View Full Version : Neuroplasticity and Adult Students

John Ritchhart
Aug-11-2005, 1:54pm
I am interested in the opinions of those of you who teach music as to the relative differences in uptake or learning curves in music learning abilities of adult students verses children. I know that Niles H. for example, has been evaluating various teaching techniques for years. I have read recently of the in-roads being made in OCD patients by focused attention to utilizing alternative neural pathways to reduce compulsive behaviors and unwanted thoughts.(urges)Studies of brain cMRI's have shown the individual's ability to calm or energize brain pathways through conscious will. As far as music learning is concerned, I am intrigued by a University of Indiana study that attempted to correlate early promise or talent (prodigy) in very young children with subsequent levels of music proficiency after 15 years of music training. This study looked at some 240 violinists from the Academy of Music in Berlin and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and divided these professional musicians into three groups based on proficiency. Group 1 were first chair, virtuoso soloists. The second group were highly proficient second chair professional performers/orchestra members. And the third group were professional (no dig intended here) music teachers who didn't perform. The study showed that there was no correlation between early promise and subsequent musical proficiency in the three groups. All groups contained what had been considered child prodigies and all had people who had not shown exceptional promise as children. The one correlation that was found within each group was practice hours. The first group of exceptional musicians had practiced on average over 10,000 hours between the ages of 5 and 20 or 15 years. This is an average of two hours practice every day for fifteen years! The second group, 8000 hours, 1.5 hrs average daily practice. The third group, 5000 hours or one hour every day for fifteen years. So the question is .... If neuroplasticity continues into adulthood and practice hours is the defining difference in proficiency levels, can a Geezer, properly motivated and dedicated, reach a professional level given enough time, even without music training as a child? I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks.

Aug-11-2005, 3:44pm
All I know is I'm 52 and have practiced 3-4 hours a day on average for the last two years and feel I'm still just barely scratching the surface, the more ya learn the more you find there is to learn! As for the "professional level" I suppose that'd be possible if the individual is driven to do so.

Aug-11-2005, 4:29pm
I'm also 52, practice 3-4 hours daily and know that in 15 years, I'll be too old to become a professional musician.

I'll be lucky if my fingers move fast enough to play 3/4 waltzes!!! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Aug-11-2005, 4:35pm
Your Dudeness, Where would you be if you kept this up for 8 - 10 years? Maybe we'd be seeing one of your cd's high-lighted here in the hallowed pages of the Cafe. I try to play everyday but sometimes it's only for 30-45 min. which may mean working on only one tune. That means I neglecting scales, right-hand exercises, the Bach and choro pieces I want to learn, etc. I think time spent/mileage on the instrument is the key. When I am able to practice for 2 hours or more, that's when new discoveries and deeper understanding take place, and thus, new levels are reached.

Aug-11-2005, 4:36pm

Neuroplasticity is a concept that explains (sort of) the ability of the brain to adapt to various conditions but it is usually thought of as a facility of the young brain and the earlier the better. Most clinicians think that the brain continues to grow until the early 20's, has a 20 (or so) year peak functioning period and then slowly declines. What saves a lot of people is the continuation of the same things that influence the brain causing it to develop more pathways; things like reading, crosswords, and using the brain to capacity in other ways (playing an instrument from childhood for example.)

There is a fascinating study being done on several groups of nuns (called the "Nun Study") in which their brains are studied after they die. These sisters have well known medical and intellectual histories making them ideal candidates for the study. So far what they have found is that those women who were teachers and who read and taught were more protected from the ravages of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia than the ones whose service was more mundane. The thought is that they developed these alternative pathways early on and they helped deal with the dementias.

Other studies have shown that math prodigies seem to peak at the same time as the brain peaks while artists seem to get better as time goes on. Artistic achievement is probably as much as function of sweat as it is talent while math and other fields dependent on genius level insight are more talent dependent. It seems that the brain does not have the seminal insights much past thirty in these cases.

If you look at any field where talent is only the entree' you will find that the most talented person prevails only if he or she is also the most prepared person. Think Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods (and Vijay Singh for that matter) each was a prodigy but each one is/was the hardest working athlete in his field and set the standard for the rest.

Hard work pays off, but if you put in the mega hours and don't have the talent you better be watching your rear if you are in a competitive field. Think of trying for one major mandolin position and the competition includes Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, and (insert favorite mandolin player)and then you. It is a cruel world out there.

As for how well adults can learn an instrument cold turkey, probably not very well unless very talented. Adults don't like to put up with the learning curve as well as children because part of being an adult is knowing the consequenses and being able to say "no" to an unpleasant or potentially unpleasant situation. I think that if you are going to teach adults you have to make it fun and make sure that the social aspect of learning is there at all times. Even the most talented adult has choices where children often take in music education as part of the package of being a child.

Michael H Geimer
Aug-11-2005, 4:38pm
I'm not surprised to find that a formal study contradicts the common idea that people are 'born with talent'. I have always felt the the line "I just don't have enough talent ever to be as good as so-n-so " falls flat.

At the end of the race the tortoise has covered as much ground as the hare. Rate of progress does not limit progress.

The Path of Music is just a lot longer than most people realize upon starting this journey, and it takes a whole lot of time/effort/practice to make headway.

Then once you do feel like you've rounded some corner, or crested that big hill ... there in front of you is the next bend, or the next hill.

Such is Life.

Aug-11-2005, 5:03pm
I don't think that the formal study " contradicts the common idea that people are 'born with talent'" it just seems to be saying that those artists who work hard get ahead more than those who don't. Early prodigies often fail for a variety of reasons not related to their talent and parents of such children have to be aware of how much influence they might have on both the success and failure of these gifted children. Besides for every orchestral job there are thousands of superbly trained violinists out there. Going to school for music is does not get you a job but you have to have the training to knock on the door.

The fact is that if you want to be a star in very competitive fields you have to start out as a child in order to have both the work experience and the technique needed to be the best. On occasion there is a fabulously talented person who can succeed but the norm is around 15 years of training before one is at the elite level in any endeavour. If you look at Olympic champions in almost any sport you will see that this is true. (There will be exceptions, there always are, but the general trend is that Olympic athletes have been in training since a young age.)

I should point out that while this study is interesting, it does not address the more casual world of the mandolin cafe. Most of us will never be a world class professional mandolinist (whatever that is) and most of us play because we like it and we tend to be manolin nerds. Hence we talk about every aspect of this fascinating subject, we practice as much as we can because we derive pleasure from it, and we make the mandolin world go around. We also buy a lot of CD's and know who the most talented and interesting mandolin gods are.

Talent helps, a lot in some cases, but it is not the thing that drives most of us. Pleasure and internal standards do that.

Aug-12-2005, 7:16am
Thanks Mikeyes - I'm intetested in all of this, and completely agree with you, which is pretty unusual when discussing such an interesting topic....

I think another point worth adding is that there is only one world champion 100m runner etc, this will require years of training and talent.

There are a largish handful of people that most members of this board would agree are the worlds best mandolin players (although this is obviously a pretty subjective list..), to get to this level takes a large amount of talent and practice - at a young age. The vast majority of us will not reach this level as we simply do not have enough time/talent.

However, there are a far larger number of competent mandolin players who's individual experience of music and influences are unique, and therefore have their own unique style. There are lots of people in this group and I think that many players are, or can aspire to be like this (including people who start playing as adults, although I think it is more difficult the later you start). I think that developing your own style is a worthy goal...

Aug-12-2005, 7:31am
I agree with Mikeyes - the study doesn't contradict the concept of being born with talent. #It just says that talent alone isn't enough to guarantee success.

I don't think that there is any doubt that if two players are given a new song to learn that it will take a different amount of time for them to learn to play it at speed. #That difference in the time it takes to learn, that aptitude is the essence of talent. #It doesn't mean that the slower learning player can't play better than the faster learner. #That will depend on how much effort each puts into it.

I think Benignus' point about has some validity. #A lot of people see that others learn quicker and aren't willing to put the extra effort. #If you think you don't have enough talent what you might be saying is that you aren't willing to do the work. #

I know that my skill level is limited and will always be limited. #However, that is mostly because when I look at all the things that are competing for my free time, I know that the mandolin isn't going to get more time than some of my other hobbies.

Aug-12-2005, 7:48am
I'm not a music teacher, but...

I had a conversation with a music teacher on this very topic once (although for the life of me I can't remember who it was). Don't recall the word neurospasmicity coming up, but I said somethin about people not being able to do as well if they were learning an instrument for the first time as an adult. Unknown teacher said he/she would rather teach adults any day and that they generally do better than kids. The reason being that the adults are much more likely to be self-motivated and actually put in some time practicing.

Yet more evidence that hard-work is a bigger factor than talent or age.

John Craton
Aug-12-2005, 9:47am
I can only provide anecdotal evidence from my own studio, but my experience has been just the opposite of that described by picksnbits. I have found that adult students come in two basic varieties: those with some previous knowledge of music and those coming with a clean slate. As would be expected, those with some musical training tend to do much better than those learning everything fresh, but both groups generally do not advance as well or as rapidly as my younger students.

