Subscribe to the feed

Sunday
Jul112010

How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin 

I love talking to students about how they learn and how they practice music. Recently I've talked to students from different education systems from countries in Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Middle East, and found that students are fascinated with how learning occurs, and excited by the prospect of becoming better learners. Everyone likes learning (not necessarily school); the boost in self-esteem and self-growth are indeed one of life's great joys. We are born to learn. But I rarely observe a systematic approach within school music departments that address the 'how and why' of practice. Given that the majority of instrumental tuition is delivered by private providers, learning how to learn music it is often left to chance and the initiative of that individual. Students usually know that slow practice is prudent for example, but they don't always understand why. This article reviews some fundamentals of musical practice.

Do you want to be an expert?

When I ask this question, a majority of students indicate that they do -not necessarily in music, but in some domain. In recent times many books have been written about the nature of expertise and the expert brain (see appendix). The average human brain consists of about 100 billion neurons, and the brain's job is to find patterns, to make connections. When a stimulus is repeated often enough a new connection or neural circuit is made. Further repetition strengthens this connection in the form of myelin, a fatty white substance that coats the axon of a neuron. This is known as the white matter of the brain and as an insulator myelin significantly increases the speed of the neural impulses involved in transmitting information. So the answer to this question: do you want to be an expert? Build more myelin. How? By repeating an activity. How often? More is better, but at least four times for a new neural connection to form. Repetitio est mater studiorum!

How long does it take to be an expert?

In his book 'This is your Brain on Music' Daniel Levitin says the emerging picture from studies is that 10 000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. That is, roughly equivalent to 3 hrs per day of practice over 10 years. What Levitin suggests is that nurture is more a factor than nature in becoming an expert. Daniel Coyle in 'The Talent Code' says that as long as an individual has a threshold level of natural ability, what distinguishes expertise is a matter of hours. This doesn't mean that everyone who puts in 10 000 hours of work does become an expert, rather that experts who have done less than this are few and far between. Malcolm Caldwell cites many excellent examples confirming this point with stories about The Beatles, Mozart, Bill Gates and others. But the point of all this from my perspective is that these findings can be used to encourage students to work hard and to believe in their ability to improve; that the brain is plastic and can become anything that we want it to be if we are willing to work hard enough. When I ask students if this seems like too much hard work, a few hands show. But as I say - if this is the case then the better, because those of us prepared to endeavour shall be distinguished by our efforts.

Most music students are told to practice slowly. Interestingly, everyone's conception of 'slowly' seem to be different! As teachers, we need to model what we mean by slow practice and why it is a cornerstone in practice effectiveness. Rachmaninoff said "the most efficient manner in learning to memorize a piece seems to be the one which proceeds in an error-free manner". He believed that if we never 'practiced' a mistake, the chances were we wouldn't perform one either. Hence he was known for excruciatingly slow practice, like setting a metronome on the slowest tempo, moving only incrementally upon successful completion of a musical passage. Our brain doesn't distinguish bad habits from good; it does its job of learning patterns faithfully. Coyle refers to slow and repetitive practice as 'deep' practice. He says that when we slow down our brain can pay deeper attention to the neural circuits being formed and 'myelinated'. He cites an example of a New York music academy where a professor told students "if what you're practicing is recognisable then you are playing it too quickly". Mozart was known to repeat a musical passage 10 times. His father would place 10 dried peas in Wolfgang's left coat pocket and after each successful attempt; a pea would be moved to the right pocket. Of course any failure -even on the 10th repetition would have all the peas moved back to the left pocket and young Wolfgang had to begin over again. What encouragement to slow down and play a passage perfectly!

Isolating a passage for 'deep' practice is known as chunking, which is to organise items into manageable units. It has been more than 50 years since psychologist George Miller wrote his paper "The Magical Number Seven, plus or Minus Two". He explained that our short term or working memory is limited to what it can deal with to about seven discretely different things, and hence the need to learn in small units. I like to use a telephone number as an example; we usually chunk a 10-digit number into units of four and three for easier recall. The other important truth about working in small units is the notion of successful completion of a unit. Completing a task successfully is motivating and satisfying. It gives one a sign of progress, lack of which is one of the key reasons people give up learning an instrument.

Good learners are meta-cognitive; that is, they take responsibility for their learning and reflect upon it. Successful deep practice -determining the chunks and units of work, repeating them sufficiently and at slow tempi are excellent indications of a meta-cognitive practice routine. Another good practise is what psychologists call 'verbal mediation'. This is an active description of our thinking as we practice. I often ask students to tell me what they are thinking, that is, to think aloud' as they practice. I find that this will almost always uncover the root of a problem.

Practicing music can take different forms. Most students practice music with their instrument and notation, most of the time. But it is very good for the development of the whole brain to practice the other permutations involving the use or non-use of music and/or instrument.

It is only relatively recently that brain scanning techniques have revealed to us the true power of the imagination. In one such experiment, a young violinist had fMRI scanning done under two conditions:

1) playing music with the violin and
2) no violin but imagining the playing of the same music.

The scan showed almost the exact same neural functioning and circuitry. I often tell a story which I am told is true, about a professional golfer who after being imprisoned for a year for a crime played a spectacular round of golf upon his release. When questioned by his golfing buddies how this was possible with no practice for a year, his reply was "but I did practice -18 holes every day up here", pointing to his head. This man went through all the detail as he would in a usual round of golf and his imaginary game took about the same time as a real game of golf. When I was studying piano, my teacher encouraged me to read my score on the train and practice imaginary piano on my lap. When travelling by plane, John Coltrane used to close his eyes and practice on a piece of wood, imagining that it was his saxophone. There is not enough time in this article to go through all the benefits of playing with and without music, but we do know that reading music is more of a left-brain activity, and playing from memory uses the right hand side, so it makes sense to do both and activate the whole brain. Whole brain activation has been a key ingredient in the annals of human genius: Einstein was an advocate of the power of the imagination, and for the arts in providing inspiration. The great scientist was well known for his competence as a violinist, and for being inspired when day-dreaming. Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci studied the 'art of science and the science of art'.

When problems are recognised and errors encountered, it is important to deal with them as soon as possible. During 2009 I took an opportunity to perform as part of a duo at Dubai's iconic Burj al Arab hotel. This 10-week assignment was given at very short notice, and my job in accompanying an unfamiliar singer provided several challenges, not least of all playing a repertoire in my singer's unique key set. I kept a notepad on the piano to detail those passages that required work and revision, and would duly practice these the following morning in readiness for the next evening. The best time to solve a problem is as soon as possible. I don't like musical problems incubating in my mind!

The same principal for immediacy in fixing musical problems also applies to immediacy in retaining inspiration. I encourage students to use their technology (read mobile phones) in lessons. Not in the traditional sense, but the average mobile phone has three functions useful for learning: a video recorder, sound recorder and camera. Teachers can record homework and playing advice on the phone sound recorder, or more pro-actively, students might ask to record their teacher to repeat their 'gem' of advice just proffered. Photos can be taken of embouchure, hand position and the like, and students might video a teacher's model performance.

Whilst the above suggestions might make sense to students, one should not assume a seamless transition into practise. Students need to practice how to practice. Teachers would do well to model practice techniques, and then observe the student in at practice. As Daniel Coyle says "it's not practice makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect".

References (77)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    ...
  • Response
    iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin
  • Response
    Response: 享㽿
    iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin
  • Response
    Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam responses? If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it's driving me insane ...
  • Response
    Hello, here to post points. Here's a good article written, rich in content. If you want more information, look at the situation here:iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin 
  • Response
    For this article. I think the authors write very well. Content lively and interesting. Details are as follows:jack wolfskin outlet
  • Response
    Superb Web site, Continue the great job. Thank you so much.
  • Response
    Response: Hollister
    iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin ,Эта статья была написана точная Однако, если вы хотите увидеть похожие статьи, можно просмотреть информацию здесь:Hollister,http://hollister-france1.weebly.com/1/category/hollister/1.html
  • Response
    Response: well nanoo
    I would like to save all my blog posts on wordpress ?
  • Response
    Response: pay per click
    I have the game and when I tried it on my computer, it was all broken up and crappy. I'm thinking of buying a new computer anyway. Does anyone know of a computer where the game works well?.
  • Response
    Response: site optimization
    How do i add third party widgets to free wordpress blogs ?
  • Response
    Response: website design
    What college-university has a good creative writing program or focus on English?
  • Response
    What are some good Tumblr blogs that allow you to submit photos, to gain more followers?
  • Response
    Response: seo solutions
    Where or what would I have to do? And what's the cost?.
  • Response
    im starting a blog and i need a way to prove the content is mine so i think when i write a post i will record it on camtasia studio, will it prove 100% it is mine?. . i dont want to pay 30 $ each post to copyright them..
  • Response
    Response: increase traffic
    i want to start a website to sell my beaded jewelry but i dont know how to start website so if u have any ideas or frnds that u know please tell me i really nee help or if u have any frnds that like wearing jewelry please tell me to ...
  • Response
    My ideas exactly!
  • Response
    Is it safe? . Safer than myspace?. Can you use myspace layouts for it?. How old do you how to be to have one?. . Please answer as many as possible . Thanx :].
  • Response
    Response: financial advisor
    I am in an english class at the University of Tennessee and my professor stated that if one of us can get published our blog published on the website, we will get an automatic A in the course. Please, if anyone knows how you can get a blog published on Amnesty ...
  • Response
    Response: rankings
    How do I change firefox from remembering my facebook info?
  • Response
    Response: wind up company
    my sister and I want to start a blog page together?
  • Response
    Response: teeth whitening
    I cut a movie into 10 minute parts and uploaded to youtube, i only had uploaded two parts by the time i got a copyright notice. How can i upload movies without it getting deleted?.
  • Response
    How can I insert a tag cloud into my blog @ blogspot?
  • Response
    Where are some good places to get good free blogger templates?
  • Response
    Response: k9 advantix
    i am setting up A web portal for my business. and i want to know the copyright guidelines, specifically the legality of copying other articles from other websites. in other words, is it ok to copy an article from another site and paste it in my site ( of course, i ...
  • Response
    want to start blog how and where go about it?
  • Response
    Response: gold investment
    I want to start a blog written by a fictitious character commenting on politics, current events, news etc..How?.
  • Response
    Response: seo marketing
    If I start a blog on Myspace, will it get listed in search engines like Google?
  • Response
    Response: Jame Laglie
    Why do copyright holders want to restrict distribution of their content to a particular country?
  • Response
    Response: financial planning
    Actually my blog name is not relevant to my blog niche..in this time i want to convert my blog to a website through blogger. but i dont know if i will do it ,then how much will affect my blog traffic?.
  • Response
    Response: iva debt
    on fire fox,. how do you get to your favorites???. =/. haha im dumb.
  • Response
    Response: gold
    I haven't a clue how to use Wordpress and Comicpress to create sites and publish comic strips! Please help. Do you know of a good walkthrough? Thanks much!.
  • Response
    Response: retirement account
    I am wanting to start my own business and need to know how to start a website for a cheap/free price.. I am looking to start my own photography business and want to get a website up. I am planning on using this for a way to let people know about ...
  • Response
    I am trying to get remote desktop connection going, for the computers in the same network.. The problem is, my computer (Windows 7) does not seem to register the other computers on the network.. . Can anybody point me in the direction that might solve this issue?. The other computers are ...
  • Response
    iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin
  • Response
    LOL, Are you severe?
  • Response
    Response: anonymous
    How does a computer virus getting formed?. I have a lot of computer viruses lately but thanks to Norton Anti-virus and Malwarebytes Anti-malware my computer is 100% secure. But how does a computer virus formed? Do people actually make it and they spread it throughout the internet?. . Please tell me ...
  • Response
    I stored a library account number and had to renew the card. How do I now eliminate the old account number from the Firefox memory?. Thanks!.
  • Response
    Response: best social media
    What does it take to get started in blogging with financial compensation?
  • Response
    I have asked several questions, and many of the replies suggest that I consider FIREFOX. I'm not sure what it is - probably a browser. Is it similar to Netscape and Internet Explorer? What are its good features and its bad features?.
  • Response
    Response: check out here
    Should I start a blog or website for addiction/recovery related information?
  • Response
    I am starting a business selling various baby things that I make. And I want to start a website to be able to sell them on. Can anyone tell me the steps that I would need to go through to do this? And what is the cost?. Thanks..
  • Response
