Learning how to learn

Musicians know how to learn.

In fact, this is a gift we musicians have given to ourselves. We have “learned how to learn.”

We can sit down with an unfamiliar piece of music and come up with a method of learning it. A flexible method, which can vary from musician-to-musician, song-to-song, and day-to-day. We can even learn entirely new musical styles and genres.

Amazing!!! (And not to be taken for granted.)

Knowing “how to learn” can help us in just about anything we set out to do. For instance, I personally want to lose a little weight. Over the last 2 years I’ve gradually gained about 10 unwanted pounds, and I even know exactly when it started: on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. I ate a little too much turkey and ice cream and got into the habit. So the weight started to creep up on me over time.

As a pianist, I know that the key to accomplishing something is to change habits at the same time as I look at the actual situation. Do I want to learn bebop? If so, then the first step is to simply listen to a lot of bebop to get the sound in my ears. If I start with transcriptions or exercises, I’ll probably burn out and fail. Or, my playing will sound mechanical and stiff. But if I start with a month of solid listening, I’ll become excited about learning the style and already have the sound in my ears so the exercises will flow better and come more naturally. Then I can work on playing bebop tunes.

I’m taking a similar approach to losing a little weight (and I’ve already spoken to my doctor about this). I began by simply taking a 30 minute walk on most days, to accustom my body to moving. At the same time, I started eating more fruits and vegetables, but without trying to eat less. Again, it’s about changing habits before attempting big change.

Next, I realized that if I simply consumed 100-200 less calories per day and exercised a bit more, the scales would tip and I’d begin losing weight. (Just like it does when we practice for 10 minutes more per day. That’s all it takes to begin tipping the scales in our favor!)

My personal goal is to lose 15 pounds in 15 weeks. I’ve put a chart up on the fridge and each Sunday morning I weigh myself and write it down. So far I’ve lost 3 lbs in 3 weeks so I’m right on schedule.

(This is just an example from my life, and please check with your doctor before doing anything with exercise or diet.)

But you see the point. Whether it’s building a treehouse, repairing a bicycle, or taking on a new project at work, the practicing skills we’ve learned as musicians can show us the way to accomplishing our goals.

Learning music teaches us how to learn. Be patient, persistent, and smart in how you learn. Begin by preparing the way, think it through ahead of time, gradually change habits, and have a plan that’s step-by-step yet flexible.

Above all, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”

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