The adult with no musical training tends not to have acquired the "wiring" necessary for the fine-motor skills required for playing an instrument. This doesn't mean they can't learn them, but the progress often is very slow and, for them, frustrating, leading all too frequently to their abandoing their quest. I always lecture prospective adults carefully about not having unrealistic expectations while at the same time assuring them that with diligence and hard work they can nevertheless learn to play well. Intellectually they seem to grasp the idea, but somehow deep inside they seem to think that because they're adults they should learn things much quicker.

My best adult student was an accomplished oboist who came to me for violin lessons. Within a year or so she was playing one of the Vivaldi concertos. Sadly, though, she was the exception rather than the rule. She already had the motor skills, and she'd long ago formed the habit of discipline it takes to practice effectively. Coming to music without this background, most adults have difficulty adjusting their schedules to engage in consistent practice habits.

Let's face it, adults have far more responsibilities that impinge on their time than children do. And there's no one to make them practice other than themselves. Looking back, the majority of my adult students stopped lessons after about six months; the longest I think I ever had an adult study with me was maybe a year and a half. This shouldn't be seen as a lack of dedication but simply a result of the realities of life that take up so much of our "grown up" time. They have jobs, homes, children, grad school, and a dozen other things already demanding their attention. It takes a special person to readjust practically everything in their life to devote the necessary time to learning an instrument, especially if these habits are totally new to them.

This, of course, doesn't include the adult who has played their instrument for years and comes to you simply to advance their technique. I'm talking here about people who are learning the instrument for the first time, whether they are proficient on another instrument or not.

These are my experiences, but I don't know what all they mean in the long run of things. I am very patient with all my students, and particularly with adults; but the adults always seem to grow discouraged that they're not able to play the Mendelssohn concerto within the first year. It just doesn't happen. And on one level I think they know that, but it still makes them frustrated when six months into lessons they're still struggling with simple pieces in G Major. I may tell them they're making good progress, but somehow their own expectations have been set too high.

Aug-12-2005, 9:53am
There are about 3 or 4 areas which have been touched on.

Inborn talent: Some people are born with the hard-wiring that makes doing things much more natural and easy for them. There are some amazing musical savants who are otherwise quite limited mentally...(ie. Rainman types). But some "normal" people have the genetic hard-wiring which gives them the potentiality to become monster players (or athlethes, or....) if they develop it. You could have a vein of gold under your property, but unless you dig down and mine and extract it, you won't be wealthy.

Most folks don't have exceptional "hardware" for music. And there's probably a small number who's musical hardware is absent or minimal - the other end of the bell curve from the savants. But, what's there can be developed. Training and study = software. #If one has less hardware, then it probably means more software is needed to get to the same point as someone who is better wired to begin with.

However there's a multiplicity of things involved with musical talent and the balance of these abilities also come into play. It's just not about wiggling the fingers real fast. There is fine muscle control of individual hands and the coordination between the two, but there is also the ability to remember sonic information, the connection between mental audio memory and the hands, ability to manipulate theoretical concepts (which can allow one to train the ear and the hands in a more efficient manner), creativity, visual oriented processing skills (reading notation/tab) etc. etc. #All these things are going to combine in various ways/ratios in each person, yielding a huge variety of results.

The sooner (in musical development) one works on developing all these aspects, the better. Often, the area of more natural ability takes over (because it produces faster results more easily) and the other areas are neglected. So a digital technician who has focused mostly on the hands may end up with a case of digital diarhea. Great - you can type 150 wpm, but don't really have anything to say! It's better to develop all the different areas and get them hooked together so synergy begins to happen. It may be slower at first this way, but the long term progress will be much greater.

The better a player one becomes, the more and more it becomes about the mental aspects.

Mental re-wiring is not limited to youth; all the newer science says it is a continual lifelong process. And it doesn't have to be a random or by osmosis process; one can be pro-active about re-programming yourself. And you can actually feel it when you've been really stretching your limits.

But a lot of people don't want to hear anything about it, they just want the "dozen hot licks to go and a large coke".

Niles Hokkanen
<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>Rhythm Mandolin Boot Camp (http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/4h/holiday/mandolinbuilding.html), Oct 23-26, Holiday Lake 4-H Center, Appomattox, VA
Mandocrucian catalog (http://www.btinternet.com/~john.baldry/mando/hokkanen.html)</span>

Brad Weiss
Aug-12-2005, 9:58am
I think the results of the U of Indiana study are intetresting and make the central point- practice hours are indispensable. More generally, I think the point has to be made that neuroplasticity, while not completely irrelevant, is kind of a red herring. #The fact is, nobody plays any instrument with their brain, and your body is not simply a tool at the disposal of your neural command center. If it were, anyone who could whistle Bach Partitias with pitch perfect efficiency and tempo would be a performing genius. Practice -and performing anything, for that matter - is an embodied activity, and your body configures your neuronal pathways just as surely as your mind knows the music.

Now, this does NOT mean that 40 year olds like I was when I took up the mando can be first chair mandolinists by practicing 2 hours a day for 15 years - it just complicates the question to point out that older new learners confront their new tasks with a panoply of embodied techniques - i.e., habits- that need to be unlearned/relearned, while younger bodies are less fixed in their routines. # "Talent" is really impossible to gauge in anyway APART from the actual performance of some activity- so to say Thile had oodles of talent as a child prodigy, while in some ways an incontestable claim, is also not very interesting- the fact is he, he revealed that talent by playing music for oodles of hours at a very young age. I think he had an interest and a committment to playing at a young age that is unusual, but it's hard to say more about his talent OUTSIDE of that concrete context of early committement, practice, performance.

So. Yes, I think it's harder for older learners to get as good as quickly as younger ones -I think talent isn't the issue, and I think neuroplasticity- and neuroscience more broadly - amounts to a kind of biological reduction fo something a good deal more complex. Play a lot, play consistently, start sooner than later.

John Craton
Aug-12-2005, 10:04am
I think the results of the U of Indiana study
As a graduate of this fine institution, I feel compelled to make a minor correction. The school is actually Indiana University, not the University of Indiana. It's a common mistake, but one we don't take lightly http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Aug-12-2005, 10:22am

I'm thinking our statements probably aren't as contradictory as they seem. My "unknown teacher" was probably a neighborhood piano teacher type. They would be dealing with kids whose parents are making them take lessons and adults who are just thrilled to learn Chopsticks.

Sounds like you're younger students are more cream of the crop and your adults have their sights set a bit high.

So, self-motivated adults with low expectations do better than dis-interested kids, but adults who take up an instrument late in life with high expectations will likely be dissapointed. Talented kids who get an early start with a good instructor kick everyone's butt.

Brad Weiss
Aug-12-2005, 10:58am
I think the results of the U of Indiana study
As a graduate of this fine institution, I feel compelled to make a minor correction. The school is actually Indiana University, not the University of Indiana. It's a common mistake, but one we don't take lightly #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
A thousand apologies! I have the same problem, teaching here at William & Mary University- #Errr, umm, the COLLEGE of William & Mary.

John Ritchhart
Aug-12-2005, 11:24am
I too apologise Operaguy. I have several friends who went to "THE Ohio State University" so I know the pitfalls of misnaming various Alma Mater. This is a great conversation so far on beliefs around learning and abilities. Thanks Niles for your insight, having attended one bootcamp myself, I know how earnest and dedicated you are to understanding mental and motor activities and their relationship to each other. The Indiana University Study doesn't clear up one thing for me though. These musicians all started as children and therefore the statistical sample doesn't include professional musicians who started training as adults. Are there any? Does anyone know someone who started in their twenties for example and is now making a living playing music?

Aug-12-2005, 12:21pm
I'm still of a mind that how far and how fast the music takes an individual is based heavily on that individual's personal desire or goals. Set your goals too high when the drive just isn't really there and they'll get discouraged, reasonable goals with a deep desire and a lifetime of enjoymet is in store. All depends how you approach it, you tryin' to be like someone else or just lookin' to do the best that you can do? "Professional level" can be pretty subjective.

Michael H Geimer
Aug-12-2005, 12:43pm
" Does anyone know someone who started in their twenties for example and is now making a living playing music? "

I once heard that Alan Holdsworth started playing guitar at 19yrs. Anyone confirm that?

My key point above was only that non-players do not often appreciate the amount of effort that goes into being a musician, and the end result (a good song or performance) is often credited to 'talent' rather to effort.

e.g. Folks have praised some of my recording efforts, but rarely take me seriously when I point out I've thrown away a thousand takes over a long, sleepless weekend. That's not talent ... that's caffeine! ( and how good could I be I that I need to throw away so many bloopers in order to create something presentable? )

IMHO - Starting young is only important if you want to 'arrive' before you're 30yrs. old ... but when does that really matter? What's to stop Duuuude from practing everyday and going Pro at 60? (he's on his way, I can tell you that)

My friend Billy is still churing out creative work, and improving his skills at age 63.

But, realistically ... adult student probably aren't in pursuit of a muscial career (and good for them). So perhaps what we think of as limited learning ability in adults could more accurately be descibed as a difference in Life Goals between Youth and Adulthood.

e.g. Music is still a high priority in my life. I am still advancing personally, but I also do not have a wife, do not have kids, do not have pets, etc. These are choices I have made as result of keeping music at the top of the list (IMO family outranks music, so I've side-stepped that conflict by being an uncle rather than a parent)

If I were to add on a Mortgage, Kids, Pets, Cars, Family Vacation etc., to my current life, then clearly my music could not evolve at the same pace.

But someone with a fanily could certainly 'get there' in time through daily practice, and by accepting that the progress will be slower ... not neccessarily poorer!

I think we create our own limitations by externalizing the source of 'talent', or thinking that it somehow 'dies' after age 30. (uhhhh ... I think it will die if you stop using it)

- Benig

John Craton
Aug-12-2005, 1:13pm
The school is actually Indiana University, not the University of Indiana. It's a common mistake, but one we don't take lightly #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
A thousand apologies!
Apologies really aren't necessary. Though my wife and I both got our graduate degrees there, she's still a big Purdue fan and I, having grown up with the SEC, don't get much excited by the Big 10. I have sons at both Purdue and IU at the moment, so one learns to have a tough skin #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

This has been a very good discussion, BTW, and any points one can offer to provide better instruction -- especially for the "late bloomers" -- are more than welcome.

Aug-12-2005, 1:49pm

I learned a long time ago that the best way to tweak an IU grad was to call it the University of Indiana, you guys are soooo sensitive, but that's why you are so good http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

It is true that the brain continues to develop pathways in adulthood. It used to be thought that there was no new neuronal growth after age 25 or so, but PET and other functional studies have shown that concept to be false. What does not happen is wholesale changes which are common in youngsters. The type of pathways that continue to grow are often set by what happened as a youth, in other words if you learn to play the violin as a child and then there is a hiatus of 25 years, you will probably relearn faster than someone who never took up the instrument.

As far as talent goes, one of my collegues is a world expert on savants and he points out that their brains are very different from non-savants but that savants may represent "pure" talent in the sense that they never get better once the savant developshis or her specialty. Most savants require only exposure to the problem (e.g. calculation, music, memory, drawing, etc.) and then they seem to have it mastered very quickly. But they rarely go beyond that talent. There are savants who are not mentally challenged and a case can be made for photographic memories and "perfect" or absolute pitch which are talents that don't go away and often become annoyances. These savants are able to use the talent and develop skills from it. In a practical sense talent is the ability to do some complex physical or mental task or set of tasks and is usually a baseline that can be improved with technique and practice unless you don't have the capability to improve. Very talented people often don't evolve beyond their baseline because they don't have to unless they are in a very competitive field not because they are unable to.

I write a mental training column for Shotgun Sports Magazine (http://www.shotgunsportsmagazine.com/mental_training/mental_training.html) and the subject of talent comes up all the time. If you are at a 50% talent level shooter (you hit half of the targets the first time you shoot skeet, for example) you can improve to 100% with hard work and technical training. If you are a 98% shooter, you may get to the 100% level without having to learn to shoot in an efficient manner but you may have problems when you are involved in a high stress match situation because you are more vulnerable to that kind of stress. Performance and talent are not the same thing and that may be a whole different topic.

It seems that most of us on the cafe started out with at least a 50% level of musical talent on the mandolin (this is a WAG) if we have lasted this long and most of us are not in it for performance but more for the joy and sense of satisfaction playing the mandolin brings. Of course most of us are also perfectionists when it comes to our music so we always want to improve. So we keep plugging away no matter what the scientists say. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Aug-13-2005, 8:44pm
I took up mandolin at the age 27 and i'm still at it three years later. Sometimes I feel like i've made huge progress and other times I feel like a struggling beginner
who will never achieve even competance, let alone be "good."

I keep playing though and even if I never get any better than I am now, I'll keep playing.

I used to get really discouraged when I first started when i'd hear people say things like "most adults never get any better than they are 6 months to a year into playing."

I ran across plenty of people who seem to think if you can't be one of the best, it isn't worth playing at all.

I still get depressed once in awhile when I see someone who has been playing less time than I have seem to play so much better, but I try not to compare myself to others too much and enjoy what I have accomplished.

I think if you put in the time and effort and keep at it, you can continue to improve for as long as you keep doing it.

I don't have any aspirations of turning pro. I have a job I like most of the time and I have other things I want to do with my life other than play music. I don't have the drive, time or dedication it would take to be a pro. So whether or not I have the talent is really a non factor for me http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

John Flynn
Aug-13-2005, 8:55pm
can a Geezer, properly motivated and dedicated, reach a professional level given enough time, even without music training as a child
I read in a magazine article that activities like playing a musical instrument have been shown to have a positive effect on preventing altzheimer's disease and other mental challenges of aging. It is also obvious that enjoying playing music can reduce stress and improve the quality of life. So how commercially successful an older person can be at music may not be the important question. The important question may be how can music make an older person more successful at living life.

Aug-13-2005, 10:44pm
Mando Johnny: Posted: Aug. 13 2005, 21:55

I read in a magazine article that activities like playing a musical instrument have been shown to have a positive effect on preventing altzheimer's disease and other mental challenges of aging.

But will it restore all the brain cells I killed drinking large quantities of #beer and doing tequila shooters?

Aug-14-2005, 12:03am
I once heard that Alan Holdsworth started playing guitar at 19yrs. Anyone confirm that?

In 1973 I got my first Holdsworth LP. It was the Tempest album with Jon Hiseman, John Clark, Paul Williams, and was an import pressed in 1972. At that time I had heard he was playing for 4 years, meaning, if that is true, he started guitar in 1968. Born August 6, 1948, that would make him between 19 and 20 when he first picked up a guitar.

I still have the vinyl, but the Tempest album is available on CD. If you haven't heard it, you should. This is a good demonstration what one can accomplish in 4 years when you are in your prime, all synapses firing.

But will it restore all the brain cells I killed drinking large quantities of beer and doing tequila shooters?
It's pretty clear Allan Holdsworth very much likes his ale, and I would say he's pretty productive in spite of that.

John Bertotti
Aug-14-2005, 7:58am
Just a quick note. I have realized that playing 2,3 4, or more hours at a time isn't bad as long as I'm not making a lot of mistakes. I have made more progress by taking the newer stuff in short well practiced bursts. 15 to 20 minutes here and there. A quick scale during the 5 minute commercials. I still sit and play hours on end but when I hit a snag I'll switch to something else for awhile. I will actually stop playing if I'm just of and nothing is going well. I think this is very important for the newer people. You don't want to reenforce the bad technique with repetition. My take on it, John

John Flynn
Aug-14-2005, 8:04am
But will it restore all the brain cells I killed drinking large quantities of beer and doing tequila shooters?
You be the judge:

John Ritchhart
Aug-14-2005, 9:15am
Thanks, John Bertotti. I think those are good insights. I have about thirty five tunes I'm playing regularly but at different speeds relative to Tef file tempos. Do you think I should continue working on these until they are all clean at speed or should I be learning a new tune at all times? The subtitle of this topic is brain re-wiring, but I think in the case of Frank Wakefield we're just talking "WIRED!".

Aug-14-2005, 12:20pm
There's "wired" and "re-wired", but then, there is also "scrambled"!http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

The neural plasticity thing is all about brain's ability to modify itself and shift its configurations. When you learn a new skill, you are installing new wiring, which maybe suppose means that you are re-wiring your brain (overall). But I don't think it's as much about tearing out old pathways and replacing them with something different, as it is about putting in additional wiring.

So, in learning (just about anything) if you put in the most efficient wiring plan for the project from the early, if not earliest stages, you'll be ahead over the long term. Everyone knows how much of a hassle it is to get rid of bad habits and learn to do it the ergonomically efficient way; it's a whole lot more work overall than get it right the first time around.

So total hours practiced isn't the whole story. If you put in lots of time doing it all wrong and ingraining bad habits, maybe you've stood still in regards to the big picture! With "death grip", and mechanical hurdles, it can be fairly obvious because one can actually see those. But how is it really any different with the mental processes? You could have five different circuits which are haphazardly wired, are of different voltages and can't function with each other and the interactivity is limited if not minimal.

However, there are a lot of folks who who will reject, or tune out, any advice about how to streamline the mental aspects and interconnectivity of the hand/ear/mind. And then they'll complain that they weren't getting instruction 'cos you didn't show them the six flashy trash licks for their fast-food instant gratification wants. I mean if that's the attitude, why bother sit through the first hour (exposition) of a movie, or read the first half of a mystery? #Just go directly to the end for the synopsis/solution. (Yeah, Darth Vader is Luke's father. and, the butler did it.)

So it's better (imo) to put in the best wiring (from which additional circuits can be added) from the outset, than to have to go back and re-wire the fine work of Moe, Larry and Curley.

Also, one thing to remember is that everything feeds into something else or, everything overlaps. So there's no reason not to keep adding new tunes as long you you don't get so overloaded that you start losing retention.