    I recently did a system restore on my computer and have yet to reload my antivirus software. Apparently somewhere along the process something called Antivi took over my computer and I can't do anything, not even get to my task manager to end the program. Any advice?.
  • Response
    Response: see this site
    I'm studying Journalism at the University of Minnesota, and I am looking for a good website to start blogging on. I'm mostly looking for a good sports blogging website, but a music website would also be of interest. I've heard about Bleacher Report, is that one of the main sites?.
  • Response
    We want to start our own blog page together on blogspot, but I just thought about us having our own separate google accounts. How can we start a blog page together where it'll be easier for both of us to log on besides just using one person's google account?.
  • Response
    I close my browser often for various reasons, and having to repeatedly log into my accounts like Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail, and etc, is very inconvenient and getting gold. Firefox 2 never did this, just my current Firefox 3..
  • Response
    If I want to use a font that says it's for personal use only, would it be ok to use on blogger? Also, I don't know if getting Google Adsense would make a difference..
  • Response
    How can I install WordPress without losing all the indexed html pages?
  • Response
    How to add article to Joomla using a blackberry or other mobile device?
  • Response
    Response: cool training
    I am asking for my mother. She doesn't necessarily want to make money off them, her purpose is to use her blog (once popular) and use it as references to possibly help her get a newspaper article. She has a title for one called "Answers to Life's Problems". Where can she ...
  • Response
    Response: more info here
    Whenever i start a video call/ web cam/voice call on live messenger, skype, google talk, yahoo messenger, my computer totally freezes, and gives an echo. I have to restart it manually. Sometimes it comes with a blue screen, and it restarts itself.. I am using Vista, and this situation existed when ...
  • Response
    Response: see here now
    What is your opinion of personal blogs and online journaling?
  • Response
    What computer brands allow you to build your own computer?
  • Response
    I just downloaded Mozilla firefox, how do i make it so my opening page is bebo? I know its possible i just can't remember how. I mean so that when you open firefox its not google its bebo, if yous get what i mean?.
  • Response
    How do I make my own Blogger layout? I already made a header, I want to learn how to make a matching layout?
  • Response
    Response: buy backlinks seo
    Is there a degree that exists for use of music AND creative writing two fields? If there is, do you know the name of it?. . I want to combine these two of my interests (loves) but I don't know what kind of degree offers the use of both.. . Please ...
  • Response
    Response: try these guys
    I want to create a custom Wordpress theme, but I don't have administrative access to the computer that I'm using, so I can't install Wordpress to test my theme. Is there another easy way to do it? I have photoshop, and notepad ++ both installed on my flash drive, but as ...
  • Response
    I am trying to build a blog as part of a project, and I have been told not use blogger or any of the blog building websites, Requirement is to get access to my blog privately without using any public site that requires me to log on to them before i ...
  • Response
    Response: speaking of
    How to make a spoiler button in blogger blog posts ?
  • Response
    How can I get Firefox 3 to stop logging me out everytime I close the browser?
  • Response
    Response: their explanation
    How to restore computer when my computer just randomly shuts off?
  • Response
    Either double major with journalism and creative writing, or a "good" school in an urban area where I could major in journalism and minor in creative writing? I'm only a sophmore in high school but I know I love to write and I don't know what I'd enjoy more as an ...
  • Response
    Response: one-time offer
    Like videos on the internet. I think people should have to have proof, cause there are a lot of trolls, you know people with no life that have nothing better to do than screw things up for everyone else..
  • Response
    get greatest posicionamiento natural around
  • Response
    Response: check
    Is a Wordpress or Blogspot a better place to host your blog?
  • Response
    Response: seo en barcelona
    go here for greatest agencia marketing around
  • Response
    Right now firefox automatically downloads an mp3 and opens it. I want it to prompt me with the dialog box so I can choose where to save it. I've looked in options->downloads->view and edit actions and there is nothing set there that I can change..
  • Response
    Response: Discover Its Haadi
    How do I export from blogger to wordpress without ruining indexed permalinks?
  • Response
    I have a blogger blog with a custom domain set up. I want to export it to a hosted wordpress blog. Some of my posts have good ranks with google and I don't want to mess that up. My new WP blog will be the .net of my custom blogger domain ...
  • Response
    How to make a spoiler button in blogger blog posts ?
  • Response
    So I created a secondary blog off my first one, but I now want my secondary blog to be my personal or my main blog. So that as soon and I sign on the newer blog I made would be my default blog. If that makes any sense... Is there a ...
  • Response
    iSchoolMusic.org - Blog - How to Learn Music Properly By Michael D Griffin
  • Response
    It happens with out my knowledge. This leads me to lose my bookmarks, settings and is such a nuisance. How do I stop FireFox from losing my settings and bookmarks? Thank you..
  • Response
    I need to start a website what needs to be dynamic in regards to content and ability to run auctions and connect to payments functionalities. Can anyone advised of a suitable application / ISP/Hosting/ practical guides to allow me to under take this progress.. . Regards. . Khalidnz.
  • Response
    Response: what is a gold ira
    I am from India. I did my Engineering in Computer Science. I had a made a poor career choice and regretting now.. . I am currently working as a Senior Software Engineer in one of the software firms.. . I wish to do MS in USA. But I dont want to ...
  • Response
    Response: terry cloth robes
    I have a blogspot account. I want to be able to see what state, country my visitors are from..
  • Response
    Response: sex toy
    I am starting a business selling various baby things that I make. And I want to start a website to be able to sell them on. Can anyone tell me the steps that I would need to go through to do this? And what is the cost?. Thanks..

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>