The last few months have led to many changes in how we work, how we play, how we connect to others, and a whole lot more.
But I think our desire to learn and improve at things that we find meaningful and enjoy doing is still there. After all, many are continuing to take piano lessons, or participate in writing classes, or train in jiu jitsu online, even though doing so via Zoom is not quite (or nearly) the same experience as learning in-person.
Despite its many limitations, online learning does have one potential built-in benefit, that could be worth taking advantage of not just during these unusual times, but when in-person learning becomes possible again too.
Meet Jason Haaheim
Jason Haaheim is the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal timpanist. But he took a rather unconventional route to winning that job, as it came after 10 years of working full-time as an engineer and researcher for a nanotechnology startup, where he had to squeeze all of his practice into the hours before and after work.
Given the constraints of time and energy, Jason – to semi-quote Matt Damon’s character in The Martian – “scienced the $#@! out of his practice” in order to maximize the impact of every minute of practice.
We already spoke about the nuts and bolts of his approach to practice and audition preparation in a previous episode, which you can listen to here, so in today’s episode we narrow our focus on just one specific aspect of this process. A piece of the puzzle that most of us probably don’t think of as being that big a deal, but which could actually have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our daily practice.
Umm…and what’s that exactly?
The benefits of recording and transcribing (!) your lessons.
In this episode, we’ll explore:
- Why deliberate practice and learning how to learn is perhaps even more important now than ever before (5:54)
- Why trying to take notes in lessons is probably counterproductive (10:08)
- Why there’s probably no legitimate reason for not recording lessons (12:03)
- What to do if your teacher doesn’t feel comfortable with your recording a lesson (12:29)
- The two things that change when you review and transcribe your lesson (19:52)
- The legality (and ethics) of recording your lessons (25:15)
- Do you really have to transcribe the lesson? Why? (28:34)
- How going through the process could lead to more high-level “problem-solving lessons” as opposed to “diagnostic lessons” (40:04)
- How recording/transcribing/reviewing lessons could change your teacher’s behavior too (42:16)
- Why lessons are also a valuable opportunity to watch your teacher solve problems, and learn how to become a better problem-solver (53:09)
- Jason’s process of recording auditions, and what he would do immediately after playing a round, as it relates to becoming a much better judge of your own playing (57:39)
- The obligatory Star Wars reference to Force ghosts, Yoda, and Obi Wan (1:01:08)
- Quality vs. quantity and the rather arbitrary length of a 1-hour lesson (1:07:22)
So one of the best talks I’ve ever heard was given by University of Texas Professor Robert Duke. He said that in his days as a band teacher, he made his students earn practice time, meaning he didn’t allow them to take their instruments home and practice until they could demonstrate to him that they could be trusted to practice in such a way that they didn’t make things worse and undermine all the work they were doing in rehearsal. So only when they could prove that they knew what to do in the practice room did you start giving them permission to take their instruments home and spend maybe five minutes or 10 minutes or 20 minutes practicing so became kind of a matter of pride that they had had the privilege of being able to practice for 10 minutes a day and so forth. I was doing some math this morning. And if you assume that one practices six days a week, and you practice one hour per day, that would mean that you’re spending 86% of your time on your own outside of supervision of your teacher. And then if you do two hours a day, it means you’re spending 92% of your time on your own and three hours equals 95% four hours equals 96%, and so on. So even if you give a student the most amazing lesson ever, you could probably make a convincing argument that the quality of that student’s practice between lessons might be as big a factor and their week to week progress as the lesson itself. And so even though lessons over zoom may have some drawbacks, when you and I were talking the other day, you mentioned that there’s one zoom feature in particular, that potentially could change how students approach practice and maximize their progress and learning in the week between lesson. So I’m not exactly sure where to start with this. But yeah, I wanted to dive into that a little bit more and hear more of what your thoughts were.
Yeah. So we were having this conversation the other day, where it was sort of like looking at this incredibly insane moment that the world is dealing with right now. And, again, kind of understanding how this is changing the way everybody like not by choice, right? Every one is forced into this new way of teaching and learning. A lot of students, I mean, everybody is now doing any kind of learning through this medium of virtual online teaching. Most of it is mediated through something like we’re using right now, which is zoom, or it could be Skype, or it could be a handful of other things. But in many or most of them, the service itself gives the option to record. And I almost want to zoom out one other level because I think one of the things that I have been struggling with myself as the last few weeks have unfolded, is that there is an asynchronous nature to this tragedy. We’re all experiencing, right. And that it’s it’s weird. On the one hand, to have lessons and classes and various other things sort of trying to go about as usual, business as usual, while at the same time, like right now Noa, you and I are in New York City and It feels like a war zone. And it’s absolutely insane. And I’m just gonna be totally honest. Like it was just a day and a half ago that I found out that one of my colleagues in the MET orchestra died from COVID. And we’re all reeling from that. And it’s just awful. And it sucks because we’ve known that’s coming, right? And, so this, this is again, just kind of for for myself and my students in the last few weeks being able to frame this in a way that’s saying, Yeah, we are facing a radically uncertain future. It is entirely natural right now, if you are a musician, any kind of instrumentalist, frankly, anybody that would be listening to this podcast to begin with, to be wondering how this is going to look, to be scared at some of those prospects of how this is going to go down. Yeah, me too. But sort of my North Star remains that the the process of deliberate practice and the real skills that go into that are going to have an increased currency, maybe we should say on the other side of this because it’s everything that underlies the ability to be flexible and adaptable and learn how to learn. And and all of that, which I think is the exact segue point. I want to connect to what you introduced. Because when you were working with a teacher, and you’re taking lessons, yes, they are giving you feedback. But one of the other things that’s happening is you are learning how to learn. You are learning how to teach yourself this specifically because your teacher is not observing every hour of your practice. Right? The ratios you broke down. were absolutely right. That if you’re only doing one hour a day of practice, and you’re doing weekly lessons, the ratio is seven to one, or 14 to one, or 21 to one or 28 to one and my case by the time I started getting really serious about taking orchestra auditions myself, I was well out of school. And so the the framework of having you know, a weekly check in lesson was not possible. Really, you know, it wasn’t practical. It’s not kind of how things were going. And, you know, I was much more in the place where I was checking in with teachers every six or eight weeks, but doing most of the work on my own. So that ratio was something much closer to like I was putting in four or five hours a day, six or seven days a week, if we just roughly say 30 hours a week, and I was doing six to eight weeks in between lesson sessions. I was accumulating 150, 180, 200 hours of practicing in there in between, check in times.
