It’s all about context

Powerpoint on the Mac to the students cuadernos

This past Sunday (February 17th) i was growing a bit frustrated in my music lessons with my inability to effectively teach how to build a major triad cord.

Let’s see if i can communicate it effectively to you, my native culture in my native tongue. (Hoorah! Blog goes interactive!)

You start with any note. A, C#, Eb, whatever. That is the root note. That is the note after which the chord is named. Bam. You’ve got one of the three notes to build a major triad cord.

From this root note, you add 2 whole steps to find your 2nd note. Each consecutive key on the piano has a tonal difference of one half step. So on the piano, you’d play the 4th key up from the root note.  Whizam. You’ve got the first two notes to build a major triad cord.

From this second note, you add 1 1/2 steps to find the third note (3rd key up on the piano). Ka-ching. Play these three notes together, you’ve got yourself a major triad cord.

It was my 3rd day reviewing this with the kids and i wasn’t making any headway. I was losing them. Some had run off to the instruments and were disengaging. In fact by the end of it, i had but one student, Victor, was still with me.

“Let’s keep going,” he encouraged. “I want to learn this.” His determination helped me out quite a bit. I had tried explaining it as a mathematical formula as well as what it looked like in a more hands-on approach while viewing the piano keys and actually playing a chord. I asked him which method was helping him understand more. He affirmed that it was the formula approach.

I looked down at my feet and wracked my brain for yet another approach, one that could incorporate the formulaic approach yet enhance Victor’s understanding. I didn’t want to just review the same rhetoric i had already repeated for 3 lessons. And it hit me; i perked up. Contextualization.

Contextualization applies familiar features, aspects, and principles from ones culture in order to facilitate the understanding of an otherwise unknown or foreign concept. For example, when i was in Africa the idea of partaking of communion with bread and wine would have been completely alien and maybe even offensive for us Westerners to impose on the natives in the bush-bush. Rather, we used coconut meat for bread and coconut water for wine and offered it to those who were understanding and willing to partake.

When in doubt in Latin America concerning which contextualization concept to apply, futbol is always a safe choice. Victor. The triad chord is the goal. To score a goal, the ball must cover certain distances among three players. The first player to have the ball is the root note. His pass must cover a distance of 2 full tones in order to be completed to the 2nd player, or the 2nd note. The 2nd note must then pass the ball a distance of a tone and a half in order to be completed to the 3rd note. When all 3 players are playing together, you have a major triad chord. “Oh, i understand.” Exhale.

Contextualization isn’t limited to spiritual applications nor to the mission field. Every time you wish to communicate effectively with someone from another culture or someone who simply thinks differently than you, contextualization can often serve as one of the tools that demonstrates a humble open-mindedness for the sake of reaching a mutual understanding.

Additionally, contextualization is no justification to impose your culture on another. Imposition is imposition is imposition regardless how clever ones contextual parallels might be. No matter how valuable i believe a certain lesson or skill is, i cannot introduce the idea lest the people first want it. And i cannot know what the people want until they’ve inducted me into their community, and i’ve developed a relationship safe enough for them to let me know what they want. These are the prerequisites of contextualization.

And with that i’m signing off. Sign up for the newsletter if you haven’t already in order to receive more general and comprehensive updates!

All love.


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