Sounds Right and Feel


By: Megan Prats


In order for the student to accurately utilize her critical thinking skills in problem-solving, she must justify her answer. The justification ensures that she didn’t arrive to her answer via memorization or guessing and that she is basing her answer on fact (i.e. evidence or a rule). For the language lessons, the student will normally go to rules to justify her answer as the grammar rules form the foundation of language construction. However, because languages are organic and operate in a space with grammar rules and beyond, sometimes the right “rule” for the student to justify her answer with is that it sounds right.

Because languages manifest themselves in many different ways – street, educated, creative, grammatical, etc. – sentence construction does not always have a logical foundation. For instance, the grammar rule for a conjugated verb that is followed by an infinitive is that the infinitive needs to be stated in its proper form – to + root. Thus, “I am going to walk,”; “He runs to walk faster.”; etc. should be the norm. However, if we have the conjugated form of to be able to plus an infinitive, we remove the “to” on the infinitive and just leave the root (i.e. He can walk.). Students who are studying English have repeatedly told me that they don’t put the “to” before the infinitive because
it doesn’t sound right. Even though “sounding right” has no place in the grammar books, it is a proper justification for sentence construction because it shows that the student is understanding the organic nature (aka everyday use) of the language.

However, if sounding right can be supported by a piece of evidence or a rule, then that is the better course to proceed in. For instance, I told my students that to be able to is so commonly used that the “to” was removed from the infinitive in the following verb in order to make the communication shorter. Thus, to be able to, because of its frequency, is an exception to the successive infinitive after a conjugated verb rule.

The “sounding right” justification tends to not be as legitimate in a musical setting because music, even though it has an organic component to it, is further rooted in the logic and reason of mathematics. Thus, such things as rhythmic note placement, chord progressions, time signature allocations, etc. can have a logical foundation. For instance, my student decided to compose quarter note grooves to complement the melody of the piano player in his song Time Capsule 2.0 because the piano player took a quarter note approach.

The equivalent to “sounding right” in the music setting would be the “feel” of the song because this is something that lives beyond the confines of logic and reason. Feel in music comes from a cultural/spiritual essence that is emanated in the music. Thus, my student who was studying reggae drumming could play a reggae groove with much more soul than I could because his background and upbringing allowed him to understand the feel more so than I and thus even though the groove was the same on paper, the sound was completely different. So, this student could justify some of his rhythmic ideas an execution based on the feel of the music.

Rules should be the focus of when the student justifies her answer because rules regulate the construction of the arts to a certain extent. However, because the arts live beyond rules and thus cannot be justified by Logic and Reason alone, justification that involves “sounds right” in english or its musical equivalent “feel” are just as valid. However, if the student can justify a “sounds right” or “feel” with a rule she’d be better off because then she’ll have some conceptual understanding to back up her answer. But, sometimes there really is none so the student can just leave it at “sounds right” or “feel”.

© Megan Prats 2015

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