And the thing I kind of arrived at realizing that like, hang on, I’ve got to be better about practicing in that time. I’ve got to be more efficient. And I remember at one point, thinking about it like this canoe trip I took when I was in middle school, it was it was a Boy Scout thing. And like for anyone who’s been canoeing, you know, you kind of like… you paddle, paddle, paddle. But also, like if you’re in a river, or maybe you’re on a lake and there’s a strong wind, like you can start getting really easily blown off course. And the job of the person in the back of the canoe is to be the rudder and to like make sure you’ve got the heading so you know where you’re going and you kind of keep aiming toward that and then you paddle, paddle, paddle, and then you kind of course direct again and then you paddle, paddle, paddle. So for me like obviously the lessons were the course correction time, but it was really easy in the beginning to like, when I was first starting out with this, I would be practicing my ass off and put in again 50, 80, 100 hours of practice time, and then get back to the lesson and realize like, oh, man, I like ended up going 90 degrees off course and now I’m on like the other bank of the lake in the wrong place. If my teacher’s like what, wait, what were you doing? Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all. You weren’t listening. Are you like you didn’t get it? Right. And to be fair and clear, I also think that’s totally natural. Because it is really difficult. I mean, I would argue impossible to get the full picture of the expertise that is being discussed, transferred kind of thrown at you during lesson time, right, depending on the sort of relationship between the student and the teacher, the amount of expertise that that teacher has versus where the student is at. Is this like really asymmetric balance. I mean, I think about it too, in some of the times where I was like studying a new foreign language. Like I remember taking Spanish classes when I was in high school. And you know, for somebody who’s fluent in Spanish, and then you try to go teach like this, you know, kid in a Minneapolis suburb like, Alright, here we go, ground zero, right and build that up. It is from the teaching perspective. It’s tough to remember what it feels like to be that green. And you inevitably use words or phrases or concepts that make total sense to you, and that the student has no frame of reference for even what you’re talking about. So there’s a lot of issues kind of going on with this. There’s like, how much can you catch on the first pass? Are you even capable of understanding what they’re talking about? Does this need more time to marinate? And then there’s just simply the issue of like, how quick can you write anything down? And so the answer is no, not enough. And ineffectively, I would spend some of these early lessons trying to like take written notes. But I’d also then realized that I was missing something else. They were saying as I was writing down the other thing, or I was writing something down, and I would have to use some sort of, like shortcut terminology, that as I looked at it a week later, I’m like, wait, I don’t even know what they were talking about. Or I totally didn’t understand that concept. Which is all a long way of saying I got to a point where I just realized like, Wait a second. I have got to go in and record this lesson. I’m just like, my human brain is not capable of soaking this all up on the first try. We’re not built to do that. And I need subsequent passes with this material. And in my experience, because I had sort of already vetted all of the teachers I was working with to know that we were a good fit. Everybody that I asked, Can I record this lesson said, Oh, yeah, of course. Absolutely. I encourage you to do so. I think that’s the responsible thing. I would maybe go a step further, I think I would say at this point in history, especially considering where we’re at now in like the COVID learning environment. There is no legitimate excuse to not allow your students to record a lesson. I’ve been saying this out of masterclasses for a couple years, and I’ve basically for myself been increasingly adamant about this point I started saying well, you really should, you know, like it’s a good idea. But not all teachers are going to be comfortable with this. And and I’ve just evolved to the point where I’m like, No, there’s there’s absolutely no good reason. And I even think at this point, it’s a matter of economics and ethics for how much students are paying for tuition. They need to be able to extract maximum value from that time. And I think if you were a teacher who is not allowing your students to record the lesson time that is bordering on unethical teaching practice. Now, if you’re one of the teachers listening to this, and you disagree with me on that point, that’s great. I have no problem. We can discuss this, get in touch with me, find me on my website, I will hash this out with you. I look forward to the conversation. If you’re one of the students listening to this. And you have asked your teacher and they have said, No, I think that’s a problem. I think that points to a lot of potential issues in that teaching philosophy and style. But I’m not going to you know, I’m not going to tell you to write that off entirely. I think what you should maybe do is think about how to butter him up. And so I’ve had some conversations with students who’ve taken a lesson or two with me, and then they need to go back to their primary teacher. And they’re like, yeah, you know, I told him that Haaheim, was like, you should really record their lesson. They’re like, I don’t do that. And I said, Okay, well try this approach, appeal to their ego, basically go in there and say, Hey, you know, the reason I want to record is that I just so value everything you have to say. And it’s so important, and poor little me just can’t, can’t, like absorb it all. And the thing is, I want to be one of those students who goes out and reflects really well on you, and like succeeds. And so other students can see what what they’re doing. But I’m going to be able to do that a lot more easily if I can, like, absorb all of your amazing wisdom, and like, so please let me record and believe it or not, like I’ve had, you know, for most of the students that were rebuffed on the first try, the ego stroking approach usually kind of got in the door. That’s The kind of first step of it, which is just making sure you have buy in so that you can record the thing. I’ve also been talking for a long time now. I there’s, there’s more I could say about it, but that it, there may be other things to clarify along the way.
Well, this is not a question or clarification necessarily, but it reminds me of Khan Academy. And one of the things that I read about Khan Academy that people seem to like is that instead of having to raise your hand and stop class, ask a question, you can listen to the same concept again multiple times, and kind of absorb it without interrupting the flow of things. And so, so in the lesson, certainly, you can stop and interrupt and ask clarification questions. But still, like you said, sometimes it takes a while for things to resonate or to make sense or to kind of click eventually.
This is also something that you and I were talking about a few weeks back that I’ve had this collaboration ongoing with Anders Ericsson for the past 18 months or so, and we’ve been looking for ways to take the existing field of deliberate practice research, and kind of go to the next level with it and find the places where that’s possible, and where there’s kind of some, like low hanging fruit, to go in a way beyond deliberate practice theory, and actually start to get into some applications. I think we are, in a way, like, poised for this revolution in music performance pedagogy. And it’s a revolution that has happened in other fields and like we can we can see how that went. And I think we’re just on the cusp of it and you know, so to be more specific, like the application of rigorous, methodical, scientific method type approach to improving the thing started in the 90s in baseball, Major League Baseball with the now well known Story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. And Michael Lewis wrote the book Moneyball about it and then it was turned into the movie with Brad Pitt. That was a whole thing where the field of Major League Baseball had been trading on this nonsensical notion of talent. And like, scouts that would see somebody playing be like, you know, I just, I like that guy’s boxier, like boy, the cut of his jib, and he’s gonna be a great player. And it was all just like gut feeling and basically BS, right like, and and what Billy Beane did is come in and realize, oh, there are, you know, metrics you can look at, for the way players perform. And if you want a good baseball team, you just need the right combination of metrics. And so I can go put together a team of essentially, dramatically undervalued players that working together are going to be able to be much more effective, where the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. And you know, that’s exactly what happened and I forget exactly the story, but you know, they got to, they won some Division Championship or something or, you know, got to the World Series. You know, it was, it was more than they ever expected this kind of like ragtag group to be able to do in the field of election forecasting, right? Nate Silver came on the scene in 2008 with FiveThirtyEight. And it was the similar approach of like, Okay, this isn’t going to be just like gut feelings and punditry, but actually like a methodical database approach to this. And owing to a lot of the deliberate practice research, and that we’re just, you know, sort of a countable number of years into that filtering in to music performance practice. I think on the one hand, it’s like it’s a really exciting time to be working on this stuff and talking about it because there’s just so much growth potential. What I was discussing with the music educators in Minnesota was my read on that was a lot of music educators, at least at the middle and high school level, have already gotten on board with the idea of the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. This is great, right? And so for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, this is the Carol Dweck book. She’s a psychologist, I forget where but you should. So she wrote this book called Mindset. That was, you know, very much connected with the kind of founding principles of deliberate practice, which is that you’re, you know, you’re not born with a fixed potential or a fixed way to learn or a fixed anything that principles like neuroplasticity, enable you to learn to develop and grow and kind of shape around potential. And so the music educators were already super onboard with that, and that was great to see and hear. And then I said, Great. So you know, the next step is like, how do we apply this? Like, how do you start getting your students to incorporate this new framework into their learning and teaching and what you’re teaching and how they go about preparing for rehearsals and performances and all the time in the practice room and all of this stuff, right? Kind of like back to my canoeing analogy. It’s like you got to capture that lesson time to begin with just so that those intervening 7, 14, 28 hours are like truly as effective and smartly directed as it can be.
So I want to ask about how to do it. Meaning, I mean, yes, you take your lesson, you listen back that you said before, but I’m sure there are details as to how to make the most of that sort of activity. But before we get there, I’m actually curious what, what actually changes in the students practice behaviors during the week when they are operating from a perspective of having reviewed their lesson and transcribe the important parts and so forth? Like others? Yeah specific things that change?
Yeah, really? It’s a fantastic question. I’m glad we’re going here next, because I think that that’s exactly the way to approach this. I’m going to describe this two ways from my standpoint of when I was a student, and what I felt like was happening. And now I’m going to describe it from the standpoint of me teaching students who are doing this and both what I recognized In their improvement and sort of their trajectory change. And then also what they report back to me is like, what’s what’s working about this? So again, from like, almost the most basic perspective of brutal economics of this, this is not something that all students are doing yet, far from it, depending on the level folks are at this kind of working practice, I think has percolated pretty widely. But then the further down the chain, you go, you know, when I encounter college freshmen, for instance, a lot of the time this is very, very new to them. And it just hasn’t occurred to them yet that this is a thing. And so one of the things I try to say to kind of get them on board with this idea, and also encourage them to continue doing this to the rest of their education is just to say, look, you pay X dollars per year for tuition at whatever school you’re at, multiply that by four, that is what you’re going to pay for your undergraduate education. Cool. Your undergraduate education is going to include only 120 hours of lesson time like that. That’s it. That’s that’s the standard everywhere. It’s usually like 15 lesson hours per semester, two semesters a year, boom, you get to 120 hours. And that’s it. And after that, like that, that is what you are going to be able to get from your teacher. When people start thinking about it that way, they’re like, oh, wow, okay, that’s actually it. You know, it’s easy to think when you’re 18 years old, like, Oh, this is gonna stretch on forever. And I have all this infinite time. And in fact, like, God, it goes by so quickly, and you get to the end of it, and then you’re like, oh, but wait, what about and this thing, and God, maybe we talked about this, but I kind of forgot to write it down or whatever. So I’m like, at a minimum place, like you’re paying so much per hour for that lesson time, like extract that value. Make, sure that you get as much out of it as you can. And so how you do that, that’s now the specific thing that like, what does that look like? I’m gonna describe that and them I’m going to describe what it felt like for me and then what I kind of witnessed now in my students. To begin with, it is recording the whole thing with at least audio. And having a higher quality audio method to do this is really helpful. For me I found that like the zoom recorders, something like the h4, h4 n, those have mics that are surprisingly good at recording timpani. Timpani is notoriously difficult to record in any capacity. And so I kind of found after the fact these were able to reproduce with reasonable fidelity, what was actually happening in the playing, so that I could hear a lot of those details. recording with an iPhone is certainly better than nothing. Recording with an entire like 10 grand mic setup and a mixing board as maybe a little overkill and you know, you’re gonna waste a lot of time in the setup. So somewhere in between one of these, like handheld digital recorders is great. I think if you can do video, even better. A lot of my students set up the video so that it’s looking at the drums and it can see them responding and doing all the stuff that I’m telling them to do. And then it can also, catch when I’m going into demonstrate something myself, I think that can be really, really helpful. I think there’s probably a sort of curve with this where like, a lot of teachers will be comfortable with audio recording, and then a subset of them will be comfortable with video too. Again, you know, making predictions is always difficult. But it does seem to me that like, we are headed toward a place where recording lessons will become pretty standard practice, at least audio and probably video too. And so, a starting point is just getting that happening, right having the gear. And sometimes I encounter pushback from students is like, Oh, well, you know, it’s like, these recorders are really expensive. And it’s like, it’s like, I don’t want to spend another three or $350 on this. And I’m like, yeah, you know, I get it like you’re a student. You don’t have a ton of money. But like, let’s think about priorities here, right? Like you’re dropping 15 or 20 or 40 or 60 grand on school this year, and you have a way that you could, you know, extract 500% more value from that. And you’re just like leaving it literally on the table, like it’s not being turned on, you’re not going to buy the device, like, you know, we pay money for our instruments, we buy new strings, we do all of this stuff, because it’s obviously something we have to do. It’s part of our craft. And I would argue this is no different. So, you know, for any of my students, the purchase of one of these devices that is enabling this is just a non negotiable thing.
And so, from that point, then, for anyone who wants to reference this out after the fact, I kind of wrote out this process flow in this blog post I have called “No one gets there on their own.” I basically say step one is the capturing, right? You just have to record it. You have to have the device, you have to record it. It’s worth noting that the law on this varies state by state. So categorically, I believe everybody needs to ask the permission of their teachers. And like I said before, the teacher should then consent and say, yes, this is okay. It turns out that, oddly enough, there are states which have this law called single party consent, which essentially means that you can record what’s going on around you. And that’s legal to do. And actually, New York State is one of those states. And if anyone listening to this is better versed in this law than I am, please feel free to write in and, and correct my understanding of this. But nevertheless, from an ethical perspective, you really need to get permission. And also note that there are some states where if you just turn on the recorder in the middle of this, and your teacher finds out later and they did not give their consent, that’s actually illegal, potentially what you’re doing. So make sure you get permission, turn the thing on. Boom. The step beyond that, then is the lesson is over. And what do you do from there? Or I guess maybe I should say step 1.5. In between is, does this and should it change the way you do a lesson and kind of alluding to earlier, I think Yes, it does. So once I started recording my lessons, I stopped trying to take notes during the lesson. This might sound counterintuitive to people. It’s not it’s not a hard and fast rule. I mean, if there was something really critical, I wanted to like, go back and mark in my part or something, or, you know, I would put like a little asterisk or maybe have a little post it note, but it was it was just a reminder for later that I’m going to spend more time digging into this later. Because again, the idea was, during that incredibly valuable lesson time, which is, you know, it’s probably helpful to put a number on this right, like, I mean, a lot of people’s lesson rates that I know in New York City is like $150 an hour for a lesson. There are parts of the country where that probably sounds insanely high, but this is the going rate in New York. But that’s for like private individual lessons. If you work out the same rate for what you’re effectively paying in an institution because of all the overhead and everything else in classes and if you know that that hourly lesson rate quickly becomes 250, 300, 500. In some places, it’s as high as like 6 or $700 an hour. And so again, my thinking is like, I want every cent of that to count. And so during that lesson, I need to be as fully engaged and responsive as possible. And that’s tough to do when you’re sitting there constantly like scribbling something down and then missing the next thing they’re saying, or, you know, you put down the instrument in your writing, and they’re like, No, no, no, do it again, I told you to do it, like, whatever it is, right? And so, the step 1.5 is like, don’t so much worry about writing, you’re going to be able to do that later. Focus on being fully present, engaged, responsive, adaptive, and like truly listening as much as possible to everything they’re saying. Because at the end of the day, part of this is just about efficiency. Given 120 lesson hours and undergrad, how much are you gonna be able to learn? How far are you gonna be able to go? What kind of trajectory Are you gonna be able to set. So that step two for me was go back and listen to the whole thing.