Niles Hokkanen
<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>Rhythm Mandolin Boot Camp (http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/4h/holiday/mandolinbuilding.html), Oct 23-26
Mandocrucian catalog (http://www.btinternet.com/~john.baldry/mando/hokkanen.html)</span>

Aug-14-2005, 2:44pm
Niles -

Indulge me while I explore that 'wiring' analogy a bit further - There might be certain wiring basics that should be implemented to provide a good foundation for the 'project', as you said. So I think you have to identify early on what kind of project you are wiring for.

Can you describe in a little more detail what the 'efficient wiring plan' looks like, and when exactly the study of that basic wiring ceases to serve the player, or worse, actually hinders the player?

I can't think of any basic wiring that suited students who eventually became Hendrix, Clapton, or Holdsworth. Also, I saw a matchup between 3 violinists once, and the classical star was completely ill-equipped for jazz and bluegrass, as were the jazz and bluegrass stars for classical.

So it looks like bad habits, except in the most rudimentary sense, are genre-dependent, or maybe even very, very subjective. What do you think?

John Craton
Aug-14-2005, 3:30pm
Niles makes some very valid points. Again to cite my purely anecdotal observations, I recall one student I had (not an adult but a high school student) who came to me after several years with other teachers. If it were a matter of practice hours only, this young lass should have been playing rings around everyone else her age. She consistently practiced 2-4 hours daily and desperately wanted to become a professional musician. But whether it was because her neural pathways simply weren't cut out for it or because (as I suspect) she'd learned bad technique early on, no amount of practice seemed to improve her potential. It was most disheartening, especially for me, as she simply never progressed much beyond where she was when she first came to me.

As a follow-up to her story (and a good segue into one of groveland's points), this young girl was forced out of music after an auto accident in which she suffered a severe injury to her arm. Tragic as that was, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as she reoriented her career goals to linguistics, for which she had a tremendous talent. Already bilingual in high school (French and English), she since has become fluent in Danish and Chinese and is doing exceptionally well in her new field -- and is quite happy.

And that leads me to the language/music connection, if indeed there is one. We know that the critical learning age for language is from birth to around age 12. If a child learns a language during this time frame, chances are very good that they can speak it without an accent. One certainly can learn a second language after this period, but the difficulty in doing so is increased exponentially, and they will almost always have at least a mild accent. That seems to correspond with my experience in teaching music as well. Those who learn to play and interpret music at an early age almost invariably play with more musicality than those who come late to the picture. But as with language, if a child is bilingual before turning 12 they can learn a third or fourth language at a later age with much greater ease than their monoglot colleagues. This too seems to carry over to music as it's far easier for a student who has played at least one instrument from childhood to learn another later in life. I would suspect that this is because, as with language, those "circuits" have been established to allow for new pathways.

Now the question comes as to whether different genres in music (classical, jazz, bluegrass) represent different musical "languages." It seems to me that there may be something to that. I was trained classically, and while I can play the notes to jazz or bluegrass music, I have never developed a real "feel" for the music and am quite lost when attempting it. Could not this be related to the same thing? Or is it simply that I've not put forth enough effort through lack of desire to try these other genres? After all, most classically trained musicians can play Bach and Bartok with the same relative ease despite the significant differences in style of playing, so shouldn't we be able to expand that to include different genres as well? I believe most of us could, because we've already developed this ability to acquire new "languages" of music. But the fact appears to be that these are actually different languages of expression.

Or am I just so bored this lazy Sunday afternoon that I have nothing else to occupy my brain? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Aug-14-2005, 4:25pm
There's hardware and there's software. #Perhaps I should be using the term "programming" rather than "wiring". #The analogy could be that of a computer and being able to run several different programs at the same time with compatiblity that allows for transmission of data between all running programs. It also has to do with setting up the "file directories" (and mirror sites) so that info is easier to access from multiple locations (memory areas).

The comparison between learning music and language may be somewhat faulty. There is plenty of exposure to music even if the kid never picks up an instrument. Radio, records, television, any singing in school or church.... there's a continual exposure to musical material from birth and a whole lot of that is recorded permanently in your brain. #(Can anyone remember "B-I-N-G-O"? or "Theme From Gilligan's Island"? Or "Green Acres"? Bingo! Case made) #Of course, beginning to play an instrument (or sing) at an early age gives you a head start on the process, probably in the brain soaking everything in differently, if not only from the aspect of more years at it. But there's a whole of latent stuff stored in olf file cabinets of the mind, and if you can tap into and harness those resources, it can make learning easier.

If a kid is raised in a bilingual home, there's that same sort of exposure and they're sure to pick up a certain amount of the other language without trying. I think that even if they never really spoke the language, it would be much less problematic learning it a later age simply because of the their early sonic exposure to it. For the 2nd language comparison to be more valid, I think you'd have to use people who had minimal exposure to any music/radio/tv before age 12 as test subjects.

I don't that different genres are different languages as much as different dialects, at least when talking about Western/Euro based music. These are different stops on a continuum, with a lot of the same raw materials, but with different balances of ingredients in the stylistic recipes. Now, if you want to compare western based music to non-western musics such as Indonesian gamelan, Bayaka pygmy, or karnatic Indian music, etc., then different languages is a good analogy.

Niles H

John Craton
Aug-14-2005, 11:06pm
If a kid is raised in a bilingual home, there's that same sort of exposure and they're sure to pick up a certain amount of the other language without trying. I think that even if they never really spoke the language, it would be much less problematic learning it a later age simply because of the their early sonic exposure to it. For the 2nd language comparison to be more valid, I think you'd have to use people who had minimal exposure to any music/radio/tv before age 12 as test subjects.

I don't that different genres are different languages as much as different dialects, at least when talking about Western/Euro based music. ... Now, if you want to compare western based music to non-western musics such as Indonesian gamelan, Bayaka pygmy, or karnatic Indian music, etc., then different languages is a good analogy.

Niles H
Points well taken, Niles, and I particularly like your terminology of describing Western musical genres as "dialects" rather than "languages." And certainly for the analogy of music as language to be carried out in a reliable study, we would have to have a set of children who were never exposed to any music whatever. I'm not sure, though, whether the simple act of hearing music (or language) is enough to impress upon the brain what is essential for learning to use the information for speaking/playing/interpreting it. For instance, when our first son was born we made certain he was exposed to a lot of French, Russian, and Hebrew in the home. We didn't expose him to enough for him to acquire a usable knowledge of the languages at the time, but we had hoped it would help him learn them better later on. But when he took French in school, he seemed to have no advantage over his coevals who'd never heard the language before. In fact, he hated his years of French (though he's doing quite well with Japanese at university, a language we'd never exposed him to at all during childhood). Not sure what that means -- if anything -- but it's interesting nonetheless.

Going on vacation tomorrow, so I'll miss you guys for a few days. Hope I can read some more deep thoughts from you all when I return. Cheers! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Aug-15-2005, 2:30pm
I received an e-mail from a mandolin playing M.D. Since he doesn't post at the Cafe, here is an excerpt, along with the link to an article which he had attached. #

Hi Niles

I just scanned the 'neuroplasticity' thread on the Cafe, (where I don't post). #From the point of view of a rehab doc, who works with folks damaged by strokes and brain injury, and uses neural plasticity to improve their performance and level of function, I think you are pretty on the mark in your statements about plasticity and neuronal encoding.

There are some points the article makes I think are valid and play into what you have been saying:

1) music, like language, is processed in a distributed (computerese: parallel) manner
2) different features of music are processed in different specific areas of the brain, as is the case in language (e.g. phonetic reception, phonetic production, vocal intonation, verbal rhythm, grammar, cognitive categories, are all done in different local areas and coordinated by other areas)
3) anatomical areas specialized for a particular function on one side of the brain may be serving different functions and contain different neurological networks of synapses on the other side of the brain.

Research Shows Correlation Between Music and Language Mechanisms (http://www.menc.org/information/advocate/brain.html)


John Ritchhart
Aug-16-2005, 4:03am
Niles, do you think teaching techniques in music education can or need be changed to better take advantage of learnings in this area of how the brain works? Is it possible to get better results from adult students with newer understanding of neural mapping? How are your techniques different from classical teaching methods if at all? I remember you had us sing the notes as we played them etc. What can be done to improve fine motor movement and control(speed)if this is a function of the cerebrum? Would training be different for cerebellum functions? Sorry for the ramble, but I find this area fascinating.

Tom Smart
Aug-16-2005, 12:45pm
I was trained classically, and while I can play the notes to jazz or bluegrass music, I have never developed a real "feel" for the music and am quite lost when attempting it. Could not this be related to the same thing? Or is it simply that I've not put forth enough effort through lack of desire to try these other genres?
Operaguy--I'm not addressing this specifically to you, because I don't know you and your listening tastes, etc.

That said, I've heard variations on your statement many times. Often, it's a classically trained violinist who shows up at a jam wanting to learn "fiddlin'" because it looks so fun. Perhaps they're attracted to the social aspects of jamming, and want to learn how to get in on the fun.

