By Jeff Comas
Summer is almost here and many kids are going to have a lot of extra time on their hands. It is a good time to play more music, and many parents at our music academy double up on lessons during the summer. With more time available for music, I thought it would be a good time to start sharing a series of articles I’m working on. They are about getting the most out of practice time, learning to improve faster, and getting more enjoyment from playing music.
This article is related to practicing musical instruments. However, the principles can easily be applied to other activities.
Most of us have had the experience of hearing/seeing a fantastic musician perform and thinking that he or she made it look easy. Chances are that it actually was fairly easy for the performer. Why was it easy? Because the performer had great clarity and a well developed muscle memory.
Almost everyone has the ability to make complex tasks seem easy. Let me give you an example of a complex task that most of us think of as easy: tying your shoes. Most of us can do this task with great ease without even looking and probably without even thinking about it much. It’s easy, right?
Well…if you really think about it, the process as a whole is pretty tricky. Imagine trying to explain tying shoelaces in a bow to someone who has never done the procedure. Not so easy. Remember when you first learned? It probably took you months or even years to master. But, over time, you repeated it enough that it became almost completely automatic. You can probably shut your eyes right now and completely imagine the process.
However, what if you tried starting to tie your laces starting with the hand opposite of the one you usually start with. Not so easy. (For the record, I just tried it, and while I could do it, it took me much longer than normal, was a bit sloppy, and I had to really think about it.) The repetitions are not there and so neither is the muscle memory, nor a clear image.
Almost everyone has the ability to make complex tasks seem easy.
But, what if instead of trying to do the complete process we start with just the first step; grab each end of the lace, one in each hand. Simple right? Repeat this part until it is mastered. Then take step two; cross one side of the lace over the other and hold, with the thumb, the lace against the index finger. Pretty simple, right? Repeat steps one and two until they are easy. Continue like this until the whole process is complete. In this manner clarity and muscle memory is developed.
The point here is that music can be learned the same way. In fact this is by far the easiest way to learn music. However, it is often not the way it’s done. The student wants to play the whole piece, so they try to plow through the whole thing at once. The problem with this method is that clarity is not developed because too much information is presented; the muscle memory also is slow to develop in this way because the motions are probably not consistent, and there are too many different motions to learn quickly.
So, students (younger students need help from their parents) can typically make big improvements in their learning pace by breaking learning into smaller, easier steps. Repeat the smaller easier steps, and then put the pieces of the puzzle together. I urge you all to try this. I promise it works.
On a side note, I have an interest in Haiku; I love to use them to take larger ideas and whittle them down. Here’s one I wrote to summarize this article.
At First Learn Small Parts
Then Put The Parts Together
Let It Be Easy
Hope you have a great summer!
Jeff Comas started playing music at 5 years of age. He is the owner of Allied Music Instructors. He has been a music educator since 1989, and has given over 40,000 music lessons.