But that’s not all, the really important thing I started doing for myself was to generate a written transcript, sort of like a court reporter. And I would listen back from the beginning, and kind of generate this moment by moment accounting of like, what was going on what we were talking about. And one of the really important things about this is it creates a searchable record. That, for me, was just invaluable for the future. Pro tip for anyone that’s going to do this, I found it was really effective to use software like audacity for this process, because you’ve got all these abilities to you know, put in timestamps and like little markers, and you can jump between spots. And if, you know you get to minute 40 of the lesson, and your teacher says hey, yeah, so remember at the beginning when we talked about this, okay, do this, this and this now, and during the lesson you were like, oh, wait, what? But now later, you can jump back to that point be like, Oh, yeah, that is what we were talking about. Okay, going through that. Writing the transcript. This takes time, obviously, right? Like for a given lesson hour, I would sometimes spend two, three, even four hours in this transcription process, which seems onerous to people. And this is kind of one of the other areas of pushback I encounter where they’re just like, yeah, we’ll put that’s gonna cut into my practice time. And I say, No, absolutely not. If that is the way you’re thinking about this, I think you’re managing your time poorly or inefficiently. Because the way I was doing this was essentially structuring my schedule and my life and everything so that I would go basically push my practice hours to the biochemical maximum, which I know you’ve written about, Noa, and I know like a lot of other people have studied this. across many, many fields, there is this growing recognition that like four to five hours of intense focus concentration is about as much as we can realistically expect in any given day. And that after that we require sleep and rest and rejuvenation to both, you know, at a neurological level, we’re getting rid of this beta amyloid protein that that builds up and kind of inhibits our cognitive capacity. We are replenishing our stores of myelin, we’re all of these things are happening just at a cellular level that enables us to learn more effectively. So yeah, my priority was maximize that time. But still, that’s only 28 or 30 or 35 hours a week. You’ve got a lot of other time that you can and should be using to reinforce and support and augment all of your in the practice room efforts. And so for me, this transcription time was key in that part of the supporting time. And just like my previous analogy about canoeing, if you’re not doing that, then these other practice hours you’re putting in are potentially ineffective or taking you off course, or something. And so it’s, it’s just really, really essential to make time for that.
You do that as like the first thing after your lesson before you dive into the rest of your practice week. The other thing is do you the transcription all in one sitting or to kind of spread it out just for endurance purposes, or just keeping your mind fresh, or maybe it doesn’t matter so much?
Generally, yes, I do it right away after and generally, yes, I try to do it all in one sitting. But there’s an asterisk there that that relates to my step three, because my step three is to basically go back and review your own review, which is to like, look at the transcript you generated or just sort of sit there and think about like, Okay, what is the totality of what we covered in this lesson.
And then go back and zoom in again on some of these really critical parts, like if there was a major breakthrough moment, or there was something that you didn’t understand the first time, or your teacher used a word that you’ve never heard before, or like, maybe you’re doing Mahler. And there’s like a German term, it just goes right by it. And you’re like, oh, what does -giberish- mean, right? You’re like, Ah, okay, and then you have a chance to Google it and then go back, ah, right. So the refocusing and kind of re-reviewing in like, micro-detail, some of these spots, I think, is really important. And for that, I think yet don’t be afraid to reapproach that, a day or two later, or even a week later, or I would find myself going back to some of these archives that I created, months and even years later, because there was something I was like, Oh, wait a minute. I remember in this one lesson, my teacher said this, and I still didn’t quite get it. But now I do. Hold on. Let me go read my notes. Oh, and then I then I would actually go back and re listen to the thing and I’m like cha-ching like light bulbs. Go From like, oh, finally. Okay, cool. So, yes, in general, listen back right away. And then also keep going back for kind of repeated sessions after that as context would dictate. And then on that point, my step four is organizing all of this. In different places, I have sort of alluded to the recording system I set up for myself, for anyone who’s listening to this and trying to find my write up of this on my website or something. I apologize. I haven’t gotten to that yet. It doesn’t exist. I hope it will soon. But the short version is that I had this pretty comprehensive playlist system in iTunes, where I had all of the self recordings of my own practicing, of excerpts of lessons and all of this stuff lived in there. And then I annotated it extensively in the metadata, which is to say, the title of the track, the comments section, but specifically like the lyrics tab in iTunes. And I would sort of like write little journal entries in there. And to be clear, I’m not at all saying that this is the only or even the best way to do this. It’s just kind of the way that I fell into and then kind of became my routine. But I would say the the salient feature of this is that I would generate all of these lesson transcripts. And they would typically live in this one big document, which again, has the advantage of searchability. Back in the day, I started with a Word document because Google Docs didn’t exist yet. Today, I would start with a Google document. And it’s not a problem. In fact, it’s great if this thing ends up being like several hundred pages long, because that’s a lot of good information you’ve gotten there. And with a quick Command F, you can find any searchable term that you were going over with your teacher. That’s an incredibly valuable resource. The next step that I took it to was synthesizing individual pieces of that into new stories, which is to say, when we start to go over Beethoven Nine, first movement, coda timpani excerpt again. I’m like, aha, okay, cool. This next five minutes of my lesson transcript, I’m going to copy and paste this part of it into my Beethoven Nine timpani excerpt specific thing in my other archive. So that then I had a topical way to consolidate all of the information I’ve been working on with respect to this excerpt over three or four or six years even. And for me, that became an incredibly valuable resource because I was able to then go back after the fact and see like, okay, four years ago, I did this on it in the lesson and then three years ago, I played it in this audition and got this feedback. Last year, I did this other lesson where they said this and it was obviously the higher level isn’t now I’m working on this, this and this thing, and it was just a way to give myself essentially a sort of comprehensive history of my development on each topical thing I was working on, I think for music performance, because our auditions deal with excerpts. The excerpt itself is a very useful metric and way to divide this and kind of organize and categorize it. But certainly, I would also have more general ways to divide this out, because it could just be topical according to a certain technique, a certain style of playing, maybe it’s on string instruments, it’s shifting, or it’s you know, okay, and here’s all the here’s all my notes on all the different lessons where we talked about spiccato. Or here’s my document where I’ve copied and pasted out all the different times we talked about breath support, and how to use my diaphragm and you know, the sky’s the limit here, right. So you can, you can use your own judgment and creativity for how you want to kind of mind continual additional value out of this, but obviously the starting point is recorded and how this transcribed record to begin with, it’s sort of the living story of all of your work. The sort of steps in my process beyond there were essentially a sort of diagnosis. Right, which is when you honestly go through the initial steps of this, which is like transcribing and and listening back and then starting to write it out, just that alone, I think can result in some pretty radical changes in terms of how you’re practicing and perceiving your own playing. It absolutely did for me, right. So again, my experience of this when I started doing this as a student was I went into this with a certain idea of how I sounded and how I was playing and like what the issues were, and then actually listening back to these lessons in sort of gory detail, you know, I ended up with a more realistic picture of what was going on how you’re sounding. And to be clear, that’s not always pleasant. Because we’re human beings with egos and emotions, and we like to think that we’re awesome and doing everything great. And a lot of times these recordings reveal like, Oh, well, you know, no not quite… There’s another part of this that you still have to be working on. But I would argue that that is exactly what should be happening then. Because it kind of allows you to cut through the BS and focus on the issues that are really important. And the more self directed you become as a student, which is what has to happen everybody, right? Because as an undergrad, you’re still following the direction of your teacher mostly. And then maybe you go get a master’s degree and you’re more self directed, but you’re still kind of relying on your teacher to chart the course. And then you graduate, you’re on your own and like now you’re entirely self directed. And if you can arrive at that place already being very comfortable with being realistic about your own issues. This kind of process of self diagnosis, and coming up with your own kind of a reality based, focused task list of the things that you need to be working on, man, it’s gonna be a whole lot easier. And for me again, this was sort of the meta diagnosis process of like listening to the whole lesson, or thinking about the last five lessons and then stepping back and saying, you know, okay, I’ve had all of this feedback, I’ve evaluated the stuff, I’m starting to notice these themes, or these these persistent issues, or kind of big picture things. In one way, it helps me get away from I think, what is so common in lessons, which is just kind of having a bunch of like phenomena get diagnosed, you know what I mean? And like, and for me, as a teacher, that’s also one of the things that’s kind of the least satisfying, which is like if a student comes in and plays a bunch of stuff, and it’s like, okay, That’s rushing, that’s sharp, that’s flat, that’s not the right notes, okay, you’re crunching these rhythms like all of that that’s like phenomena diagnosing. That’s it. And frankly, to me at this point, that’s kind of boring. And that’s the kind of stuff that I wish students could be doing on their own ahead of time. From my teaching perspective, I’m like, bring me problems to solve. Let’s not spend the time on diagnosis. Let’s spend the time on. Okay. A student comes in, they’re like, Jason, I’ve been practicing, you know, I spent like, 35 hours doing this. I noticed I diagnosed X, Y, and Z. And these things are still happening. And I don’t know why can we problem solve this to figure out like, how do I need to practice this to really address this? That kind of insight comes out of both a good rigorous practice process but also specifically like listening to these lessons, and noticing how much of the time is being spent on easy low level diagnosis versus like, actually valuable problem solving. And then again, so my final step on this is them kind of like working up to bigger and bigger picture things, this kind of synthesis, moving all this information around into my different like lists and archives, and trying to craft for myself this overall bigger picture plan of like, Okay, I’ve got all of these things I need to work on this, here’s my top, you know, five or 10 priorities I’m working on. And doing that then just increases the efficiency and benefit of all of the lessons that came after.
This is interesting, this idea of diagnosing problems versus the problem solving aspect of things. Because the only question that I was gonna ask you is, and it might be difficult to reflect on it because it’s hard for us to know what has changed in our own behavior sometimes. But aside from changes in students practice behaviors, I was wondering what over time this would do in terms of changes to the teacher’s teaching behavior. So as just an example of a maybe slightly related thing. I remember reading some research somewhere which suggested that if someone comes to you for advice, and they come with a pad of paper and pen, even if they don’t write anything down, the people giving advice, were more likely to give a greater number of tips or they gave more advice. I don’t remember if the advice was of higher quality, but they gave a greater volume of advice than when the person seeking advice had nothing on which to write the advice that they were about to present. But I wondered, you know, if, if the teacher knows that this has been recorded, and the student, clearly visibly is no longer trying to take notes, but simply like flagging important moments to come back to later and seems more engaged. Do you have a sense of whether maybe there might be some changes, even in the teachers behavior in a positive direction or more?
Oh, a hundred percent? Yes, yes. And so, okay, this we’re sort of circling back. One of the things we started with, which is like you have to get buy in, to begin with with the recording. And again, I think most responsible, ethical teachers are allowing this now, when I’ve had some conversations with people that don’t like doing this, there’s a handful of sort of rationales that they throw up there. And then some that they don’t. somewhere. I’m kind of like reading between the lines to extract, like, what is the nature of this opposition? I think one of the elements is exactly the point you’re making. And it’s, I want to find the most generous way to say this, because I don’t think in most cases, this arises with any sort of malicious intent. But the reality is, it is a whole lot easier to teach the kind of lessons I’m describing where it’s simple diagnosis, right? I mean, you can be sleep deprived, you could be dramatically hung over and like your student could come in and play some stuff. He was like, ughh, yeah, rushing, dragging, flat, sharp… Okay, see you next week. And it like you requires very little effort on your part. Little engagement, you know, like you can get through that easy. And so just as sort of like, the reality that water finds the easiest path down to ground, like I think there’s this sort of almost physics of how like teaching can go where, like the path of least resistance is, okay, we’ll just default to the easiest kind of teaching possible. And, again, that that can easily happen. I don’t think it’s malicious, but it’s not great. Right. And I, you know, I was always pretty wary of that when I was a student. And if it started going that direction, I was like, Oh, no, hold on, like, what can we elevate the level here? I think the flip side of that is that, you know, for me as a teacher now, I get so bored teaching that kind of lesson. Like it’s just not interesting to me. And so I want it to be at that other level. But yeah, the reality is, it requires more from me. It takes a lot more of my mental engagement and energy and problem solving and all of this. But at the end of the day, like, without a doubt, the value that the student is getting out of that is so much higher, because I think, yes, I am getting better information to them. And I mean, right, like just about anybody you talked to will say that when they start teaching, it makes them a better player too. And I think that’s absolutely true. And I think part of it is because it forces you to go in and reconsider all of the stuff you’ve been doing and why. And if you get into a lesson mode, where it’s, you know, instead of just simple diagnostic stuff, but rather problem solving. It is forcing you to cover all of the terrain of your own experience and your playing and your philosophy and everything you’re doing. And really suss that out with the sort of why involved. It relates back to one of the things I talked about in the same blog post I referenced the no one gets there on their own is one of my litmus tests when I was choosing my teachers, which again, was this like, super cocky thing I got to do because I wasn’t fixed with any one school, like I wasn’t enrolled as a student, so I could kind of go and study with who I wanted to. And, you know, my process of figuring out like, is this a teacher I want to work with for the long time, you know, for a longer term, obviously, I want them to be interested in working with me. But beyond that, I would ask them questions during the lesson, which is like, you know, they’d show me something or they play something cool. And I’d be like, wow, oh, that was really neat. Like, why did you do that? or Why did you approach it that way? And the why question always goes to this place of like, interesting problem solving versus just basic diagnostics. If the response from the teacher was something like, Oh, well, because that’s just how it’s done, or well, that’s what my teacher told me to do. And I couldn’t get to the why. I was like, okay, cool. Fair enough. This is not going to be what I need or what interests me as a student and not the way I like to think about this, or music or anything. But that was a way to get to that kind of what I think is much higher quality, valuable information. And so that idea that like, just simply getting out the notepad provokes people into that way of like, Okay, I’m going to I’m going to give you more, I’m going to give you better, I think. And so I think I have to mention this other side of it, which is still this the resistance that people will have to being recorded during lessons. I think there is a place again, where I don’t think this is necessarily malicious. But people when people realize they’re on the record, they get scared, because they’re like, Oh, no, well wait, you’re actually gonna, you’re actually gonna write this down. Oh, no, I might be accountable for what I say. Right?