They might ask me for tips and advice on learning the style, complaining that it just doesn't sound right when they play a tune out of their Fiddler's Fakebook or whatever. But if you ask them what bluegrass or old-time fiddlers they like, they usually draw a complete blank. If you ask them how many bluegrass or old-time CDs they own and how often they listen to them, the answer might be "one or two and almost never."

I think to learn to play within a particular style, you have to immerse yourself in that style. You have to listen to artists in that style whenever you get a chance. You have to wake up in the morning humming the music. You have to have a burning desire to sound just like Vassar or whoever else you admire. And you have to play with like-minded people whenever you get the chance--not just read in the Fakebook for a few minutes to relax after you're done practicing your Bach partita for the day.

I love all types of music, but I immerse myself mostly in the types I want to play.

John Ritchhart
Aug-16-2005, 1:03pm
I play the partita to relax, it's Rawhide that's killing me. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Aug-16-2005, 6:10pm
Wow! I just came upon this thread and it touches on issues that have intrigued me about our brains, talent, and learning ability for a long time. To pick up at the end of the thread, I think Tom makes good sense. I had a Celtic band for awhile that a classically trained flutist and I "accidentally" started. She was learning pennywhistle and could sight read better than any of us but had a hard time getting the "feel" of the music rather than precisely playing the notes. Through listening to that style of music I think she developed a great feel for the music, even though she was still dissatisfied. It did take immersion for this to happen; listening to Celtic music, attending concerts, practicing, playing in the band. Her training made her the "best" musician in the band (if you ask me), even though I'm better at improvisation and learning by ear than she is (not good, just better!).

There are so many components to learning music, as others have pointed out. When I don't practice regularly I find that some things fade quickly (speed at sight reading standard notation, ability to play certain tunes up to speed, etc) whereas others are like riding the proverbial bicycle. My muscle memory for scale patterns and feel for rhythm don't seem to fade as quickly, although they do after a long hiatus.

Tom is a very accomplished fiddler... I've never asked him but I would bet he practices (or plays) regularly almost every day. Or he started very young... or both. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif I find the fiddle tests my practice regimen more than the mando; I figure I need to put in about 1 hour per day of running scales or running through tunes that I know and another hour working on technique and new material if I really want to progress. For awhile I had that time and I saw the benefits, but not for the last few years. I'm lucky if I can find time to keep my intonation, bowing, and repertiore listenable!

Tom Smart
Aug-16-2005, 6:41pm
You're too kind, Paul. Thanks.

I do practice or play somewhere just about every day, but my "practice" isn't very rigorous in the sense of doing scales and etudes and other things that are "good for you." I'm trying to do more of that stuff, but the temptation to throw on a CD and noodle along is very strong.

I started fiddle at 19, but had played horn and trumpet in the music program since 4th grade. I was a natural on horn, and found it very difficult to switch over to strings. You play a horn directly with your lips and lungs--there's an immediate connection and feedback loop with your body. But when I moved to fiddle and other string instruments, I had a feeling that I was wrestling with a foreign object, trying to bend it to my will. I still struggle with this. However, without the early exposure to making music, I think I'd struggle even more. Thank heaven they still had music in the schools in those days.

Since I got the mando bug a few years back, the fiddle doesn't get to come out of its case nearly as often. I'd say I work on mando every day, and the fiddle when I get around to it. Fortunately, the mando tends to strengthen the fiddling anyway--better sense of intonation, better visualization of the fingerboard, etc.

Missed you at the Dam Jam...

Mike Buesseler
Aug-16-2005, 9:35pm
I was a natural on horn, and found it very difficult to switch over to strings. You play a horn directly with your lips and lungs--there's an immediate connection and feedback loop with your body.

I expect Niles will jump in here soon, but there was something in this comment that reminded me of something I've heard Niles, in particular, say--but others, too--that singing whatever music you are trying to learn is a more efficacious way to learn to play it. # Not that this ties up this whole subject in any way, but I didn't read it mentioned here, so far, and kept thinking it would come up. #And, so it did. #

Now, this whole thread has been about how age affects the ability to learn music (and language, I guess, maybe a few more things...) #But, what about something like luthery? #It's at least partly an art, requires brain/hand coordination (duh!). #But, it seems like plenty of luthiers get started at a later age--in fact, I've never heard of a prodigy luthier. So, what's up with this? #Why are the skills and talents(?) required by luthiers suited so well to the mature brain? #(I don't mean to hijack or derail this thread...if this seems irrelevant, I'm prepared for being ignored here... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif )

Aug-17-2005, 8:24am
Do you think teaching techniques in music education can or need be changed to better take advantage of learnings in this area of how the brain works?
Probably. Different systems would benefit from tweaking in different areas, emphasizing some underemphasized areas while de-emphasizing other areas (in that particular point of the program). While#different systems all have their particular strengths and weaknesses, in the overall picture, their design may have been to train someone for a particular "job position" or "function", and it is simply that the unemphasized areas are not really required for that job.

Is it possible to get better results from adult students with newer understanding of neural mapping?
Who needs the understanding - the student or the instructor? #

How are your techniques different from classical teaching methods if at all?
The sequencing of materials/ideas/techniques are different. The classical way seems to be "Practice these exercises oer and over until your fingers can do them; then go on to the next page. No explanation at that time as to what one is practicing/rehearsing, the possible practical improv applications, etc. Rote physical repetition. It doesn't mean that system won't produce some excellent players; the technical abilities of classical students are usually much further along than non-classical players, but they have all that technique and don't know what they can do with it, other than play the music that the conductor gives them to play. (musical class system? you are but a gear in the machine)

What can be done to improve fine motor movement and control(speed)if this is a function of the cerebrum?
Practice. The hands are going to take as long as they're going to take. But if you know why you are practicing something and how it could be applied, or simultaneously train the ear and/or mind while you train the hands, it won't turn into repetitie drudge work.

Would training be different for cerebellum functions?

Niles H

Tom Smart
Aug-17-2005, 11:16am
Metaphorically related to the topic of neuroplasticity:

As they learn, most fiddle players struggle with the feeling that the bow is a foreign object with a mind of its own--unlike the direct control you have over your voice or even your left-hand fingers. I know I struggle with that sense of "otherness."

One trick I often use for overcoming that feeling and gaining better control is to visualize the nerves in my right hand and fingers actually growing out into the bow and extending all the way out to the tip. I try to actually feel the bow on the string with the same vividness as if I were touching the string with my fingers.

It's interesting to think that this visualization may actually be helping new neurons to grow in my brain, creating a representation there of the bow as an actual extension of my arm.

Aug-17-2005, 12:43pm
arbarnhart's sig line says:
"First you master your instrument, then you master the music, then you forget about all that ... and just play"
Charlie "Bird" Parker
Tom; I suspect this is about where you are... in the "just play" mode! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif I've told you before how much I like your fiddling... it's very tasteful and you cross over styles well.

I find noodling with a CD or even while watching TV is a good exercise (try to play along with the theme tunes and jingles by ear). It's certainly not a substitute for directed practice, but I find it's helped my playing.

I'm not qualified to speak to modern cognitive developmental theory but Tom's experience bears out what I've heard and think I've observed over the years. I suspect his musical background with brass instruments laid the "wiring" for playing music for the rest of his life. Practice on the stringed instruments developed the motor skills that allow him to tap into the musical training he had when he was younger. Consistent "playing", whether in the form of practice, noodling, or jamming helps keep all the skills sharp. That's not to say there's not always more to learn.

I didn't have the benefit of musical training when I was a kid... I picked up the guitar virtually for the first time when I was 19 (25 years ago) and the mando a year later. I don't know how much the "wiring" when you're young has to do with the ability to learn music, how much is the "blank slate" of learning while you're young, how much is raw talent, or how much impact the time contsraints we have as adults has. That's why this thread intrigued me. Whatever the case, I don't feel like I will ever become a really proficient musician. I do know that when I can direct time to playing, studying, and practicing I see continual improvement. As someone said earlier in this thread; the goal for me is not to become the next Mike Marshall or Dawg, just to continue to improve, have fun, and hopefully bring enjoyment to others.

Hijack: I was disappointed that we couldn't make the Dam Jam... I was planning on being there Saturday. Cate and I moved into a new house toward the end of last week, through the weekend, and we're still moving more or less! &lt;groan&gt; It's going to be nice, but her mando hasn't come out of it's case since I brought the instruments over and the only one of my instruments to get any playing time since last Wednesday is my F-9. We'll host a jam when we get settled.


Tom Smart
Aug-17-2005, 2:04pm
Gee, Paul, thanks again. If there were a "blushing" smiley, I would insert it here.

For the first decade or so of &#92;working on fiddle, I progressed very slowly. Sometimes the instrument wouldn't come out of its case for weeks at a time. Then I got into a band, which got me playing more and got me used to being in front of an audience. But I still wouldn't open the case for days at a time, and progress was still slow.

Then, about seven or eight years ago, my little brother was in town and I spent some time jamming with him. I remember like it was yesterday thinking two things: "Man, I really want to work harder at this and try to get to his level" and "that mando sounds so cool; I'm going to spend more time messing around with my mando."

