Occam’s Razor, The House Of Memory, and Learning The Guitar
“Occam’s Razor” is a philosophical thesis which says, in essence, that, given several potential solutions to a problem, the simplest one is usually the best. (Apologies to you philosophers out there, as I know some of you have a more complicated way of saying that…)
It has also become a sort of folk adage that shows up in modern culture. TV detectives use it to explain why the spouse is the prime suspect in a murder, for example… and it has corollaries, sort of like Murphy’s Law.
I was thinking about the concept today while involved in a discussion on Flatpick-L, the internet flatpicking guitar list. What I was thinking was that the best guitar players and teachers have usually found a way of simplifying the concepts which help them and their students make music.
Some examples from jazz giants:
- Jimmy Bruno recommends keeping it simple when first learning by ignoring extended chords (9ths, 11ths, etc.), and just dividing chords into 3 main families; major, minor, and dominant.
- Pat Martino recommends envisioning all solos as extensions of minor scales, even while playing over major or dominant chords.
- The late Joe Pass said that, when considering a ii-V-I progression, whichever line worked with a V chord would also work over the ii chord….and, by the way, it would also work over the I chord.
I think that these ideas are also in resonance with a concept called the House Of Memory. (I read this concept in a novel one time, but, ironically, I can’t remember which novel it was…) Anyhow, the House Of Memory says that you can remember a lot more information if you organize it in a hierarchy. You imagine a house, and you put a certain number of memories in each room. The house becomes the framework. Rather than trying to remember 100 facts, you remember ten rooms, each of which contains 10 facts. The idea is that the brain can hold more info this way.
Music works the same way. Instead of the House Of Memory, you can have a framework of music. Like Jimmy Bruno’s framework, you can have 3 simple chord families. At first, maybe your only G dominant chord is a G7. Later, it could become a G9, a G+5, a G7b5, a G11, a G13, and several others. Or like Pat Martino’s minor scale concept; there are many minor scales…melodic minor, harmonic minor, natural minor, and others. Maybe you can start with the Dorian mode, which has a recipe of 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7-8. After awhile, learn a second minor scale (harmonic minor, for example) and study how they differ, and which chords fit with each one. Then you can go on from there.
Anyhow, I hope you get the idea. See if you can identify a simple way of conceiving music. It may not agree with anyone else’s view, but we’re all wired differently, and all it has to do is help you make better music. You may develop your own vision, or connect with someone else’s way of simplifying music. After all, Pat Martino’s view is different from Joe Pass’s view, which is different from Jimmy Bruno’s view…that’s why they call it “Theory”…