Thursday, August 18, 2016

Limitless Brain

I don't believe the brain has a limit to the amount of new information it can process.  Even if science eventually proves me wrong, I don't care.  I love the idea of a limitless brain.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by "limitless brain."  I think that most people--myself included--have an image of themselves.  I'm not talking about body image.  I'm talking more about what we see as our place in the world.  For most people the type of work that we do shapes a large part of this image.

For example, you might see yourself as an "office worker" type rather than a "manual labor" type.  It's not that either profession is bad, it's just how you see yourself.  Most of the time an "office worker" would look for other office job positions should the need to change companies arise.  It's not that you are incapable of doing a manual labor job, it's just not how you think of yourself.

"Of course I wouldn't look for a construction job if I worked in an office," you might argue.  "I have experience working in an office, why would I restart at the bottom?"

And you would be completely right.  I would be the first to agree that it's absolutely necessary to acquire skills and take the time to refine them.  But there is an unexpected consequence to this refining process.  As we age and spend more time refining a certain set of skills we being to think that those skills are the only skills we are capable of learning.  We transform from a person that has limitless opportunities to start fresh in different jobs into someone that is limited to just one job.

While the brain itself does change as we age, most of these limitations are self-inflicted.  The only reason why we don't see ourselves in any other capacity is because we consciously refuse to envision possibility.

A good example of this would be when most adult students start a musical instrument.  They usually begin instruction because they want a hobby and are interested in music.  But 99% of the time they have already shut off the possibility of being "a violinist."  They are "retired" (or whatever) and they just "happen to take lessons."  This is a self-imposed limitation.

If learning is approached from the opposite direction it completely changes the experience.  Children take one violin lesson and they immediately consider themselves to be "violinists."  If anyone were to ask them they would say, "I play the violin."  They don't question their proficiency and this is what makes the possibilities endless.  Their mindset starts with "I am a violinist" and everything that follows is just ways to become a "better violinist."  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event "Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus".

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rethinking Teaching....In a Good Way

An opportunity has presented itself.  And, like most opportunities, it came unexpectedly.  

I was given the opportunity to become an institute director.  I find this simultaneously daunting and exciting.  I'm excited for the potential.  I'm excited for what types of changes a Suzuki institute could bring about to the area I live.

But saying you're excited about this type of a job is kind of like looking at Mt. Everest from the base and saying you're looking forward to reaching the top.  There's a LOT of...well... stuff between you and that peak.  A lot can go wrong.

As I begin the initial planning steps I realized that this is going to be a totally different kind of teaching environment that me and the other directors are going to have to learn how to provide for kids.  An institute is a break from the daily music routine.  It's intense, exhausting but--most importantly--fun.  The very nature of an institute has the power to respark a child's musical enthusiasm.  It's the jolt of energy needed when practicing flatlines.

So this is a huge responsibility, to say the least.  But one that will be--I hope--worth the work.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pre-Twinkle Demonstration: Pre-Twinkle bow hold

Steven is a student of Suzuki teacher Charles Krigbaum, SAA teachercher trainer and founder of the North Texas School of Talent Education, a Suzuki violin and viola program located in Plano, Texas.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Three Parts of Practicing

Think about practicing in three parts: warm up, technique and new pieces. The practicing should always have these three parts in some way, regardless of how long the session is.

Warm up should be done in the beginning for at least a few minutes. The goal of this time is to get your body moving and your brain focused, not trying to fix anything. Warm up can include actual physical stretching. This is also a good time to just play through a few review pieces.

Technique should take up most of your practicing session. The goal of this time is to try and fix something such as even tone or intonation. The main difference between technique and warm up is what the brain is focusing on. You are intentionally trying to fix a particular aspect of your playing rather than trying to get from beginning to end on a piece. Good technique work could literally involve playing open strings the entire time. In fact, this is one of the best things to do when working on tone because the sound is pure.

When the technique is starting to feel comfortable that's when you could start trying to apply it to review pieces. The review piece should not require any focus for the notes but will be more challenging than open strings because more is involved.

New pieces should happen at the end and only if you have time. During this time the goal is to learn basic things like notes, rhythms and bowings. This is also when you would work on adding things like dynamics and phrasing to a piece. Since the focus is on the piece itself and not your playing technique you should not try to actively add your new technique to the piece.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Which step have you reached today?

I came across the above photo while attending a session at the biannual Suzuki Association of the Americas conference.  I really liked it because it illustrates that the true challenge of learning is overcoming mental barriers more so than physical ones.  The physical challenges are almost a moot point if a student is stubbornly stuck on that bottom stair.

Nicole Brady, who was presenting the session that had this picture, said that, for her, the picture displayed exactly why she wanted to have her children learn music.  Being able to play a musical instrument was almost an additional perk.  What she really wanted was for them to go through those mental challenges starting at a very young age.

Her session struck a chord with me because I completely agree with her.  Imagine the limitless potential of each human being if we were each instilled with the tools to reach the top of that staircase.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baroque Dances

An often overlooked tidbit about Baroque dances is that they all came from humble roots.  When we hear the words "Minuet" or "Gavotte," something like this probably comes to mind:

In other words, the formalized rich person's version came to mind.  The rich systemized the moves and applied "order" but that is not where all these dances came from!  Most of the Baroque style dances were peasant dances done around a fire.  So the original dances would have looked something more like this: 

Yes, I realize that that is a clip from a Hollywood-ized movie.  I also realize that the music in the back is more Celtic rather than French, which is where most of the Baroque dances originated from.

But the vibe of that scene is not too far off.  There's a fire.  People are drinking.  None of them are rich.  There's a distinct earthiness, especially with the slow dance.  Nothing about it feels like this:

I think this is a cool thing to explain to students when they are feeling detached from their music.  Baroque dances did not just suddenly appear.  There's a rich history behind them.