Maybe a year or two later, I discovered the Sugarhouse Park jam, met a lot of people with different repertoires and approaches, and found a lot of other jams. I used all of that as a springboard for learning new styles I had never attempted before (bluegrass, swing, etc.) as well as learning to improvise more freely than was allowed in the old-time music I was most familiar with.

It's only in the last seven or eight years that I've worked on music almost daily, and in that time I think I've learned more and come further than I did previously--dating back to when I first picked the fiddle up in the mid 70s (or when I bought my first mando in the early 80s). I'm still not at the "just play" stage, but that's a good goal to shoot for.

Playing the horn "by the dots" in school is so different from the instruments and music I do now. I think it gave me a better ear, a love for classical music, and the idea that all kinds of music should be played with feeling. It gave me the idea to try fiddling, since I used to look at the violin section with envy. It probably it gave me other things that carry over to what I do now, but I'm not sure what they are.

In any case, most of what you hear in my music today has emerged in the last seven or eight years of playing a lot more and trying new things. So I'm a firm believer that adults can go as far as they want to with the right commitment and immersion.

Aug-17-2005, 2:27pm
[QUOTE] I read in a magazine article that activities like playing a musical instrument have been shown to have a positive effect on preventing altzheimer's disease and other mental challenges of aging.

so, sitting hunched up in a chair with a dazed and vacant look, playing the same thing over and over and over again ... slack jawed and drooling ... it's just a phase then, is it?

Aug-17-2005, 2:41pm
Tom; Since this thread has to do with learning, I'll paraphrase what Ryan Shupe said at that fiddle workshop a few years ago: "The best way to get better is to join a band." That's when I invited Elaine over to play guitar in our accidental Celtic band. She ended up being the stronger fiddler on most stuff, our whistle player had invited a better guitar player to join, and I ended up playing primarily mando. It forced me to practice both mando and fiddle... the commitment to the band and learning new tunes, that is. It was great fun; I'm looking forward to doing the band thing again when I can make time.

Hijack2: As a horn player maybe you can appreciate Papa John Creach's fiddling (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna). In an interview he said his style came from only having access to a fiddle but not knowing what it was supposed to sound like. He was only familiar with jazz music played on horns, which translated wonderfully IMO.

Tom Smart
Aug-17-2005, 3:39pm
"Join a band to get better" is good advice. Now that I'm in two bands, I have the opportunity to try to get twice better.

I love Papa John Creech. I have a short film about him on video. I'll have to dig it out and watch again. There's some good footage of him playing sweet jazz, quite a contrast to the Airplane stuff he's famous for.

I never played jazz on horn, and for that matter, I've never heard anyone else do it. Someone must have explored that; it would be interesting to hear. Anyway, I've heard similar things about several of the older jazz guitar and violin players: Not having anyone else to base their playing on, they tried to make their instruments sound like Louis Armstrong (or whoever).

Mike Buesseler
Aug-18-2005, 7:04pm
I really enjoyed reading this thread and hate to see it fade so soon...especially before we really got to the meat and potatoes, i.e., specific things that the adult learner (or maybe everyone) should be doing.

All this brain wiring and learning theory is interesting, but could someone list--in a general, but specific http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif way, several really solid, generally accepted techniques that we can use to improve our learning curve, if not our playing curve?

I know this is like asking for the meaning of life, or something, but this whole thread was skirting around some pretty profound stuff. #I just kept waiting for a Secret of the Masters or two http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif . #

I'll start the list...

1. Play with others whenever possible.
2. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Aug-18-2005, 7:11pm
2. ffcp

Hog on Ice
Aug-18-2005, 8:16pm
3. If you primarily learn tunes by reading (notation or tab), try learning more tunes by ear. If you primarily learn tunes by ear, try learning more tunes by reading.

(Bill, could you expand on how to use ffcp to improve adult learning? I'm still in the 'slack-jawed and drooling" stage)

Aug-19-2005, 3:00am
four-finger-closed-position opened up the door to modal patterns. prior to that, figuring out a song (on guitar) was a cretinous process in which the notes were sometimes there and sometimes not. having an idea of which modal pattern you're playing in and how that modal pattern relates to chord progression was what i believe is called a seminal moment.

another ffcp boon was the discovery of hand muscles which i didn't even know existed.

as for drooling ... perhaps the patrons of the cafe will commission official, "mandolion.cafe" sponsored bibs.

- bill

Aug-19-2005, 7:24am
On a related issue, I just wondered if anyone finds that to "rewire" their brain they don't actually have to physically do the pratice, you can also imagine doing it...

I don't do this especially as routine practice (it is hard work!), but find that really imagining doing something seems to trigger the same kind of feeling that actually doing it does. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Aug-19-2005, 9:10am
[QUOTE] ... but find that really imagining doing something seems to trigger the same kind of feeling that actually doing it does.

there's a name for that and while i'm not catholic, i understand it makes jesus weep.

Aug-19-2005, 11:05am
I just snorted water through my nose... thanks for the LAugh Bill...

By any chance are you a fark.com reader? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Tom Smart
Aug-19-2005, 11:06am
Holy moly, that made me laugh. Anyway:

4. Visualization.

This can be away from the instrument, as mancmando describes, or while playing it. I described one visualization I use for my bow arm. Another one I do a lot is to look away from the actual fingerboard and instead focus on the fingerboard in my head.

Aug-19-2005, 11:22am
5. Get a mandolin that's loud enough to hear when your playing with others (i.e., a "banjo killer"). I say this 'cause last night, I went to a jam with lots of other folks - more than normal. I brought my A3 (which is a fine mandolin), but not being able to clearly hear what I was playing got me off track. I mean I knew the tunes, but for some reason (related to my synapsis), I wasn't on track. Funny thing was when I held my mandolin up higher (so I could hear it better), I would get in the groove.

fatt sorry-to-barge-in-so-late-but-interested-lurker-nonetheless dad

Chip Booth
Aug-20-2005, 2:32pm
I'll chime in with a few thoughts about things that have been mentioned:

Playing with others is absolutely invaluable, as is having a clear goal in front of you. #I have several friends who have a lot of talent but do not practice or perform regularly with anyone. #I often try to connect these people and convince them to schedule a low pressure gig. #The point is to get them to work together in an organized way, and the prospect of performing most always gets people to commit to a practice schedule and push themselves far they than they would without another motivating factor.

As mentioned, it's incredibly important to immerse yourself in the style of music you are interested in playing. #What is it with classical violinists wanting to play other styles but not listening to them? #There seems to be an epidemic of that in the world... #

I can't say enough how visualization has been a huge part of my (limited) success. #I imagine playing when driving down the road or going to sleep at night. #I 'see' the fretboard, image my fingers making new chord shapes or playing complicated lines, and in the morning I can play things that I couldn't the day before with no additonal practice. #I just 'sinks in'. #It's a wonderful way for people with limited time to practice.


John Craton
Aug-22-2005, 11:23am
I came across this article awhile back and thought it fit in well with this discussion:

Practice May Perfect Musicians' Minds

Monday, June 13, 2005

By Jennifer Warner

Practice may make the brains of highly trained musicians and other skilled individuals different from the rest of us.

Researchers found that hand movements of skilled violinists create different patterns of activity in the brain than those produced by nonmusicians.

They say the results suggest that extensive practice may rewire the brain to facilitate complex movements in highly trained musicians, athletes, and others.

The results of the study were presented this week at the 11th annual meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping in Toronto.

Read WebMD's "Kids Who Take Music Lessons Boost Verbal Memory" &lt;http://foxnews.webmd.com/content/article/71/81414.htm?src=rss_foxnews&gt;

Practice May Alter the Mind

In the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare brain activity patterns triggered by finger movements in a group of eight expert amateur violinists and eight people with no musical training. All of the participants were right-handed.

Researchers recorded brain activity while the participants were cued to use one of their fingers to press a violin string on a fingerboard placed on their laps.

The results showed that finger movements of the nondominant left hand led to predictable brain activity in musicians but not in nonmusicians.

But movement of every finger of the dominant right hand led to predictable brain activity in nonmusicians but not the violinists.

Researchers say the findings show that extensive practice of specific individual finger movements in the violinists’ left hands led to unique patterns of brain activity not found in nonmusicians.

In addition, the more synchronized movements of the fingers of the right hand of the violinists, which holds the bow, produced less compartmentalized patterns of brain activity for each finger than those found in the dominant hand of the nonmusicians.

Researchers say the study shows that the brain has different activity patterns related to both highly individualized and synchronized finger movements, which can be altered by intensive practice.

Read WebMD's "Making Music Switches Off Stress" &lt;http://foxnews.webmd.com/content/article/100/105729.htm?src=rss_foxnews&gt;

By Jennifer Warner

&lt;http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,135749,00.html&gt;, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson
&lt;http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,136088,00.html&gt;, MD
SOURCES: Small, S. “Distributed Population Codes in the Primary Motor Cortex of Violinists,” presented at the 11th annual meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, Toronto, June 12-16, 2005. News release, Organization for Human Brain Mapping

Aug-23-2005, 11:04am
I'd read some articles of that nature on the web. One of those went on to say that the keyboard players showed even more pronounced differeneces than the violinists, which seems in order due to the nature of the instrument and the equality and independence of the hands/fingers. I don't know whay, but these studies seem to always use classical players... maybe they are on campus as students and the easiest to hook the electrodes to.

