Online Piano Lessons: Thoughts and Challenges

Online Piano Lessons: Thoughts and Challenges

Reader discretion is advised

I hate online piano lessons, both as a teacher, but also as a pedagogue.

There’s no way you will learn the piano properly with online lessons. Period. And if you eventually reach a certain level of pianism, imagine what you could have done in the physical presence of a trained instructor…

I just can’t imagine Leopold Mozart teaching his son through a computer screen rearing him to the Magic Flute. The thought of Picasso feasting upon the works of El-Greco through a computer screen, in the hopes of creating The old Guitarist, repulses me. Those artists wouldn’t become the men we admire today. Better men, perhaps? Maybe, but I doubt it.

On a more pragmatic scale, I can’t imagine even myself in my “dark-age” years to not having in-person lessons, but scrabbling around to make sense of the piano through the clunkiness of the personal computer (PC). I couldn’t possibly have become the mediocre pianist that I am today, and would have remained in the sphere of aspiring musicians, possibly following a completely different career path to survive. I would have been too mentally and technically weak to unearth myself through the horrid medium of online instruction.

Because online lessons are not for everyone. They are perhaps sufficient if you wish to play a fake iteration of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean on your digital keyboard — a keyboard that we, teachers, have unashamedly baptised “Piano” — and do not care whether your fingers will take you further than your local community center.

But for your fingers to take you to Carnegie Hall, you need a teacher passing you her own tradition through her physical presence. You need her amalgam of knowledge conveyed to your brain through her greasy fingernails on the piano of her studio, while you are physically there. You need her to breathe down your neck when you kept messing up the start of the op. 111, and see her cheeks blossom on your epic finale of the Appassionata. And when you do your last lesson, before opening your wings and depart from her tutorship, you need to see her tears running down her cheeks.

 Those things above can’t happen by looking at a couple of computer screens.

 However… I’m now a teacher.

 There are people that count on me, and, to my surprise, look up at me. This virus nonsense will tantalise us to the end of the universe as it seems, and we, somehow, should plow on regardless if we want to save the arts and the artist. So, no matter how much I persist that if someone wants to become the next Christian Blackshaw online piano lessons are a lost cause, I do them merrily. I just do them. And the vast majority of people — people in the arts, the students, the parents — couldn’t care less.

My challenges as a teacher? Countless.

 

Challenges

  

To begin with, listening to what your student’s performance actually sounds like, is out of the equation; to this day there are no electronic devices that can faithfully record the sound of Environment A and faithfully direct it to Environment B in real time. This both is impractical and impossible. Here’s why: 

First, the student must have an extraordinary machine to record with fidelity his/her playing.Then, the teacher must have an equally exceptional “receiving machine” to receive the recording in a lossless manner, and then faithfully reproduce it in another technologically gargantuan device, to make a verdict and teach the student. As you may understand, even if the teacher invests in such a laborious studio equipment, you won’t be able to stop the parent of the student from entering the BMW dealership and escort him to the nearest music store instead.

Another challenge that I have encountered is that there is still no sure way to avoid changes in latency (audio delay) between the transmitter of the information and the receiver; that means, whenever a teacher spontaneously wants to stop a student and make a quick remark, the student gets spoiled and loses his/her momentum. In the class, this starting and stopping endeavour is much, much more efficient. However, a teacher can deliver only so much guidance by the end of the online lesson.

Thus, not only do we not have the technological advancement yet to have a stable, real time communication with our students, but also we do not have the rapport necessary to transfer art from one mind to another.

The next challenge I found, which is equally of immense importance, is the psychological factor of having to teach and learn online.

It is so much harder to enjoy the performance of a student through a horde of cables, microphones, computer mouses, cameras, delays and all the rest of “noise” that in actual fact stops you from teaching our lovely, massive block of wood, that makes nice noises.

By the time the student connects their equipment and declares readiness to start the lesson, the momentum has already started to wane. A marathon of keeping the student’s interest alive begins, drawing from you the energy to teach and leaving you lost in a heap of calculations on how to see the lesson through. And then, don’t forget that at some point you will also run out of clownish tricks to entertain the student too…

The student? Who knows? I guess he is still somewhere there too, equally bewildered and lost in his thoughts, longing to finish that pianistic tyranny and go back to his social media page.

Madness…

 So, as you may understand, if you love online lessons and feel inspiringly blessed that you have just discovered their beauty and their voguishness, I’m not going to become your friend any time soon. But then again, we all differ, and that’s the beauty of it all.

Off to my next online piano lesson now. 

Copyright © 1st of February 2021 by Nikos Kokkinis

 

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I am indebted to the following artists the images of whom I used to create the composite image used in this article: This image tries to convey the angst and the mayhem created through the medium of online tutorship. THANK YOU:

ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Robert Bye on Unsplash

Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Laurens Derks on Unsplash

 

Student From a Former Teacher Etiquette

Student From a Former Teacher Etiquette

Warning: Reader Discretion Advised:

 

So, the phone rung one day, and you heard the following words from the other end of the line:

“Hello! I’m Mrs Soen-So and I’m calling to enquire about piano lessons!”

