This is the first post in the Neural Net series.

“Knowledge is mere knowledge, and is not to be confused with ability and skill.” (1) Dr. Suzuki

In teaching piano, you can create ability and skill by connecting the knowledge about playing the piano with the physical movements and  sound of the piano.  This way the physical motions involved in playing the piano have a direct correlation with the quality of the sound.  “When your hand is relaxed and your fingers are moving, the sound is a beautiful ringing tone.”

The myelin sheath forms around the neurons that fire together – “Cells that fire together wire together.” (2)

So, through this learning process, the physical/tactile movement and listening to the sound produced become wired together.

Ability development requires repetition so   that the performance of a pattern*  in the  brain is consistent and secure.  The picture at the right shows a neuron that is wrapped in the Myelin sheath – the fatty cells.  With each repetition myelin wraps around the neuron cells and creates a consistent neuromuscular response.

At the same  time we want to allow for freedom of  expression and adaptability.   It is ideal if the student can evaluate their playing after each repetition.  The student evaluates the feeling and the sound,  and adapts the neuro-muscular response accordingly so that the practice involves focus and concentration, and the repetitions can change and improve.

So, the first steps are the body posture/balance, the physical movement, and the concentration on the quality of the tone.  Next,  the student can  layer in the dynamics, or feeling of the meter etc.  Other concepts can be presented for holistic learning such as “authentic cadence”, diminished chord” and these labels can then be connected to the sound and feeling of the spot.

The physical expression of the pattern/spot/ phrase can evolve and change. Repetitions progress to a higher level of understanding and ability.   The student learns the pattern, and then can be  transferred to the other parts of the piece that have the same elements. Later the learned skills can be transferred to the new piece.

Daniel Coyle discusses this in his book The Little Book of Talent(3): 

“The key to deep practice is to reach. This means to stretch yourself slightly beyond your current ability, spending time in the zone of difficulty called the sweet spot. It means creating a practice space that enables you to reach and repeat, stay engaged, and improve your skills over time.”

*A pattern can be any small part of the music such as repeated note legato, the feeling of rhythm (down-up for example) or any other part such as a phrase that is inherent in the piece being learned. Often referred to as a “spot” that the student does repetitions on.

1. Nurtured by Love  by Dr. Suzuki, p. 89
2. This is referred to as “Hebbian Learning”, and is discussed in How to Create A Mind  by Ray Kurzweil, p. 80
3. The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle, page 39

Books quoted in this post: