Don’t Practice the Piano the Same Way You Studied for Exams in College (and don’t study for exams that way, either)

February 9, 2012 Comments Off on Don’t Practice the Piano the Same Way You Studied for Exams in College (and don’t study for exams that way, either)

English: A post-concert photo of the main hall...

Carnegie Hall: You can't get there just by endlessly repeating yourself.Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the original article: Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong | GeekDad | Wired.com.

The Cliff Notes version for pianists:

1.Don’t repeat one thing endlessly until it is perfect (it won’t be anyway, but that is another story). Fool around with one task and then shift to another, and another. Your whole skill level will rise in little bits that won’t show much right now but over time it will be more stable and extensive.

2.If you want to be able to play the piano in lots of different environments, you must practice in those environments. Thus, if your practice situation is always hushed silence, you will do poorly at your teacher’s house where there are dogs, birds, trucks, lousy light, and the chance of children. And Carnegie Hall? Better figure out how to practice in that kind of environment well ahead of time.

3.Forgetting is the mother of memory. If you want to learn something really well, let it disappear from easy recall and then re-learn it. Each time you do this, it will stick better and you will play it better.

If you have been a pianist all your life, or  any other kind of musician who has to learn tons of stuff and recall it in real time, you have learned all this the hard way. Which, according to this article, means you  have learned these lessons really, really well. Because the hard way, the long, slow, goof-up and fix-up and back-up and make-up way, is the way to real skill and lasting memory.

This is one reason this particular pianist and teacher doesn’t write much in assignment books for her students. I want them to have to remember stuff the hard way. If they don’t remember, we can always repeat and it will stick better the next time. Or the next. Forgetting isn’t a failure, it’s a gift.

Piano knowledge is slow knowledge. It is built up slowly, over time, like learning Russian well enough to read Dostoyevsky.  It has nothing in common with Google. It has nothing in common with Movies On Demand. It is not a GPS locator that tells you where you are, even if you haven’t any idea how you got there. It is not a smart phone app. It is real smarts, the kind that you can’t get for $1.99. Neither an electrical outage nor bankruptcy nor political repression nor nuclear accident can take it away from you. It is DNA, it is the calcium in your bones, it is the corpuscles in your blood. It is you.

Whatever Are Piano Lessons For?

August 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

Piano Lessons

This question was posed to me by a parent many years ago and I have been trying to answer it ever since. Is it just my imagination, or does studying music actually improve your life? Do you get smarter, live longer, will you be better adjusted or happier if you play the piano?

This fall, families everywhere will be wondering whether to stretch the calendar and the budget to include piano lessons. Many parents recognize the need for arts study to counterbalance the academic emphasis in most schools. But when it is time to get in the car and write the checks, it is easy to wonder whether it is worth it all.

Don’t get me wrong, music for me is first, last and always its own reward. But I have noticed that pianists tend to be quite bright. Do they start out that way or does piano study somehow help things along?

Our friends The Scientists have recently set aside their investigations into pathology to study how we learn and how to improve it.  The next time I have to justify piano lessons, I will have some real answers instead of just  opinions.  I will be posting a whole slew of articles on the benefits of music study. Here’s one to start off the fall piano lesson season:

How Music Training Primes Nervous System and Boosts Learning    A review of many research papers on the effects of music study reveals music study improves listening, speech processing, attention, memory, vocabulary, reading. So anecdotal evidence that piano students do better in school is supported by some real data. Children with dyslexia, in particular, benefit from music study because it strengthens brain function in areas that in which they are weak.

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