Learning Music Like Learning Language: Victor Wooten

ABSOLUTELY! Victor Wooten speaks wisdom. Our approach to teaching music (often sight before sound) is backwards. Listen to Victor! Wooten’s book, The Music Lesson is pretty good, too. Like if Carlos Casteneda learned music from Don Juan instead of magic.

Want to Practice Better? Forget About “Natural” Ability.

One of the most important chapters in The Practice of Practice–chapter 6–has nothing to do with practice directly, it has to do with what you think about musical talent. Is musical ability “natural,” a gift of genetics? Is it something you’re born with? Something you either have or you don’t? Or is musical talent earned through exposure and effort? Your answer will have a profound impact on your practice: your motivation to practice, how you approach practice, whether you persist in the face of challenges, and how deeply you learn when you do practice.

The 10,000-hour Red Herring

You’ve all heard it by now: all the talk and focus on the 10,000 hour “rule,” from people like Malcolm Gladwell, and the researcher who originally published the study with the finding, Anders Ericsson, whose theories are not without opposition in the academic world. If you haven’t heard of this finding by researchers Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer yet, it goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert-level performance, whether it’s in sports, music, chess, or x-ray diagnostics. But the 10,000-hour rule is a red herring for several reasons.

First Video of A Thought in the Brain

I often post about brain-related issues and music practice. This video is more general than usual, but I present it to you because of its interesting uniqueness. The first video footage of a thought sparking through neurons (the video says it’s 3x normal speed). Details about the process here.

This made me think about a few things: How were those neurons and the connections “built” or grown? Is a firing of neurons really a thought? What is a thought?

Learn While You Sleep

There are some really interesting research projects coming out of the neuroscience lab at Northwestern University. A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post about a
study that shows we continue to learn after a study session if the stimulus continues while we’re doing something else. Pretty cool, right? But maybe you prefer to catch up on your sleep and continue learning.

The 300 Pound Gorilla in the Practice Room: Inattention

Throughout my career, if I have done anything, I have paid attention to every note and every word I sing – I respect the song. If I cannot project this to a listener, I fail. ~Frank Sinatra  Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the…

Quality v. Quantity

Some research shows that the amount of time doesn’t really matter, although it does matter a little since if you spend zero hours doing something, you’re not going to get better at all. But it turns out that the number of hours practiced doesn’t really matter, it’s all about the quality of your practice. What you do is important, but not how much you do. Duh, right?

This seems like a no-brainer issue, but researchers are notoriously skeptical about common-sense issues. We want to know for sure whether things are true. That’s one of the reasons behind a study by Duke, Simmons, & Cash (2009), titled It’s not how much; it’s how: Characteristics of practice behavior and retention of performance skills. These researchers had 17 graduate and advanced undergraduate piano players practice a 3-measure excerpt of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra (here’s a clip of Shostakovich himself playing part of it). Here’s the excerpt:

From the Top, With Feeling: Expressive Music Practice

Feeling is everything in music. Or very nearly so. No matter what kind of music we listen to, we know it when we hear it. It’s so important that most listeners can perceive the emotional content in just a 1 second slice of sound! What is it that makes a piece of music expressive? It’s the musician herself that does, of course. But how does one go about learning how to do that? How do you convey feeling through sound? It’s the same answer as just about anything having to do with musical skill: you practice! But what does that mean? How do musicians practice the expressive aspects of music? Well, it turns out there is a piece of 2009 research that chronicles how 18 classical musicians do it

When is Not-Practicing Practice?

A new piece of research shows that the “inherently unpleasant” idea about deliberate music practice may not be entirely true. In fact, we may continue to learn when we’re doing something completely different from that which we’re practicing.

Nap Your Way to Excellence

Set aside half an hour every day to do all your worrying; then take a nap during this period.

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.
~Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid: 43 BC – 18 AD)


Sleep is one of the key strategies the brain uses for learning. It’s called consolidation in the research literature. Basically put, your brain needs down time in order to process all that you’ve taken in during the day. Naps can perform the same function.