Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Chezztone on June 10, 2021, 10:26:32 AM

Title: "rudiments"
Post by: Chezztone on June 10, 2021, 10:26:32 AM
Just sounding off about a peeve: Why do journalists so commonly describe the material a blues master teaches an aspiring artist (who later becomes famous) as "the rudiments"?
I just saw it again today in an otherwise decent article about Bobby Rush in the New York Times. He learned "the rudiments" of harmonica from Little Walter.
I've also seen it in descriptions of Howlin' Wolf learning from Charley Patton, Junior Wells learning from Sonny Boy Williamson, etc. In all these cases, I would guess the student already had the rudiments down pretty well, and went to the best musician he could find in order to learn advanced techniques.
The term is condescending at best, probably incorrect, and likely racist.
When a master European classical musician teaches a promising student, the writers probably assume they are passing on the finer points of the art. But with blues artists the apprenticeship is always and only about "the rudiments"? 
Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: waxwing on June 10, 2021, 02:57:33 PM
Well, fortunately, we now have several African Americans teaching streamed MasterClass videos on YouTube. I don't see Taj Mahal or Corey Harris, but Herbie Hancock. And Morgan Freeman teaches an Acting MasterClass.

But I do hear what you are saying, Chezz. I think it's more of a writer thing, wanting to create a sense of detail without any real awareness of the history. Not to mention wanting to use a $5 word as opposed to "the basics". Of course, you're right, it wouldn't happen in the highly codified realm of classical music, where the concept of a musician who has proved themselves through audition gets to take classes from a master has been around for centuries.

I'm not sure if there is really a racial aspect, except possibly this individual writer or that, and I think white folk artists, about whom the writer knows little background, would probably have learned "the rudiments" from whatever known player with whom they may have been associated. You think June Carter was said to have learned "the rudiments" from Mother Maybelle in this or that bio? It's possible.

A corollary pet peeve of mine is the oft expressed notion that Patton, Jefferson, etc., were savants, somehow so talented that they just could play better than anyone else without any thought or practice involved. It follows that mere mortals shouldn't even bother attempting to learn their styles as "you need to be a god to play like that." To me it is clear that these players put in a tremendous amount of practice time, and, altho they may not have had any formal training, were highly intelligent. I think they applied a great deal of thought to how they set up and played their instruments and how they used their complex vocal apparatus to be heard in noisy surroundings, experimenting with techniques, understanding the fretboard and developing a deep and complex awareness of harmony and rhythm.

And then, a lot of players just copied the best players as well as they could, given that they may only hear them live a few times, or on a record that pretty much only played at full speed. When they got to recording, of course, the A&R guys had them change the words so they could call it an "original" and cop royalties. I think if they had slowdown software, they would have used it happily. (wink)

I think the notion that ignorance through lack of education correlates to lack of intelligence and understanding, that an untrained individual could only be great through some "gift" or miracle, may have a racial component in many cases, and is certainly condescending. And wrong.

Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: MarkC on June 10, 2021, 05:20:34 PM
Maybe someone at the Times also disliked “rudiments.” It now reads:

“Rush’s book is strewn with lessons in life and music gleaned from legends like Waters, Jimmy Reed and Little Walter, a neighbor who taught him the basics of tongue-blocking, a harmonica technique.”

Thanks for pointing out the article.
Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: Stuart on June 10, 2021, 05:25:33 PM
Hi Steve:

I didn't see "the rudiments" used by the writer, Brett Anderson, in the NY Times article, but I know what you mean. For those who don't have access, here's the paragraph:

"He was a savvy, prolific networker. Rush’s book is strewn with lessons in life and music gleaned from legends like Waters, Jimmy Reed and Little Walter, a neighbor who taught him the basics of tongue-blocking, a harmonica technique. In his memoir, he recalls the harp player explaining, 'That’s how you git it dirty — make them notes bend.'”

People learn from one another. In the early stages of acquiring a skill we generally establish a solid foundation by learning from other people who know more than we do. People go on to expand and build on what they have learned. And we continue to learn.

I look forward to reading Bobby Rush's memoir. From the above paragraph, it seems the writer is attempting to give a very short synopsis of something that occurs throughout the book, with a single example.

Brett Anderson is primarily a food writer/critic based in NOLA--And apparently a very good one.

