Learn To Play The Impossible

The first reaction that most people get when they start learning an instrument is that it is so much harder than they thought and to some, it feels “not humanly possible”, even though humans before them have done it. This impossible feeling is experienced by musicians of all skill levels because no matter how good you are, you can always find someone that has dedicated their life to playing something that you haven’t. Musicians of every skill level need the ability to learn what feels impossible and in my thirty year teaching career I’ve honed a method that dramatically speeds this process up when compared to conventional music lessons.

In some ways this system is really simple because its based on very simple concepts but make no mistake, it will take hard work and discipline to achieve because it feels backwards to how most people innately try to develop their skill.

How the method came about

Learning an musical instrument is a ton of work and if I was going to retain clients and help more people in the world love playing music, I needed a system where they could play something that sounded like a song before their initial excitement of learning an instrument wore off. I spent my early years teaching observing people learning and experimenting to find ways to increase learning speed. I read as much as I could about how the brain works and looked to other teachers expertise and methods to refine my own. That said, I am not a neuroscientist. If you are a neuroscientist I would love to chat with you about how the brain works when people learn music, so that I, and my readers can be better informed.

The Conventional Way Of Teaching Music

In conventional lessons the general way that people are taught is to play things very slowly, with proper technique, while learning sheet music and gradually speeding the piece of music up over time. Typically songs are rudimentary, and at first they may only be finger and sight reading exercises. Students will typically get to their first “rudimentary song” like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” after weeks of playing. When students go home they often abandon the “slow gradual” approach and attempt to play everything as fast as they can leaving their technique behind.

I call this a brute force method of learning music and its based on a couple of assumptions. The first assumption is that the brain and body connection happens very slowly over time. The second assumption is that in order to build speed is that it will happen gradually in a linear path. Then slowly, the brain and body will work together at faster and faster speeds until you reach the desired tempo of the song. There are many examples where learning to do physical things happen in exactly the opposite way to the previous assumptions. One that most of us are familiar with is learning to ride a bike. Most peoples experience of learning to ride a bike is that at first, it feels impossible. We start by falling off or using awkward trains wheels or have a parent running behind us holding the seat so we won’t fall off. After enough repetition of this, one day, unexplained to either the parent or the child, suddenly you can ride a bike. Its like one second you have no skill and the next you can ride a bike. This does not support the “linear learning path of conventional music lessons”.

Understanding Memory

I get told by people all the time that they have the worst memory but most times it is because they are working against how their memory behaves. Students complain that they can read a piece of sheet music 100 times and never have it memorized. This “lack of memory” is compounded even further when a person is being told in conventional music lessons to not look at their hands and only look at the sheet music. There are a lot more centres in the brain that are dedicated to sight than there are centres for sound. Why would we take away an aspiring musicians greatest brain connection tool, sight, when they are attempting to get their hands connected to their brain? Look at your hands when you're learning, you’ll be fine. Once you develop some skill you won’t need to look at your hands any more. It will also help you memorize things easier. More on that in a moment.

Memory also works in context. We’ve all experienced something like running into a co-worker or a teacher when we are out shopping and not recognizing them right away. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of surprise. This “phenomenon” happens because our brain compartmentalizes things. In this example, a teacher will be associated in your brain to being in school. In your brain they are “hooked” to only being at school. When you see them outside of school this disrupts your brain, hence the feeling of surprise. I see this in music lessons everyday. A person will get one part of a song down and then separately get a second part down. When they try to put them together it all falls apart. This is because the brain has not yet related them together in context. Putting them together is like learning a third part.

Next, the brain generally remembers hand patterns far easier than it remembers dots on a