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Specialized Lessons
Conceptual Learning

(Chapter 18 of Keywheel Theory System, re-edited version)


There are two different methods of learning--by memorization and by understanding . The first belongs primarily to the perceptual level of a human consciousness, the second to the conceptual .

Memorization is achieved by means of repetition and concrete-bound association (non-relating to anything else). It is process in which one sensory concrete leads automatically to another with no regard to context or relationship to other knowledge. (For example, songs can be learned by reading music or by "ear" through repetition with no regard to names of the notes, key, or organization of time.)

Understanding, or conceptualizing is achieved by fully conscious, focused attention and observation. Mental connections are thus established which make that knowledge automatic, or instantly available as a context. This frees the mind to pursue further, more complex knowledge. (For example, songs are learned in context to a scale, a key, and time organization. Once understood they can then be arranged and transposed to other keys.)


Percepts (sensory evidence) are groups of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain. To most listeners music is perceived as percepts, much the same way an infant sees non-categorized colors, sounds, and shapes.


Concepts are mental integrations of two or more units which are isolated by a process of perception and united by a specific definition. For example, a person notes the similarities between two chairs. (Each has four legs, a back, and are constructed for a person to sit in.) Their similarities unite them into a concept chair. A concept is "open-ended" and includes all specifically defined units. For example, the concept note includes all notes, the concept song includes all songs, etc.

A concept has no specific measurements. Because of this characteristic concepts are a condensation of knowledge. Individual chairs have specific measurements, the concept chair (which applies to all chairs) does not. Individual notes have specific measurements (cycles per second), the concept note (which applies to all notes) does not. Individual songs have specific measurements (melody, progression, key, etc.), the concept song does not.

Concepts are retained by means of language . Without the proper vocabulary one cannot adequately explore a new subject and retain the information. By organizing perceptual material (such as music) into concepts, and concepts into wider and still wider concepts, one is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, extending beyond the immediate concretes of any given moment.


To understand means to focus on the content of a given subject (as against the sensory--visual or auditory--form in which it is communicated), to isolate its essentials, to establish its relationship to the previously known (context), and to integrate it with the appropriate categories of other subjects.

Integration is the essential part of understanding. Integration involves analysis and synthesis. Analysis is the separation of a whole into parts while synthesis is the putting together of parts to create a whole. Here is an analogy: A mechanic takes an engine apart and puts it back together. His method involves a step-by-step procedure in both directions. The more engines he takes apart and puts back together the more efficient and clear he becomes at doing so. (After a time he is able to mentally recreate the steps from any point in the procedure.) The more songs a musician takes apart and puts back together the more efficient and clear the process becomes. (One can then physically or mentally recreate from any point in a song.)

The process of forming, integrating, and using concepts is not automatic. It is a voluntary process which uses both new and memorized material, and is directed by the will . Conceptualization is the most crucial part of learning and is an acquired skill--it has to be learned. All of a person's other capacities depend on how well he learns this skill.

The skill of learning does not pertain to the particular content of a person's knowledge at any given age, but to the method by which he acquires and organizes knowledge--the method by which his mind deals with its content. The method of a person's thinking is more critical than hereditary intelligence. Someone who is integrated (without contradictions) can out-think and out-perform a more "intelligent" person who has contradictions due to non-conceptual thinking. (Contradictions are a "short-circuit" to integrated thinking.)

Like mathematics (the best example of integration) this theory course follows conceptual rules of hierarchy and integration--it is a lesson in methodical thinking. The following is the hierarchical integration of this course. Each successive concept contains the previous concept.

One cannot understand an octave until one understands a half step. One cannot understand a major scale until one understands an octave . . . One cannot understand the totality of the circle of fifths until one understands all concepts leading up to it.


Developing a keen musical memory relies upon thinking in conceptual terms. Since concepts are "space-saver organizers" information can be stored by categorization. This can be illustrated by the application of concepts (via language) to songs. The following simple songs may be categorized by scale , melody , time , and progression . They are united by similarities but are separated by differences . (In this case only the melody is different.)

Categorizations, sub-categorizations, and cross-categorizations apply in more complicated songs--for example, all sixteen measure progressions, sixteen measure progressions in 4/4 time, aeolian 16-measure progressions in 4/4 time, mixolydian 16-measure progressions in 3/4 time, etc. Melodies (the most distinct differences) can then be isolated and learned in context to a scale.

Playing popular music in a group requires more memory-integration functions than any endeavor I know of. While a listener perceives music as percepts, a creative musician must know the anatomy of keys, timing, melodies, improvisation, and must memorize progressions and arrangements (and sometimes lyrics to boot!).


One can even think conceptually about conceptualizing! The following list contains over sixty key words that relate to learning. These nouns, verbs, and adjectives can have a positive effect upon your thinking, learning, and playing. Choose a few words per week and add them to your vocabulary. (New words mean new thoughts and new thoughts mean new action!)