But to return to your peeve, Chezz, I agree. Oftentimes when I read something along these lines, it's almost as if the writer is simply plugging in a well worn simplistic "Bluesist"--and perhaps even in some instances, racist--trope that fails to speak to the individual learning process and the great intangible of individual personality. Thank Heavens things--and people--are not that simple.

And Wax, I totally agree with your final paragraph. As I've mentioned previously, I drove a taxi full time. When one listens, the intelligence and wisdom of those with a limited formal education can rival, if not surpass, that of the so-called mental giants who walk among us.

Just my 2 cents
Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: Chezztone on June 11, 2021, 12:34:06 PM
"Formal" vs "informal" education also is subjective and cultural. I remember a Southern Studies class in which the professor described a folk artist's education as informal. Fortunately a student pointed out that it was actually very formal: the master artist taught techniques that the student emulated, got critiqued on, etc. I also remember at Port T one year when Darick Campbell (the now-late sacred-steel guitarist) described learning his instrument by playing in church, and how determined he was to not mess up. "Or you'd hear about it later?" someone asked. "No," he answered. "You'd hear about it right then and there. They'd tell you to leave the stage." Again, that is a very formal educational process, even though that professor might call it informal since it's not in a university setting.
Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: Stuart on June 11, 2021, 01:24:02 PM
Hi Steve:

And it's also contextual. The people I was referring to--some of the people I'd get in the cab--didn't have a chance to go beyond high school (if they even had a chance to finish), so the context I was referring to was structured, classroom education. When one is studying or working to learn a skill, trade or an art, the master teachers don't let the students get away with anything, if only because it's not in the student's best interest. And if it's performance, it's certainly unacceptable.

Yeah, the university educational system can sometimes cause people to dismiss what occurs outside of the context of so-called higher ed.  Years ago a music prof wrote in the UW alumni mag something to the effect that since music was now reproduced digitally,  all sounds that musical instruments make can now be generated by computer--and that this will eventually render instruments obsolete. You can imagine what this ex-NJ cab driver thought of that statement. I just hope he was putting us on.
Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: waxwing on June 11, 2021, 03:26:38 PM
I think of formal education as, well, being taught within a form or structure, with a given vocabulary, and a trajectory that hopefully covers as much of the material as the course demands. This form is meant to create a more efficient transfer of knowledge, and I think that, as far as that goes, it is a viable means of education, and I have found it to be applicable to art as well as science or history. Of course, any system of education put forth by a culture or society, will mirror the positive and negative aspects of that society. Kind of a chicken and egg thing, one informs the other. In the US we can see the struggle to change society by changing education, from both sides of the coin, so to speak.

But I certainly don't think you will ever find a university mission statement that indicates the goal of education at this university is to blind students to the world outside the walls of the university. At least, when I was in uni in the '70s, the vast majority of teachers taught much more of an expansive view, encouraging the students to question the knowledge, and themselves. I began college as a science major and ended as an art major, and found this to be true in both realms. But, every student has the opportunity not to hear this invocation to accept change. Many individuals prefer to have a static, controllable existence and for us to judge the education system on the predilections of the individual student, and how they utilize the education they received, is a mistake. Two students could work through the same classes, with the same professors, and still have an entirely different response, based more on their own stance going into the class. Am I here to learn all the right notes to hit, or am I here to learn how to make music? One outlook increases your knowledge, the other develops you're musical intelligence.

An informal education generally requires a lot more work and investigation on the part of the student. You learn things when you bump into them by chance, then you have questions and you go looking for answers. Some answers may be easy to find, some maybe you have to let go, until the right situation comes along for you to learn that "lesson". I think you have to admire that the informally trained artist has had to create their own framework of understanding, often making critical choices based on little more than audience feedback or the encouragement of a fellow musician. It takes a lot of motivation to keep learning and progressing when the material comes in sporadic moments as opposed to always having the next class to learn another step.

"Am I here to learn all the right notes to hit, or am I here to learn how to make music?" I think the personal response to this question has more to do with the growth of a musician whether they have a more formal or informal education in music and their instrument.

Title: Re: "rudiments"
Post by: Rivers on June 11, 2021, 09:52:20 PM
Nothing to do with racism, in most cases. I once watched a film where Ginger Baker was being interviewed about drumming. A large part of the presentation was Ginger's insistence on "the rudiments". Of course there are rudiments, no matter what you play. You can chose to ignore them from the outset but good luck keeping up with your peers who work with them. At a certain point you can branch off into abstract musical expression. Or not!  :)
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