Developing a Practicing Mindset
With Thomas Sterner
Author of The Practicing Mind
I think for students new to music, it's really backward technology to try to get them to figure out where the note is, and also the timing of it. It's brain overload.
I think you would find if you worked with students and you just said, "Look, for next week, forget about the timing, just play the notes. I want you to just play the notes over and over again." Now they know where the notes are on the keyboard when they come back and you focus on the time, so that you're playing actually what's written on the page.
I think the skill would develop to a point where the two of them would just converge. Then you would start to be able to do both of them at the same time. Just like in the golf swing. I've had golf lessons where the pro gave me one thing to do and I would say, "This is really easy." And he would say, "That's because you're only thinking of one thing, you are thinking of 20 things that have to happen in the actual golf swing." But after you've learned all of them, and they are committed your brain. You're just tweaking one thing.
I think the same thing could happen in music, your brain would just get to where it could look at the note on the page and play it. The barrier would drop away. Then reading the timing would do the same thing. When you combine the two, your brain would be working way less. If you look at the way other motor skills are trained, like golf which I'm very familiar with. You learn the different aspects of the swing very independently.
I read one study that said, "If you grip a golf club 60 times a day for 21 days, it will be a total habit in the brain." You won't have to think about it anymore. When you pick up the club, you're going to grip it that way.
The way most people instruct is you do a drill that is just one part of the swing because you're teaching your brain.
You do it with a conscious intention, but without judgment. It's just if I do this 50 times, the brain just going to do it. I'm not going to think about it.
How I learned music as a child; the teacher would put the sheet music on there and you were learning the notes and the rhythm and everything at the same time. They counted out, and you would be sitting there playing.
I wonder if it would be advantageous to take a page out of sports psychologist's books, and just say, "Look, I just want you to learn where the notes are on the keyboard. Forget about the timing, just read the notes." Once you know where the notes are, that's you're done with that.
Now, your brain isn't switch tasking because that's what happens. We know now that there's no such thing as multitasking. People call it multi-tasking, but there is really no such thing as multitasking. The brain just stops one thing and starts another so quickly that we experience it as one activity but it isn't one activity.
Looking at where the note is on the paper, and looking at what the timing is are two different brain functions. The brain is having to stop, start, stop, start, stop, start is exhausting.
I'm wondering if it would be a better idea to start a student and just say, "Look, just play the notes, that's all I want you to do is to play the notes. For the next time, I just want you to play the first eight measures. Just play those notes with your fingers." Then they're done with that.
Then you go, "OK, now let's focus on the time, let's tap the time out." So that their brain isn't trying to learn too many things at one time. I think that might be an interesting experiment.