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.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning/Krueger Effect is one of 19 Social Biases (go HERE for a visual guide to many others), also known as superiority bias, the “Lake Woebegon” effect, or superiority bias. We’ve all met someone like this, and may even be like this ourselves if we don’t pay attention. As far as I can tell, it works like this: people who are less able (let’s say a beginning musician), don’t have the skills to make a correct assessment of their ability and tend to overrate their expertise. They think they’re better than they are because they lack the awareness to know any better. I’ve seen this all the time with very young students who finally “get” a simple song and are elated, full of vim and vigor because they think they’re good. And in a sense, they are, they’re better than they once were, they’ve triumphed over something difficult. But they lack the range of experience to clearly understand that they have a loooong way to go. Watch the tryouts for American Idol and you’ll see LOTS of this, some of it quite hilarious or heartbreaking, depending.

The weird thing is another side of the DK effect: those who are competent tend to underrate their expertise. The bashful expert, the sheepish performer, the self-deprecating. Chances are such folks wrongfully assume others have equal understanding and this bleeds them of confidence. They don’t really believe in their greater expertise perhaps also becasue of an awareness of how much there really is to know, and this also makes it difficult to build confidence.

Book Review: The Musician’s Way, by Gerald Klickstein

I’ve read (and re-read in many cases) most books out there on practice and this is one of the best, hands down. Klickstein is a classical guitarist who performs throughout the U.S. and internationally and is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

My favorite 2 aspects of the book are…

Born Stupid: Your Plastic Brain, III

I keep hammering away at the brain’s ability to re-wire itself because 1. It’s so darn fascinating, and 2. To combat the old saw that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which research is telling us is completely false. Here’s some more evidence of the lifelong plasticity of the brain. To anyone over 18 who is considering doing something new and unfamiliar, the following vid should be required watching.

Fail Better

In a previous post I spoke of the necessity of failure. I mentioned Buddha’s belief that the obstacle is the path, and when watching an interview with olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, I’m reminded of it again, but in a different way. Here’s the thing:

After the 1500 meter race in which he won bronze, thereby becoming the most decorated American winter olympic athlete, Ohno said something interesting in an interview after the race. He was clearly happy, but spoke about a little bobble near the end of the race, when the Canadian skater bumped him as they went around a turn and Ohno’s skate stuttered. What did Ohno say in the interview? Did he blame the dastardly Canadian for bumping him? No. He took full responsibility for the stumble and wondered (I’m paraphrasing), “If I hadn’t messed up there I might have placed better.” Ohno is giving a perfect positive example of what researchers have called attribution theory, or what I like to call, The Blame Game. Here’s how it works:

Time, time, time, is on your side (yes it is)

And I like messing around in the engine room of music. Seeing what happens in the rhythm section area. Bill Bruford


If you’re interested in playing music, you’ve gotta have rhythm. If you think you don’t “have it,” consider the words of Taylor, a teacher, djembe-player, and all around good guy. Taylor has students feel their heartbeats. It’s a rhythm we all have. But it’s an internal rhythm, and it’s part of an unconscious rhythmic ability we all receive when we receive a heartbeat from our parents. We may have trouble making that natural rhythm come out consciously under control. But that, too, can be practiced.

Hatian Relief

The tragic circumstances in Haiti need our attention. Give if you can. Because Evan Tobias is both eloquent and informed, and says it better than I would, I’ve provided the following image linked to his post on some musician’s response to sending Haitian relief : Thanks, Ev. Want to learn more about the best ways…

It IS about you…

Have you ever been out in the world, going somewhere, sure of the direction you’re headed when in a flash you realize that you’re actually headed in the opposite direction? It’s such an odd and sudden shift of perspective, as if the entire world suddenly snaps to a new orientation. But it’s not the world that shifts, it’s you. Every now and then I get that same feeling from something I read. It could be the first time I read a new author (Bradbury, O’Connor, Vonnegut), or some piece of research, like a study by Carol Dweck, the subject of this post.

Your Plastic Brain (redux)

Learning changes your brain structure. My neurons underwent some serious alteration this weekend, all naturally induced, thank you very much. One of the world’s foremost grand masters of the djembe, Mamady Keita (vid to follow), was in Chicago to give beginning-, intermediate-, and advanced drum workshops. I’ve never had a djembe lesson before. I signed up for the beginner session and would learn very quickly what “beginner” actually meant to this crowd. Good thing I didn’t know that Keita’s definition of “beginner” is most people’s definition of, “I know what I’m doing.” If I’d known this, my stomach would’ve been in even more of a knot about showing up with little to no real djembe experience. Nothing like a good challenge to get you to really pay attention.

Deaf Musicians?

It amazes me what some people have gone through in order to play music, and it makes me realize (once again) that the passion and drive to have music in one’s life is more powerful than more paltry things like knowledge of how to practice. One researcher whose name slips me at the moment, calls…

Book Review: The Music Lesson, by Victor Wooten

Ever heard of Victor Wooten? He’s a bass player best known for his amazing work with banjo master (yes, that’s right, banjo master) Bela Fleck. Wooten has written a book about music called “The Music Lesson,” but before we get to a review of the book, you may be wondering about Mr. Wooten’s credentials if you don’t know of him already. Watch beyond the first 50 seconds of the following vid and you might be amazed (you could well be amazed before that, too):

Question Limitations

Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities. – Terry Josephson …… The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse. -Helen Keller…