And the reality it’s like you always are, but it’s just the recorder makes it more concrete. And I think for some of the teachers that I’ve talked with about this, what they’re really saying is, oh crap, I don’t want the recorder to be on. Because I don’t want it to be a part of the record, if I say something really stupid, which, again, me sort of reading between the lines and trying to suss out what they’re saying is, I haven’t actually given that this much thought, right. I’ve been teaching a certain thing for a long time. And this is just what I do. But I’m not sure I’m able to, you know, justify it or provide a rationale, or something where I’m just not going to sound like an asset when I’m talking about it in the lesson. And, I understand that, and I get that fear. But I think again, from from a sort of like, perspective of ethical pedagogy, it’s like, well, suck it up and do better. What I mean like that, that just points to like, what you’re not giving your students that maybe you should be. And sort of the darkest side of this? I think there are. There are teachers out there. And I’m obviously not going to name any names here. But there are teachers out there where, you know, their teaching style might be. I’m not PC, not respectful, maybe bordering on, lewd, maybe bordering on wildly inappropriate. I think the number of stories we have now in the sort of post me too era about how those teacher student relationships in music can go incredibly badly. I think about what would have happened in those cases in the alternate reality, where all of those lessons were being recorded as a matter of institutional policy. I think it you know, there’s a lot of good reasons for doing this. And for proceeding with lessons this way. But I think there’s also this sort of like, almost prophylactic type of reason from an institutional level. And frankly, just from like individual like legal liability, where you should want this, like, as a teacher, you should want this record to exist to prove your innocence, like should anything ever go down in the future? So, yeah, I just I think there’s a whole lot of different ways that this can change the actual process of the lesson itself. You know, it makes me think of the the basic principle in quantum mechanics where like, you can’t observe the thing without changing it. So the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. I think that’s kind of true from a lesson perspective, but I think it’s advantageous and I think it’s, it’s a good thing that the, the measurement and the recording and everything changes the lesson in a overwhelmingly positive way.
It’s interesting because it seems to me at least in my head, it brings up a few things that some of which might be a little bit subtle, but maybe some of which are less so, and I think you would agree. In all fairness, I think there’s some teachers who are teaching so much, you know, 40 hours a week, maybe even 50 or 60 in some cases, that yeah, it can be exhausting, I imagine, like you said, to be in this intense sort of engaged problem solving mode, minute after minute after one student after another. And, and I wonder, too, if maybe it also, to some degree depends on the level of the student or where the student’s ata and what they need, because in terms of cultivating one’s ability to hear different things, and have a clear concept of what they want, and it might be that at some points, maybe the diagnostic approach and just kind of calling out, oh, did you notice you’re rushing or did you notice this was happening that was happening? Maybe that’s an important part of what they need to get into hopefully, as it’s happening in the recording process as they go back and listen, and so forth. But that was one thing that kind of occurred to me. On on the other hand, I really like this idea of if the student is Teacher engaged in the lesson in an extended problem solving process of? Well, let’s try this looks like No, that wasn’t quite it yet. What if you adjust this one little thing with that got us further away? What if you go back to this other thing you’re doing and you try this too, like, I would imagine that would give the student an opportunity to see their teachers problem solving process at work, which then perhaps could be generalized to their own problem solving process during the week. And well, maybe we’ll go there. There’s one other thing that came up too, but what are your thoughts about those sorts of aspects of this from the teachers behavior?
I think you’re right on. There’s a there’s a lot to unpack in there, I think. But yes, I think one of the things maybe we haven’t explicitly stated yet is that the kinds of things I was trying to learn from my teachers was not just replicating what they do, but learning their problem solving process. Right. And I should say that for me, the was a more comfortable, unfamiliar territory. Because in the sciences, this is often the relationship you try to cultivate with your advisor. If you’re if you’re like doing PhD research, like it doesn’t make sense to replicate what they did. That’s not what science is about. You have to go out and do something new, and do new experiments and new research. And you’re doing that under the guidance of somebody who knows how to think. And so what you’re trying to learn from them is, how do you think about this? How do you problem solve? And so, you know, for me, that’s kind of like, the gold standard of this teacher student relationship. And it was, it was, again, it was something I was familiar and comfortable with. translating into it, you know, music performance context, I realized that that is not the experience that a lot of instrumental musicians will have. But I do think that is ultimately what you’re trying to go for. Now, backing up from that for a second, to your point about you know, that sometimes Yeah, you just need the diagnostics. If you if You are not hearing it yourself or not. not aware yet. Yes. 100%. Right. That’s, that’s certainly true. But I sort of think about that the same way I think about, like learning the notes. You know what I mean? And like, I’ll have conversations with students sometime. You know, I actually, again, I’m not gonna name any names, but I just came from a masterclass where, like, a student got up there and played, and it was like, clearly unprepared like, clearly had not done any of the kind of homework before this class. And they weren’t really ready to do this at the level and they started playing and it was, it was obvious that he’s, like, barely Listen to this. And, and, you know, so that student was kind of trying to weasel out of it being like, yeah, you know, I, uh, yeah, I didn’t have a ton of time this week. But what I’m really interested in is like, what’s your process of learning a new excerpt? And I just kind of wanted to throw my sticks out and be like,
Oh my god, like, okay, I can talk about this but let’s be real, like timpani excerpts are not hard to play, right? There’s like, it’s like two notes a lot of the time, it’s like five and one. And it’s eighth notes and 16th notes like learning it is like the first point .2% of your experience with this material. Like, you learn the thing, you know, how it basically goes. And then everything after that is like, infinite levels of refinement. And, and so I sort of think about that the same way with like, the diagnostic approach, which is like, yes, early on. If you have not been recording yourself extensively, if you haven’t had a lot of teachers that work with you that set these expectations. There’s going to be this like break-in period where you’re like, Oh, yeah, crap, I didn’t realize that I was consistently sharp here or that I always play this one note with this bad tone or something. But then that’s gonna get pointed out to you. And then pretty much after that point, you’re like, responsible for the problem solving part now. And if it just continues being diagnostics after that, you’re still like living and dwelling in that first, you know, fractional percentage of the work that’s going to kind of like hamstring all of your future efforts. Because again, like all of this stuff is available to you. If you’re sitting there in the practice room and recording yourself, all it should take is one or two times if somebody’s pointing out, this is happening, then you listen back to that part of the transcript. You’re like, Oh, crap that’s happening. And then you listen back to your own practice in between in the 7, 14, 28 hours. And you’re like, yep, still happening.