However, what I'd be interested in is how drummers with 4-limbed independence and organists who play the foot pedals stack up. And better, drummers and organists who also sing when they play. There's some B3 players/singers who've come out of the black churches who are total monsters. (Skeeter Branden for example). It would be interesting to hear about brain scans on players who also use their legs/feet.

What is it with classical violinists wanting to play other styles but not listening to them? #There seems to be an epidemic of that in the world...

It's part of the brainwashing and indoctrination of classical studies, that they are playing the only legitimate (real, serious) music and everything else is primitive banging. #Just having advanced digital technique doesn't mean that they can do what players of another style do (without the same level of technical skills), and a lot of them don't want to admit that. Or perhaps they are so pre-programmed to as a classical stylist, that they can't really hear the differences, and if they do, as anything besides incorrect playing.

But it's not just classical snobs with that problem. There're jazz players with attitude problems too - anything without 15 different chords in the tune is looked down as kiddy music. You have some of these strictly-jazz guitarists who put down country, blues and rock players, but when they try playing that stuff (using jazz lines) it's usually pretty pathetic.

You can find parallels to this garbola in all genres, where the person(s) thinks they are going to outplay everyone using the repertoire, or (the emphasized)technical skills of their particular genre. You know the deal: more-crooked-than-thou, faster than everyone, more harmonically complex, blah, blah, blah. (...and still the world title holder.....)


Aug-23-2005, 12:15pm
Hah! Kinda funny, and probably unrelated... But, just today, I was thinking about screaming! Ya know... major screams from various artists! Think: Jim Morrison. Whoo doggies! Whoah! I love a good scream. (I guess what made me think of it was yer comments, there, Niles... ) I mean... the classical folks... I know... they want to scream too! And many did... in their own, tasteful, yet powerful... way...

Aug-23-2005, 12:17pm
Hah! Kinda funny, and probably unrelated... But, just today, I was thinking about screaming! Ya know... major screams from various artists! Think: Jim Morrison. Whoo doggies! Whoah! I love a good scream. (I guess what made me think of it was yer comments, there, Niles... ) I mean... the classical folks... I know... they want to scream too! And many did...(and do!) in their own, tasteful, yet powerful... way...

Aug-23-2005, 12:25pm
I have zero access to computer functions, here... I can't delete posts, edit posts... urrrr... and I can't see any pictures... The screen here is not what it's usually like! It's filled with.........................dots................. .............. ! (no...I'm not going crazy...)

Aug-23-2005, 1:07pm
You're more tolerant than I am... that would be driving me crazy! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Aug-23-2005, 1:19pm
fascinating topic- in a way, we are discussing
1. nature vs. nurture, and
2. multiple intelligences (the concept that there are multiple domains of intelligence and there are many folks who may excell to different degrees or spikes in one or more, but not in others).

there are many studies on this out there, especially if one goes into literature on the pervasive developmental disorder (or autistic) spectrum.


John Craton
Aug-23-2005, 4:21pm
It's part of the brainwashing and indoctrination of classical studies, that they are playing the only legitimate (real, serious) music and everything else is primitive banging. #
What Niles says is true. I know, because I used to be one of these blowhards. Whenever I'd watch someone play music other than classical, I always wanted to shout, "No! They're doing it all wrong!" Of course, I was basing my judgment on classical technique. But frankly, classical technique just doesn't work (at least not for me) with other genres, and probably vice versa. It seems to be more than a different way of expressing oneself while playing, but often involves a different technique as well. I'm just guessing at the latter as I've never evolved satisfactorily beyond classical. But at least I've grown enough to appreciate the talents of those who can play other forms and styles of music. So I hope I'm not still the effete snob I confess to once being. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

John Ritchhart
Aug-25-2005, 9:29am
Great respect for you John. Thanks for the input. And thanks Niles, as always very thought provoking. I'm still progressing. So far progress is directly linked to practice time so I haven't hit the geezer learning ceiling yet if it exists. Probably won't before the reaper catches up. "Hey you kids! Get out of the yard!" Just practicing.

Bob DeVellis
Aug-25-2005, 1:15pm
I'm a bit skeptical about alot of the PET scan and functional MRI studies. It's one thing to show an association between motor and neural activity and quite another to understand the nature of that association. Often the investigators themselves are pretty conservative in how they interpret their findings but the popular press, among others, will often stretch the conclusions to make them more interesting.

I'd be interested in seeing some formal research on the effects of imagining or visualizing as opposed to practice. I can clearly relate to the feeling that visualization is useful but I wonder if we're kidding ourselves. I can remember playing concertina in my head during a dental procedure. It made the procedure a bit less unpleasnt, for sure, but I'm less confident it had any effect on my playing. But that's just one example and I'm not saying that visualization can't help. I'd just like to see a controlled study to get a clearer sense of its effects.

Another principle that you hear alot, and that does seem to be supported by scientific evidence, is spaced practice vs massed practice. In the mandolin world, this often gets translated to, "It's not how many hours you practice a day but how many days you practice [for] an hour." Three one-hour practice sessions should be better than one three-hour session.

Tom Smart
Aug-25-2005, 2:04pm
I can't point to any formal studies on visualization. I'm not even sure that's the right word. Part of what I do involves visual images, but it also involves aural and even muscular images, all at the same time. I'm not sure there's a word that encompasses all that, so "visualization" will have to do.

I do some visualization while away from the instrument (I'll have to try it the next time I'm in the dentist's chair). But I find it most helpful to visualize while actually playing the instrument, as in the two examples I gave above. For instance, I'll either close my eyes or look away from the fingerboard, and instead try to see a virtual fingerboard in my head. Instead of fingers, I'll see little blue-green dots where my fingers need to go in order to make the sounds I'm imagining. It's all very fuzzy, and a lot of times I can't "find" my imaginary fingerboard at all, or I might not have the mental energy to even look for it. But when I do see it, those little dots are much faster and more accurate than my real fingers seem to be when I'm staring at them and trying to decide where to put them next.

When it works, my playing gets noticeably cleaner and more creative. In the best moments, my real fingers just follow the dots without me having to think about moving them.

Science or no, these kinds of techniques are used all the time in sports, music, and other physically demanding endeavors. Works for me (when it works).

On another topic, and continuing with the list of things adult learners can do to keep improving, how about:

#6. Stretch yourself. Don't just play familiar tunes or even within familiar genres, but spend some time working with new material that's out of your comfort zone.


John Ritchhart
Aug-27-2005, 8:44am
Bob, although not specifically science papers per se, here are a few works that lead to the conclusion that mental effort (concentration) affects performance and physical changes in the brains of adults:
"The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory" - David Chalmers
"The Mind Matters: Consciousness and Choice in a Quantum World" - David Hodgson
"Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics" - Henry Pierce Stapp
"The Mind and The Brain" - Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley
This latter work has specific examples of studies on musicians and practice as well as neurological maladies of musicians such as "Focal Hand Dystonia" and the effects of brain surgery on musicians who trained in childhood. Magnetic studies on the brains of violinists showed brain organization and areas devoted to digits (fingers) much higher in musicians trained as children but showed marked changes in the same areas in people who started as adults although not as great. Hope this helps.

Aug-30-2005, 12:04pm
[QUOTE] ... but find that really imagining doing something seems to trigger the same kind of feeling that actually doing it does.

there's a name for that and while i'm not catholic, i understand it makes jesus weep.
I made that post just before I went on holiday, and have just seen my inadvertent double entendre! - am glad to have caused some amusement though...

On a more serious note, I find that to make visulisation work you really need to imagine the physical act of playing something with your hands, and not just imagine playing in a visual sense.

I also think that this only works once you have practiced something and have got the basic idea, I suspect that visualising it reinforces the "brain circuits" that make that particular action happen, and I don't think you can learn something new by visualising it. (sorry if any of this also sounds a little dodgy!) http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

Sep-01-2005, 3:18pm
Terminology question for you folks in the brain business (MDs, rehab therapists, psychologists, etc.)

Is there a term that fits the process of relearning something one already knows but from a different perspective, or with different parameters?

some examples:
Same tune...transposed into other keys
# transposed into minor or modal keys/scales
# transposed into other meters
Same tune: played in different positions, or up and down neck on one string, or alternate fingerings, etc.

Same tune: played in alternate tunings, on a different instrument(s), or using the other hand (LH vs. RH) etc.

Same tune: learned/sung vocally with a) pitch names, b) sol-feg sylabbles, or c) other mnemonic systems.

In all the above, the mind has to adapt to the reconfigured maze. What is the best term for this process?

Niles Hokkanen
= = = = = = = = = = =

<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>On the slim "Brain" section of the bookshelf: #
# #
<span style='color:blue'>The Oxford Companion to THE MIND - Richard Gregory, ed.

