Have you ever watched kids learn to ice skate? On the one hand, there’s the kid who slowly walks onto the ice and holds onto the railing for balance. When he feels ready, he gently lets go and tentatively slides an inch forward. Then he prudently checks his balance, and tried again, inching forward. Perhaps he takes some skating lessons. In short, he carefully (and safely!) proceeds step-by-step, and gradually becomes more skilled at staying upright. At some point it begins to come more naturally and he doesn’t have to ‘think’ about it so much. He successfully learns how to skate.
There’s another type of kid who takes the opposite approach. Even though it’s her first time skating, she zooms out onto the ice and promptly ‘wipes out!’ Undeterred, she gets up and repeats the process. Since she’s athletic, she knows how to land relatively safely and is having lots of fun. After an hour or so, she’s beginning to glide for short distances and learns to skate over the course of an afternoon.
I’ve seen both learning styles at my local skating rink. (Since I’m just learning as an adult, I’m taking the first path!)
Both styles are valid, but it’s interesting to see how they are coming from diametrically opposite directions. The first proceeds step-by-step, and learns one skill at a time. The second tries for the end result and fills in the details later.
Both of these learning styles can be applied to music. One musician goes through a method book, slowly and thoroughly, learning a new skill at each step of the way. Another musician has no patience for that. Instead, he prefers to only play pieces that he likes, even though they may be too difficult for him to learn perfectly at the time. No matter; he has an innate understanding of the piece, a good ear, and his technical ability will catch up ‘in due time.’
As in skating, both paths eventually lead to the same destination. But with music, there will come a point when each musician will have to embrace the other way of learning. To get beyond a certain level, the careful learner will want to just ‘go for it,’ and the ‘big picture’ learner will need to fill in the gaps in their technique and knowledge. When teaching piano, I try to help the student work on both levels at once.
Which style of learner are you? Leave a comment if you like and we’ll compare notes.
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