So that’s another interesting thing that occurred to me too, because if you’re not recording, and the teacher points out, you’re rushing here, or this was sharp or whatever. It just happened. It’s in the past, you can’t reflect back and accurately hear what just happened five seconds ago. Whereas if it’s recorded, maybe you don’t hear it when you listen back the first time, but your teacher noticed that it was there, you trust them. And so you keep listening back to the recording, until you can hear the subtleties. Oh, yeah, you’re right. That note was a little bit early or that note is a little bit, the side or the other thing. So it seems almost like integrating recording into To not just your practice process, but the the lesson process would hopefully accelerate the process of cultivating your ability to pick up on tiny nuances in your own playing.
Undoubtedly. And actually, you know, so connecting this back to something that I think you and I talked about in the previous podcast, we can take this step further to say, I recorded my auditions, too. And I use that as a learning tool. And there was a, there was a lesson I learned from that just like a big picture lesson, which was that when I first started doing it, it revealed to me that my perception was diverging from reality in some really big uncomfortable ways. And the way I kind of quantified that was I would go in and I would play my round in prelims. And again, early on, I was getting cut all the time, just like what was happening. So I play the round, and I walk offstage and be carrying my stick case, I get back to the green room and the first thing I do is sit down and write in my little Practice journal, my chronological account of what I thought had just happened. And I was doing this. I mean this this points to some, like actual performance, psychology type ideas, but like I was doing this so that during the round as I was playing, I was trying not to think, just clear minded, executing awareness. So I was aware of what was going on, but I was not like inner monologue critiquing being like, oh god, oh, no, uh, it was just awareness. It was like, it was like, I had this almost little video audio camera in my brain that was just like buffering into this place. And the buffer was filling up and then I left the stage, went back to the green room, and then emptied the buffer into my journal. Like, what did I think just happened there? Okay, so now I’ve got this little chronological accounting. And later that afternoon, you know, after I’ve been cut or something, and I’m back in my hotel room, now I listen to my round. And I compare the reality of my transcripts that I’m writing now. fresh and new with this thing that I’m listening to. And I compare that to my initial written impression, and good God, like the first few times I was doing that it was really uncomfortable. Because I walked out of there thinking, what I just got cut. Come on, I played great. I thought that was awesome. And this went well as well. And then I heard the playback and I was like, oh, oh, no, oh, shoot, oh, jeez, this is not what I thought it was. But over time, and I mean, like, the course of maybe 12 or 18 months, and like a handful of times doing this, these things started to really converge. So that by the end of this, I got to the point where I was still recording the audition, just as a matter of practice, but I actually I probably didn’t need to, because my awareness was now so closely matching reality. But that kind of only came from that painful process of confronting what I thought it was. And dealing with that And the larger point with this, I think is that in micro that can and should be happening like in your daily practice all the time, as a result of that thing you identified, which is, you have that moment with your teacher. It comes and goes, and it’s gone. And now it’s in the past and it’s tough to reflect on that and problem solve, unless you can, unless you have a recorded thing to go back to in reference,
Which essentially, is another way of I think you’ve said, ensuring that your teachers guidance or your teachers, priorities for you at that moment in your development, continue on through the week with you instead of you kind of going off in some other direction and losing track of all the things that your teacher is trying to get you to work on.
So me being me, I’m going to make my requisite Star Wars reference now because in my mind, recording your lessons and generating this transcript is like enabling the Force ghosts, right? So like, lacking this, you’re never going to hear Obi Wan be like Luke, Degobah. Ah, and you’re never gonna hear Yoda being like, we are what We grew up, you know, like the whole thing, like, you’re not going to have that ongoing kind of wisdom or, you know, redirection in your efforts, it’s just going to be in the past and gone, and kind of relying on your memory, which is going to be incomplete and faulty. And so, in engaging in this process that in my blog post I just called deliberate lessons is sort of like activating the force ghost feature so that they can kind of still be with you. They with you, kind of continuously advising and guiding.
Yeah, there’s one other thing that I wondered, and I don’t know if you’ve had this experience or not, but in theory, I’m wondering, because in Zoom, we can’t hear all the details and a student’s playing nearly as well as we could in real life. It’s, I would imagine it’s more difficult to do that diagnostic process of what’s the sound quality really like over there and the person’s living room where they’re playing or, you know, maybe even pitching intonation and dynamics and all All these details have been sort of processed through zoom in such a way that we can’t really spend as much time perhaps on the nuances of what we would need them to be working on. But I wonder if the the problem solving process though, needn’t be as negatively impacted by the fact that people are working remotely? What do you think? Do you think it’s,
I think that’s true. I think I think that’s both true. And it also suggests some alternate ways of using this technology. So even pre COVID, I would do a lot of work with students around the world where they would record a sort of mock audition round with high quality mics in their studio or on a stage or something, upload that I would listen to it and then our online lesson time would be a conversation rehashing that thing that was enabling higher quality and enabling more nuance, right? So so that’s one way to kind of work around that. That being said, I mean, yeah, clearly one of the things that people are facing right now is access to facilities, right? So not only do people not necessarily have the ability to get in and play on the recital stage so they can hear what it sounds like in the room. And teachers can hear that and be like, wow, you know, it’s a really full sound, it’s getting to the back row, or, like, it’s a little bit kind of tepid, and like, you know, that kind of thing is really hard to work with right now. Um, to say nothing of the fact that like, you know, all of my students are like, I can’t even get to the timpani, I can’t get to timpani, right? My timpni are trapped at the MET. And like, I’m not able to play my instrument, and it’s sad. But I, what I do think that points to is that there is still the problem solving process and the thinking that can be like, Okay, well, for the time being, we can’t apply that type of thinking to these very nuanced variables, but we can still do it for all of this other stuff.
I’m thinking in my head of something like maybe there’s a passage where it just sounds a little bit sloppy because the coordination between the right and left hands isn’t quite where it needs to be. And so then the teacher could help with figuring out why that might be and what’s going on and what adjustments might need to be made technically. And so, I don’t know, I kind of enjoy that sort of problem solving. I mean, that’s when practicing became more fun for me when I started understanding deliberate practice. And then it is kind of a series of puzzles to be solved and solutions that are hiding there somewhere that I just need to discover, as opposed to just mindless repetition.
