Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why Playing Music Helps Raise Your Wisdom Level

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or, What’s So Hard About the Violin, Anyway?

In my last post I maintain that learning and playing the violin is difficult for everyone, whatever the level of intelligence and coordination, but for those of you who are not violinists or musicians (or perhaps are the prospective parents of one), I’ll try to explain why. Below is my theory formed after years of observing my students, other musicians, and myself.

I tell my students that playing the violin is not just difficult – it’s impossible, which is why even great and famous violinists still have to practice (and why even then they sometimes make mistakes). Whenever I have to break down some piece of technique for my students into ever smaller steps so they can learn them, I marvel at how many things violinists have to do at the same time and how fast their minds and bodies have to move in order to do them. In fact, things go so fast that it seems that everything is done simultaneously. This is not true. It is always step 1 to step 5000 in a nano-second, perhaps, but always in order. And this is only one reason we have to practice so much for years – to get the order right so that we can do it without consciously thinking about it, thus to permit ourselves to focus on the music.

We also have to hear every note we play BEFORE we play it – not afterwards. This seems impossible when we play at what seems the speed of light, but it is true – if  we don’t know what we want to hear, how can we play it or even get it in tune? I tell my students that we are not just training their hands, but training their ear to be ever faster than their hands so that their hands are directed by their ear instead of vice versa. (The hands may or may not move faster than the eye, but they certainly move faster than the ear if not trained to do otherwise.) Continue reading

24 August 2015

Too Smart for Their Own Good

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Most of us have heard the comment at one time or another that certain people are “too smart for their own good.” What does this mean? The best definition I have heard* is “high intelligence and low wisdom.” So here is an equation for you:

High intelligence + low wisdom = lack of self-discipline, which is an accurate description of a number of my students. And I have often found that the smarter and more coordinated they are, the lower the wisdom and self discipline. This not only makes teaching them quite challenging, it may also predict future problems for the student. Why?

The reasons a child may have for not wanting to practice the violin are myriad (including low wisdom), but among the “too smart for their own good” set there is an overriding one: because it’s hard – it may in fact be the first thing they have ever tried that is difficult and they don’t have the self-discipline to deal with it. Many students who have had some difficulty at school, such as having had to study a lot to understand mathematics, for example, don’t have much trouble applying themselves to practicing an instrument because they are used to dealing with problems and working hard to overcome them. They also have a realistic idea of their own abilities. The intellectually gifted students, however, present quite another story. Yes, they may study a lot, but it’s mostly “busy work” for them. They do not have to struggle to understand and complete their homework. They are used to things being easy. So what happens sometimes when they confront the difficulties of learning to play a musical instrument? They discover something that is hard for them and: Continue reading

17 August 2015