your own value judgments and question their validity by asking: “By what standard am I making this judgment?”
A comparison compares one thing with another in order to evaluate it, for example: “I did that badly.”
I’m particularly aware of words like, better, worse, easier, good and bad and I make sure there is a basis for comparison. When there is not, I ask about the comparison.
“I did that badly.” “Badly compared to what?”
Common in ear training: “Only 6 out of 20. Not too good.” “Good compared to what? Is 100% realistic on your first or second try?”
Comparisons can be very important. They are often used to motivate people by setting a standard to aspire to. However, the standard may be unrealistic or not appropriate. Notice your own comparisons and question them by asking: “Compared with what?”
Asking questions allows me to gather information that specifies someone’s experience, in order to get a full and detailed representation of that experience. When students and clients offer me a challenge to solve, knowing what questions to ask makes all the difference. Many people don’t know what questions to ask, and they end up solving the wrong “problems.”
Now you know the questions that will solve five of the most common musicianship problems.