You know, it’s funny, because as you’re saying that it makes me think of one of the other things you you mentioned a few minutes ago, which was that, like, it’s totally a thing where teachers themselves can get heavily scheduled, verging on over committed, right. So so if you are juggling a performing job, like at the MET the New York Philharmonic or something like this, and you teach at Juilliard, or and or MSM or Mannes, Rutgers, you know, like, it is really totally possible to get a very full plate. And the way I’ve thought about that is, I mean one of the core messages of the entire deliberate practice framework is, quantity is important, but quality is more important. And it is more effective to spend two hours practicing really, really well than six hours practicing in an inefficient, unfocused way. And that at the end of the day, sort of the return on that investment, the dividends, you will reap, choose your metaphor like it is going to be way more effective in the long run, to prioritize quality and then build up quantity as much as you can. And from the student perspective, learning and scheduling and practicing your during the week and organizing your schedule. I think that reality is just pretty inarguable. I think from the teaching perspective, it equally holds which is to say Focus on quantity first. Right sorry, back up, delete. mixing up my words, focus on quality first. So this and this is again, I’m not I’m not perfect at this. But what I’m trying to do as a teacher is make sure that I can come to each lesson with as fully activated problem solving capacity as I can, being fully engaged and able to deliver maximum value to that student. And then I allow myself to schedule as many students in the week as I can, while still maintaining that level. But if that level starts to become too compromised, because I’m over scheduled, or we’re doing to Parsifals, and those are six hours long, and I need time to recover from that, then I’m gonna I’m gonna dial back my teaching load, because I would rather do fewer lessons, fewer lesson hours and maintain the quality level then let that suffer.
It makes me think of psychology practice where basically one therapy hour is generally 50 minutes, the idea being, in the 10 minute break, you’ll write up notes, you’ll do paperwork, and maybe you’ll get a chance to go to the bathroom. But the idea is to write the ideas to be able to take care of things so that you’re also going to be able to give yourself a little bit of a breather and be effective for the next session. And I don’t know if I mean, I don’t remember my teachers taking breaks, like I don’t know, when they ever ate lunch or went to the bathroom. I mean, it was, I was only concerned about my hour. Yeah, and I never really considered that they have to do this hour after hour and give every student their utmost attention. And that must be exhausting. And so it seems like it might be a nice way to enable teachers to, you know, give more of themselves for a shorter amount of time, instead of feeling like they need to fill up the entire hour because I don’t know the hour also seems a little bit arbitrary, perhaps in the same way that maybe a 40 Hour Workweek is sort of arbitrary,
I think. I think it’s up Write it is kind of arbitrary. I mean, and you know, just for what it’s worth, because with timpani, there’s so much like logistics and setup and everything, I’ve standardized on minimum two hour lessons, right. So we do two hour lessons for two weeks, just because that way, you’re wasting less overall time getting in and grabbing the gear and moving around and sending out you know, so it’s just like that, that’s one of the things I try to do for the students but, but again, like I’ll have students that fly in to take a lesson from somewhere halfway around the world. And in that case, for my own practice, I basically charge a flat lesson rate and I’m just like, we’re gonna go for as long as we both have energy because and, and that is a little variable. I mean, some some days it’s like two hours and 45 minutes. Other days, like if I’m well rested and the student is super sharp, and we’re having a good time. It will basically hit that biochemical limit of like for four and a half hours, and then we both get to a point where like, wow, we are spent Holy cow, okay. But yeah, it’s just all to the point you made that like the default unit of an hour. For a lesson is Yeah, pretty, pretty arbitrary. And I guess, you know, maybe maybe just kind of one other closing comments on all of this sort of summarizing everything we’ve we’ve just talked about and sort of the starting point of like, how I approach lessons the concept of a deliberate lesson and why, at the end of the day, what, what, what Erickson and I want to be measuring in this study we’re planning is retention, and trajectory, which is basically to say that what I experienced with my own students doing this is that they come into the next lesson. So fully prepared, and basically picking up where we left off. which then means this next lesson can be even more effective and get higher up the mountain. which then means that the lesson after that can go more of you know, it’s cumulative in building and exciting. There have been times times where, because of technical glitches or something happens, like, my student will be like, Oh no, my battery’s died and my thing and lost it. And what’s really funny then is it provides this almost like control group. So they come in the next lesson. And we’re working and I’m like, dude, what, what happened? Like, we’ve been over this, like, come on, and like, I get used to people being so responsive and retaining, right? And and then they’re like, Oh, no, don’t remember that was the lesson where my my thing died. And I wasn’t able to do the transcript. I was like, Oh, no, you’re right. Okay. I’m sorry. But the net effect of this is that like, in Group A, they’re they’re doing all this stuff. And my rough estimate is that when you don’t record a lesson, you retain 15 to 20% of what actually goes on in that lesson. When you do record, I think you get to retain 80 to 90% or more. And so the analogies are Actually the you know, the group that’s recording, they like hike a mile up the mountain, and maybe like, take a little wrong turn or backslide. But at the end of the day, they’ve basically gone like four fifths of a mile. And the control group that, you know, the thing broke, or they’re not recording to begin with, they like hike up the mountain, but then they take a wrong turn, and then they fall and then something happens. And then there’s a storm and they end up and they’re only like, a 15 mile in and then you come to the lesson the next week in there, and I’m like, cool. So did you get to this Mile Marker yet? And they’re like, now I’m still back here. And we’re like, okay, and, and that’s what I mean by the trajectory thing. And because I think at the end of the day like that, that is really such a defining aspect of what happens throughout our music performance. Really, really anything career is just like, you know, how, how far are you getting in a certain amount of time, we’re all dealing with linear time in the same quantity. And the people that tend to do well with this are the ones that are able to kind of maximize that growth in that fixed amount of time.
- I alluded to Robert Duke’s talk on effective learning at a Starling-Delay Symposium many years back (2:27). Here’s a link to some resources and videos on “smart” practice at his research lab’s website: Intelligent Music Practice
- Carol Dweck on growth vs. fixed mindsets @TED: The power of believing that you can improve
- Jason references an article he wrote (24:59) about becoming your own best teacher: No One Gets There on Their Own
Learn how to do deliberate practice at Jason’s upcoming workshop
Jason is teaching a 5-day online workshop at the end of the month, specifically devoted to the topic of deliberate practice, and how to apply this to your music practice. If you’ve been feeling a little stuck or uninspired in the practice room, this might be a great way to add a fresh perspective and liven things up a bit. It’s pay-what-you-can pricing, with proceeds going to Artist Relief and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can learn more about the workshop here:
On Anders Ericsson (1947-2020)
Philosopher and psychologist William James one wrote: “The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”
As Jason notes in his recent post honoring Ericsson’s influence on his life and career, Ericsson’s life’s work is unusual, in that it’s not typical for research to have such a clear, tangible, direct, and meaningful impact on the daily lives and experience of so many people. Yet from musicians to athletes to surgeons to computer programmers, Ericsson’s efforts to deepen our understanding of how to cultivate expertise have had a deep and lasting influence on the lives of countless learners, and will continue to do so for many decades to come.
If you’re interested in reading more about deliberate practice and want to do so through Ericsson’s own words, a good place to start is: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
And to listen to Ericsson talking about his work, here’s a podcast episode he did with James Altucher: 7 Secrets of Mastery