Pyschology of the Arts - Hans & Shulamith Kreitler

The Brain Book - Peter Russell

Conersations with Neil's Brain - William. Calvin, George Ojemann

The Society of Mind - Marvin Minskey

Maximum Brainpower (Rodale Press)

Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior - Desmond Morris

The Listening Book - Discovering Your Own Music - W.A. Mathieu

The Inner Game of Music - Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey</span>

Other titles from the local library:

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life A Practical Guide - Mark Reiter, Twyla Tharp

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day - Michael Gelb

Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head - Carla Hannaford

Keep Your Brain Alive : 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness #Lawrence Katz #</span>

Sep-03-2005, 5:52am
I recommend the movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know?", a fascinating documentary on the brain and quantum physics.

Sep-04-2005, 4:07am
Hi all.

Hey M.C.! It is praiseworthy of you to tackle such a monumental feat!

The brain (in my mind) is probably the most complicated matter to discern/comprehend...


I'll ask around to my M.D. connections if ya really want a word for what you are looking for... Hmmmm. Re-wiring? Rehabilitation? I'll try to find out for ya, Niles... But why? Why do you want that word?

Sep-04-2005, 11:56am
But why? #Why do you want that word?

To know something's name is to have power over it. - basic tenet of mythology, shamanism, folklore etc. etc. But it is also just common sense......

If the police can make an identification on a culprit, it's much easier to track them down as opposed to looking for "John Doe".

If you know the term, you can easily find more information specifically about the particular item or subject.


Sep-05-2005, 1:32am

First response:

Doc: "Re-learn, re-train, rehabilitation. I'd love to come up with a Latin word for it, because I love those Latin words, as you know... I will think about it, and if I come up with one, I will call you."

Me: "Think of a blind person, whose brain somehow compensates for it's lacking by making up for it in other areas."

Doc: "You mean, such as hearing, touch, etc? Yes. Because survival is the basic instinct."

Me: "There must be a word for it... neuro-pinchytones! Or something of the sort..."

Doc: "YES! That's a good one!"

Niles, I got two more M.D.'s to pose the question to. I'll let ya know their response...

John Ritchhart
Sep-05-2005, 3:22am
Doesn't neuroplasticity cover it? Or are you looking for the social implications eg re-education in the manifesto sense. Brainwashing? Re-training. Learning different ways to play a tune could be analogous to a concept stated in different ways which requires an expanded vocabulary. So maybe playing in different keys or in different positions is expanded musical vocabulary.

Sep-05-2005, 11:55am
Hmmmm. #Neuroplasticity?? Is this a new word?

Sep-06-2005, 7:05am

Sep-06-2005, 7:08am
Whoops! You already said that, Niles... Okeedoke... I'll put on my thinking cap again...

John Ritchhart
Sep-06-2005, 7:57am
Yes, the word Neuroplasticity has been around a while. Many studies done on brain surgery patients, stroke victims, and people with OCD, Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, trying to understand the brain's ability to reconnect disrupted circuits. Studies have included musicians who have had traumatic brain injuries and been able to relearn both physical and mental aspects of playing an instrument.

Sep-07-2005, 3:43am
Yes. I looked it up on an "on-line" dictionary, as the word was not in my old Webster's. And, yes, that word does seem to cover it.

Doc. #2 did not have a word, so... made one up...

neuro-genesis. I like it!

Sep-07-2005, 4:04pm
From The Oxford Companion to THE MIND

Transfer - This essential conept for appreciating learning concerns the benefit of, or impairment from, what has been learned on later performance...
....It is interesting that perceptual abilities and skills can transfer from one part of the body to other parts. Thus, discrimination of two-point touch practiced on the back of one hand (with a pair of dividers) can transfer to improved two-point discrimination on the corresponing region of the other hand.

John Ritchhart
Sep-08-2005, 3:59am
Interesting. Niles, you brought up earlier the differences in brain organization and skills required between viloinists/mandolin etc. and piano players. Last month in Prague I saw a guy on the Charles bridge playing a guitar, harmonica, with drums, cymbals, and various kazoos and whistles rigged up in front of him. He had strings attached to his ankles and elbows to play percussion. So... five fingers left hand, right hand picking and rhythm, both feet, and two elbows independent, as well as switching between harmonica, kazoo, and whistle during the same tune. It boggles my neuro-congealed mind. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Sep-08-2005, 6:45am
Hmmm... #Now I'm really confused...

What does this quote mean?

"Discrimination of two-point touch practiced on the back of one hand (with a pair of dividers) can transfer to improved two-point discrimination on the corresponding region of the other hand."

First thing that popped into my head, was... #Huh? #Does this maybe have something to do with acupuncture?

I don't get it. #DUH! #So what else is new?

What is, "a pair of dividers?"

Sep-08-2005, 7:07am
OdnamNool -

You can see dividers at this site: #Dividers (http://www.northerntool.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CatDsp?storeId=6970&N=764341+93623) #Just scroll down.

I think the concept there is that most people can't tell if you are touching them with one or two points of the divider but if you work and learn to distinguish this on one hand, you will automatically know how to distinguish this on the other hand.

Sep-10-2005, 11:58am
Alrighty then, Gottcha! #Thanks for the clarrification! #(However, I still don't know the purpose of that tool... #the divider...) #But I suppose that's the subject of a new topic...

Here's my question... #(And I suppose it is directed to Niles, the originator of the origional question...) #So...

How should I pose the question to Doc. #3? #Niles? #I wonder if we are thinking of different answers to different questions? #Or is it all related to the major question? #Should I just pose the question as you worded it in your origional question? #Or... what? #Hah. #I suppose that makes no sense, but oh well! #it's been a long week... #Give me the question, and I will ask... #(Fair warning... Doc 3, though very intelligent, is... a wild one...)

Sep-19-2005, 4:39pm
There's a series on SCIENCE CHANNEL about the mind/brain which gets into many of the issues discussed. (Worth watching and saving on VHS for reference). Repeat airings in a week or so:

SEP 24 2005 @ 09:00 AM (EST)The Human Mind (and how to make the most of it): Personality

SEP 25 2005 @ 09:00 AM (EST) The Human Mind (and how to make the most of it): Get Smart

Science Channel schedule (http://science.discovery.com/schedule/schedule.jsp?channel=SCI&date=today)

The concept of transfer explains why the ear&gt;RH fretting connection exists when playing LH. #I think I mentioned before that an unexpected byproduct of practicing LHed was an ability to read upside-down print (and to a lesser extent) reflected copy in a mirror.

For the past few months I've probably plunked around LH 65% (or more) of the time. I picked up my wife's viola a couple days ago (RHed) and found that I had way more bow control and better LH intonation; maybe a little on the raw side, but I could play the instrument (at least in first position). I don't pick up the guitar very often, but a similar thing is going on there as well both in terms of RH (pick and fingerstyle) and the neck (LH) decoding itself re: lead playing.

As an experiment for the next few months, if I want to play RHed, it will be on either viola or guitar, not mandolin. <span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>(Unless it is the lefty played upside-down. The trick here is to reverse all the pick direction which nullifies the reverse stringing confusion.)</span> and I'll play mando but LHed.

But those instruments (guitar, fiddle) are variations of what I'm already doing; only certain elements of either are "new". I'd decided that I needed to get something which was completely unfamiliar to me (mechanically) so I could re-experience (to some degree) the mental process of having to map out an instrument from a beginner standpoint. So I'll start by learning a few blues scale licks and simple one-octave tunes on this used (Boehm system) flute I just got. (The breath control will feed into the karate and vice versa.) Imagine.....never having anyone suggest "Lets play Rocky Top" when you pull out the instrument! #(While waiting on the flute, I took the viola off the wall, and then got out the guitar....)

It's been quite awhile since I had the bass pedals and foot percussion stuff set up, and now I'm curious as to what my abilities with that. Maybe a little physically rusty, but that's only temporary. But I wonder if I'd be able to keep more complicated grooves going - it's much more a mental thing than a physical one. Never tried playing LHed with the drums/bass; that might be a brain stretcher. #(or flip the pedals and drums from L&gt;R to R&gt;L and see how disorienting it becomes to have the footwork reversed.)

I can't recall if I had the bass pedals/drums set up at the 4H bootcamp that jbrwky attended a few years back. I think I might have brought that stuff down. It's a lot of gear to lug around/set-up/breakdown and I got tired of being a roadie if it wasn't needed. (I'm sure there are some that probably figure all this is a lot b.s.)

Niles H

<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>Rhythm Mandolin Boot Camp (http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/4h/holiday/mandolinbuilding.html), Oct 23-26

Mandocrucian catalog (http://www.btinternet.com/~john.baldry/mando/hokkanen.html)</span>

John Ritchhart
Sep-21-2005, 11:46am
I don't remember the pedals and drums Niles, but you had us playing a tune in three different timings, 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8 which was disorienting enough. I don't think it's BS. I think it's important to know how we learn most efficiently. If you know how the motor works, you might be able to fix it when it's broke.