360 degree learning

I learned a new term the other day: “360 degree learning.”

Have you ever heard that? Until one of my students used it, I hadn’t. It’s a great expression!

“360 degree learning” means learning in a whole way. From all angles. Learning on different levels and in various ways, all at the same time.

Here’s the paradox:

Even with all the multitudes of instructional materials available today, most pianists learn in a very narrow way. Most instructional videos or written lessons are frontloaded with music theory, which is fine in some ways. But if that’s all we use, we’re actually learning in a very narrow way.

If this is all we do, we’re depriving ourselves of using our intuition in a direct manner. And even worse, we usually become so overwhelmed that we end up doing nothing whatsoever. I know pianists who have stared at the same shelf of piano method books for years! I call this phenomenon “Practice Paralysis.”

I was lucky when I first learned how to play rock and blues piano. The year was 1979 and I was 15 years old. My friends and I formed a rock band and we jammed for hours on easy songs like Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” Our sole original song, in fact, only had 2 chords. And we happily played that for hours!

This way fun and joyful, and gradually I included other ways of learning to get to the full 360 degrees. I took piano lessons from a wonderful local pianist named Dale Melikan, who “blew my mind” by showing me how to play both melody and chords with my right hand, to free up my left hand to play a variety of bass lines and accompaniment patterns. I learned jazz theory in bits and pieces from my bandmates’ older brothers, who were studying jazz in college. And I subscribed to the then-existent Contemporary Keyboard magazine, which in that pre-internet age was the premier source for interviews with pianists like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett.

360 degree learning.

It’s about using all your faculties and learning from various sources and in many different ways. All at the same time.

How do you do this for yourself?

Start by asking yourself how you’re currently learning. Whatever you’re doing, it’s probably a good start with 60 or perhaps 120-180 degrees of learning.

Then, complete the circle by learning from a different angle:

If you’re learning from videos, also start taking lessons from a great teacher. (As I found out when I began taking lessons as a teenager, the best thing about learning from a teacher is that they will introduce you to ways of playing you haven’t even imagined yet. To put it another way, the path to your next level isn’t what you imagine it to be. I found that out myself!)

If you enjoy practicing really difficult stuff, also put on a B.B. King blues recording and jam along.

If you like playing Elton John songs, Google “Elton John interview” and gain some insights into how he thinks about music.

360 degree learning. That’s the key to musical success and maximum enjoyment of your own piano playing.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”


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