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Laurie Niles

Embrace confusion

May 7, 2008 at 5:40 AM

Today my seven-year-old son was fumbling over some lefthand maneuvering required by "Musette" during his piano lesson. He kept coming to a halt.

"You are confused!" his teacher, Nancy Mitchell, said jubilantly, as if delivering fantastic news. He paused from his frustrating efforts to consider this.

"When you get confused," she smiled, "that's when you really start to learn."

He turned to her, "Really?"

"Yes!" Nancy said. "The parts of your brain go BZZZZZ! and then you start really figuring it out!"

They traced the source of his confusion to two notes that just couldn't seem to follow one another. They zeroed in and drilled, just getting from A to B. And once he could do that, the entire passage fell into place. It took about five minutes.

Problem solved!

From Bernadette Hawes
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 9:23 AM
Yay! I love it! A positive twist on a frustrating problem and a fairly quick way out! Absolutely brilliant. Yet how many people/children just give up and go away? Say, "I can't do this, this is stupid!"

I'll try this next time one of my two youngsters starts to get too frustrated and see if I can help them find their way through it.

Thanks so much for sharing this Laurie. Even I'll have a totally different perspective on a tricky phrase from now on.

From Bonny Buckley
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 12:56 PM
Great piece - so short and to the point - I love it. I deal in many kinds of confusion on a daily basis, from students in their music to students not understanding language to staff not understanding international standards to my own priorities which must shift at least 20 times per class, always trying to provide something for each kid. This will be a great maneuver for some of those 'fumbling' less than musical moments. Thank you!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 1:10 PM
My daughter has a lot of these moments. It's been very hard for me to help her get past the "I can't do this and so I want to do something else now" reaction. I like your son's teacher's approach, and I'm going to try it. Thanks!
From Ray Randall
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 3:48 PM
My superb teacher has always said mistakes are a gift from the gods if you happen to notice them. If you do find mistakes in your playing than you can fix them.
From Hannah Wright
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 5:28 PM
so true. yay for confusion.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 7:01 PM
Excellent take on how we learn. One of the great ways to introduce "confusion" into one's playing for learning and growth is to be super aggressive on preplacing fingers. Most of the time the "mechanical rhythm" of moving to preplace fingers isn't much synchronized to the musical rhythm and it can really stretch the mind.
From Royce Faina
Posted on May 7, 2008 at 8:00 PM
My best, best friend Shannon is one of those guys that can figure out and fix darn near everything! He learned clock and watch repair from his mother as a kid, etc., etc. If something is perplexing him, he's confused his attitude is, "Alright you rascal what are you going to teach me now?" Being confused about something is a window of oprotunity and a great teacher for him.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 8, 2008 at 4:51 AM
Your son's teacher is a gem. Besides being a positive thinker, she is a good diagnostician. Sometimes changing one seemingly small thing can totally change and improve a person's way of playing entirely. One of the hardest and most rewarding aspects of teaching violin is finding that one little something that makes many things better.

Thanks for writing this post. It is very encouraging.

From David Allen
Posted on May 9, 2008 at 1:05 PM
Great point! Isn't it interesting how it usually comes down to the fundamentals.
From Bart Meijer
Posted on May 9, 2008 at 2:35 PM
So, the point of practicing is to make mistakes..
Big smile for Laurie, her son, and his teacher.
From John Blakely
Posted on May 9, 2008 at 11:49 PM
My confusion grows with age. Does that mean I'm constantly learning! No, but seriously, the point is a good one. When I studied maths many moons ago there were certain bits that stuck me, sort those out and the rest was easy.
The gap between confusion and confidence is a small but important one, and it can play an important role in life, not just music. Sorry, I'm getting all Buddhisty!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 10, 2008 at 10:15 PM
It's funny, my kiddo really made a leap after this lesson. Now that he's got the notes nailed down, things are getting more musical.

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