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Evaluating and Understanding the Information

15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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As you collect and use your resources, you are making judgments about them that are not only about relevance. You also make value judgments about each source. This "evaluation" step cannot be separated from the "understanding" step, because your evaluation of the source affects the way that you understand it, and your understanding of it affects your evaluation. Here are some examples:

  • If an explanation uses too many unfamiliar words or concepts, you will make the judgment that it is not (presently) understandable and therefore not a good resource for you. Other sources may offer explanations that you feel are too simplistic or basic to be helpful to you.
  • You may prefer some explanations because they are more relevant or useful to you than others. For example, two explanations of harmonics might be equally "good," but a brass player might prefer the one that uses a trombone to demonstrate the concept, while a string player finds the violin demonstration much more useful.
  • If the information is offered in a commercial or political context, you may decide that its primary purpose is to sell you or persuade you of something. This may affect your judgment of how trustworthy the information is.
  • Sometimes the point of view - what you might call the "bias" - of the information is actually also useful information. For example, if you are trying to understand a concept from a foreign music tradition, musicians in that tradition may talk about the concept in one way, while experts in your own tradition talk about it in another. In this case, it is useful for you to be aware of, and understand, the relationship of the point of view to the information itself and also to your own point of view and your current understanding.

So as you explore and study your nine sources of information, take notes on what you are learning. But also, take notes on which sources you find understandable, trustworthy, and useful, and why. Consider where your judgments are coming from. Do you consider books more trustworthy? Personal acquaintances? Do you find lectures more understandable than text explanations? Do you doubt the judgments you make for yourself when you are listening to music? Do you feel you only understand something when you can play it for yourself? Do you prefer the explanation that is closest to your point of view, or do you want to understand why there is a variety of views? Are your current judgments serving you well in your efforts to learn, or would it be useful to expand your horizons or become more discerning?

A final important consideration regarding the usefulness and trustworthiness of the information is: Who considers this information to be true or trustworthy, and why? This is particularly important if you want to belong to or interact with a particular community; you will want your definitions, understandings, and ways of creating or discussing music to be compatible with and acceptable to that community. Consider the following examples:

  • The academic community judges trustworthiness by whether the author is an academic expert (for example a Ph.D.) in the subject, whether the source has been published by a respected journal or book press, and whether it clearly cites its own sources (for example, in footnotes, or in a bibliography).
  • In many communities of people who create and enjoy a particular kind of music, the trustworthiness of sources is judged by their status in that particular music community. Trusted insights about the music might come, for example, from someone who is widely respected within that community as a composer or performer. In such communities, personal relationships with respected musicians are also often respected as reliable resources. For example, someone who was a long-time student of a respected performer is considered a trustworthy source for explaining that performer's approach to music.
  • Some types of music also have a community of music educators who are judged in part on their academic credentials and in part on their demonstrated ability to teach others to understand, perform, or create music.
  • In some cultures, the trustworthiness of a source depends on whether it comes from within a particular cultural, ethnic, or nationality group, and therefore has an authentic insider's perspective on the meaning of the music.
  • In many reporting situations, trustworthiness is established by demonstrating that the reporter is aware of and understands the point of view of all of the major perspectives on the subject.