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Forget about slow learning. Have a beer.

November 21, 2006 at 11:25 PM

An interesting thread on slow vs. fast learner leaves me pondering this mysterious thing.
Some times I think it is useful to notice the language we use and how it pigeonholes ourselves and other people. Perhaps the use of this particular dichotomy is detrimental in two ways, at least that is all I can be bothered to think of right now.
First, in using such a negative frame of reference we pull ourselves down and set up a situation of `end gaining` such as I described in the previous blog. Our mind set becomes one of `I want to learn a piece as fast as ------------ (insert name of famous violinist) or `I wish this piece was in a finished state.` A great deal of this issue actually needs to be pulled apart in terms of what is meant by finishing a piece. In a sense a piece is never finished, one is never satisfied. But, perhaps the criteria is not only a satisfactory performance in public but one that reflect the best of ones capabilities at that time. This latter criterion is interesting because it’s quite possible to have a good player giving a performance that satisfies an audience but who is actually lazy in some sense and hasn’t tapped into anything like their real capabilities. Such players are often unsuccessful in the long run.
Second, by insisting that there are `slow learners and fast learners,` perhaps we tend to disguise an aspect of the purpose of practice which may be as important as `learning` an actual piece. That is, the purpose of practice is, if I select an arbitrary number for the hell of it, 50% learning music and 50% learning how one learned the music most effectively. If you like it is a meta-cognitive view in that thinking about how we learnt something is an integral part of skill learning.
The implication of this idea is very strong. It suggests that not only is the `fast/slow` learner dichotomy false, but that if one practices with a view to improving ones practice, the rate at which one learns pieces should also increase without any conscious effort.
Perhaps one could talk in terms of efficiency of practice and then work on increasing efficiency on a daily basis. From this perspective the most inefficient practice is simply that where one is not paying attention to what one is doing. In other words, since one has no idea where the specific error is or what -kind- of error, there is absolutely no point in repeating the passage ad naseaum is what most of us do when we are tired or unfocused. The answer to this problem is really very simple:
1) Every problem occurs on a specific note or between notes.
2) Every problem is either intonation, rhythm, tone or expression.

Only after exploring these points can one begin to apply specific strategies.
Then one might spend some time at the end of the practice sessison reviewing which particular strategies one used and how effective they were. At the beginning of the next session it might be worth reviewing this and making decisions about whether to start with those spots or run the whole piece or whatever. Decisions can then be made about which stategies work for you and which are less effective.
Efficiency is also concerned with finding out who you are!
Of course there may occur ceilings every now and again with certain pieces but even that is fairly meaningless. Because it took a long time to learn a particular piece in no sense means that all other pieces are learn with the same struggle. It worth remembering that even the greatest players have struggled with certain pieces. What makes them great is they never try to classify themselves in any sense.
Rather, like the alcohol challenged, one takes things one day at a time.

From Scott 68
Posted on November 22, 2006 at 2:32 AM
dont mind if i do
From William Yap
Posted on November 22, 2006 at 3:46 AM
Indeed. I have been reflecting on my preparation of Grade 7 exam lately and thought that I have spent 1-3 hours everyday playing the same thing over and over again, taking almost a year to bring it up to exam standards. Sure I learned the notes very quickly, but that didn’t mean I learned the “music” quickly. In fact, if I had a more effective practising method and have a clear objective of what I want to tackle and accomplish for that day/week/month, it would have taken me a lot less time while able to accomplish more. After reading your blogs, I started to question myself what I wanted to accomplish at the end of every practice session and in what way I would play a certain passages differently to improve (instead of repeating 1,000 times the same way).

I’m quite happy realising that even though the exam may be over, that doesn’t mean I’ve “finished” learning the pieces. Once in a while, I returned to playing old exam pieces (even going back to Suzuki book 3 and 4) to see how else I could improve the playing, interpret the music differently, or shape the phrasing more interestingly etc, after being a bit more advanced. It’s also quite encouraging being able to play something easily where I thought was quite impossible back then. It’s like realising that although it is impossible to play Paganini Carprices now, it is absolutely possible in a few years time if I keep practising and advancing.

Keep on blogging. I (and I think many others) are quite benefited from reading.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on November 23, 2006 at 2:18 PM
Buri (and William), I'll drink to that. : )

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