Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making Playing Easier

Nancy Jackson and Jenny Burton in the Parents as Partners presentation: Working hard to make it easy. Part 1!

All children can learn to play with ease. Ideas from two books by Dr. Suzuki: Nurtured by Love and Ability Development, and two other books currently on the market: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code. These new books show studies that support Dr. Suzuki's ideas of the 1950s.

1) All children have talent - every child can learn.
2) Given the right environment and opportunity, all children can achieve success.
3) Repetition is key to the ease of playing. Knowledge + 10,000 times = Ability.
4) Review of prior material makes things stick.
5) Success breeds success.
6) Never hurry, never rest. (Work hard, but go slowly.)
7) Parental support is paramount.

From Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers:
"Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990's by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the Academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely "good." In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?

"Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing--that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better--well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.

[Similar studies on pianists revealed the same sort of data.]

"The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."

Other case studies of those who worked hard to make it easy included the Beatles and Bill Gates.

Between 1960 and the end of 1962, The Beatles performed 1200 times in Germany. By the time they came to the US in 1964 they had all that plus more. They were not good on stage when they went to Germany, and very good when they came back.

10,000 hours - all but impossible to reach that on your own by the time you are a young adult - parents' encouragement is necessary.  Bill Gates' and other school mothers bought computers and started a computer club in their school.

Working hard is valued and nurtured more in some cultures than others. Rice patty agriculture - a year round effort of hard work to get a high yield from a small piece of land vs. North American agriculture of seasons - taking time off. Taking breaks result in things falling through the cracks, though. My personal experience - with myself and with students - is that if you take a break, you don't just not progress, you actually REGRESS in playing.

Speaking of people who succeed in math, "Success is a function of persistence and doggedness, and the willingness to work hard for 22 minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after 30 seconds. . . Success is not so much ability as attitude." Alan Schoenfeld (math professor)

Working hard to make it easy... part 2 to follow.

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