Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro
By Thomas Burritt

Holy Macro… Part I

Having a passion for pedagogy has taught me a lot over the years. One important idea that I’ve developed along the way has to do with perspective. I’ve found that a student can learn more quickly by focusing on general perspectives or guiding principles. These general ideas work to enable the student to apply and connect specific techniques to the aesthetics of musicality (phrasing/interpretation). Each post in this series will focus on a different “guiding principle”, a general concept or idea that can point artists in the right direction.

Guiding Principle #1 focused on identifying and acknowledging the war going on inside of you between your “true self” and your “ego”. Spending time only with your “ego” results ultimately in misery while spending time with your “true self” produces personal fulfillment and artistic inspiration. Guiding Principle #2 outlined the importance of connecting daily to our “true self”, selfishly spending regular creative time that encourages inspiration to pervade our musical expressiveness on a regular basis.
With the big picture laid out, we can now re-think how and why we practice and perform our crafts. Today we look at the process of learning. More specifically, how we do we tackle learning a piece of music?

Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro.

If you look up the word “Macro” in a dictionary you will find something along these lines: (also called macro instruction) a single instruction that expands automatically into a set of instructions to perform a particular task. This definition implies that a single, large scale perspective, can direct and define a set of smaller instructions that aid in the achievement of a task.

So, lets take the next step and apply this idea to a specific task.

Task: Learn the marimba solo “Velocities” by Joseph Schwantner.
(please note that this process can be applied to a variety of tasks…)

Large Scale Perspective (or single instruction): Start from the Macro (large) and work down to the Micro (small).

Macro Instruction #1: Composer Context (broad, nothing to do with the piece)
Who is Joseph Schwanter? And, what are the 3-4 single most important features/qualities of his music?
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Research composer background.
Increases appreciation of composers work as a whole
Listen and learn about the important features and qualities the the music.
Important features of a composer’s music can direct specific stroke types, stickings, mallet choice, and other technical considerations.

Macro Instruction #2: Formal Analysis (broad, but generally related to the piece)
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Directs the order of learning sections.
Why learn a piece only from the beginning to the end?
Learning like sections solidifies formal understanding.

Macro Instruction #3: Intertwine the academics of analysis with the aesthetics of performance. (less broad but specific to the piece, more micro)
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Application is the name of the game here. This step is all about applying the macro to help us learn the micro.

Looking ahead to part II:
As you can see, the model above progresses from the very broad (#1) to the specific (#3). Part II will discuss the specifics of each step above, hopefully clearing up some of these ideas. As you process some of these ideas think about the following questions:

What kinds of information related to a composer can be helpful to a performer?
Why is it important to always understand the musical form of a work you are performing?
When learning a work, what processes direct your phrasing/interpretation decisions?

Part II will come later this week, and will answer the above questions. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts to the questions above. Leave your comments below.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 19, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.


The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on

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