“Oh, hi! Yes, of course. How may I help you?”

“Well, my son Junior was having lessons last term with Mr. Nikos Kokkinis, and…”

“Um, sorry, before you carry on… Did you just say… Mr. Kokkinis?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Sorry, Mr. Nikos Kokkinis?”

“Yes.”

“You mean, the legendary pianist and renowned editor of Piano Practising, the world’s greatest independent piano website?”

“Well, yes, but why are you asking?”

“Just checking, please continue.”

“Well, um, as I was saying, my son was having lessons with him and he lost interest in his piano.”

“Hm, carry on!”

“Yes, I mean, this teacher was not inspiring at all and didn’t make my son like the piano.”

“Do continue.”

“Well, he was teaching him how to play, I suppose, but my son lost interest in only his first year of piano lessons. Mr. Kokkinis has a ghastly personality, and for some reason he was constantly going on and on about his greatness and how important his website was! He was so money oriented, and was always insisting on receiving tuition on the exact day every month, and not a minute later, as if he was some sort of a bank! Can you believe it? Not to mention his horrible sense of humour.”

“Hm, I’m intrigued, please carry on!”

“Well, enough is enough I said one morning, and I decided to remove Junior from his piano lessons and seek to find a better, more fitting piano instructor. Someone, that will inspire my son, make him enjoy the piano more, because, after all, piano is about being happy and positive about life and its blessings, isn’t it? It is about enjoying learning and savouring the goods of music.”

“Right.”

“And, what is music without enjoyment, after all? I knew my son liked the piano, oh so much. I don’t want him to lose this wonderful connection he had with the instrument when he first started… And all this why? Because of the incapability of a piano teacher to teach properly. Go figure.”

“*cough. Yes. And what can we do about it now?”

“Well, Missy told me to call you, because you are sensitive, realistic and compassionate she said.”

“… and broke…”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“Nothing, go on!”

“… and you know how to handle talent and the youth.”

“Hm, yes.”

“Please, tell me you are going to accept Junior in your piano studio!”

“Of course I will! Come by tomorrow morning at 10 to discuss!”

 

The overall response to the phone call from the fictitious piano teacher was ideal; she kept her cool and kept equal distances between former teacher and mother on that first encounter. She neither showed compassion for the mother nor contempt for the alleged shortcomings of the inferiorly presented former teacher. The mother didn’t get an empathetic response from the new teacher, and to be honest, on that first call she would have been okay either way. Again, the new teacher’s responses were appropriate, considering the human aspect and the type of situation (she was caught off guard).

Avoid 1: Mentioning the Former Teacher

A teacher should rise above the situation and needs to avoid mentioning of the previous teacher in her class, if at all possible. Frankly, there is no good reason you would ever want to mention a former teacher. Nothing good will come out of it.

Avoid 2: Mentioning a Former Teacher’s Pedagogical Inadequacy

I’m not happy when I hear teachers asking their students, “didn’t your last teacher teach you this?”

No, he didn’t teach it, okay?! Maybe his former teacher didn’t teach it because the student would have been incapable of doing it in the first place, and now he miraculously can because his mother scolded him to practice and to be good with his new teacher! Or maybe the student only just became so wonderfully inspired by the greatness and didactic voguishness of his new teacher, that he has now finally let his talent flow. You hate me readers; I know — but, I don’t care!

So, STOP IT! Do not ask this nonsensical question, ever. That former teacher is and should be seen as an esteemed colleague of yours.

Never Show Compassion to Your Student’s Fiction

I hate it when a student of mine tells me his/her version of the flaws of the former teacher; I despise that, and I subconsciously start becoming distanced from the student, since I somehow expect the student to equally “betray” me when in the tutorship of a future instructor.

I never buy the distorted stories of the students when they come to me belittling their former pedagogues anyway, because I know that this is part of their, albeit understandable, self-defense mechanism and they most certainly exaggerate the situation in full measure, to their advantage of course — this depends on the age of the student, of course, and one can sniff out lying very easily, however, I do not care at all whether the student is right or wrong. I just hate the backstabbing and the storytelling, especially if I haven’t heard the other side’s version of the story.

Never empathize with the fiction of your new student. Especially when talking about their poor former teacher. Again, you shouldn’t care if the student is right or wrong, and to what extent are they right or wrong — you wouldn’t know anyway, simply because you weren’t there, present in their lessons, anyway.

“Oh, my former teacher couldn’t understand me, sir!” “Um, she wasn’t inspiring enough unfortunately…” “Oh, she didn’t get my plight.” “Oh, she forgot to mention that accent,” “Oh, this, oh that!” This nonsense has got to stop. Please respect the previous teacher if you may and don’t feed the bad wolf. Maybe the teacher “forgot” to mention that accent because:

A.      She is human after all

B.       She was going to mention it at a later stage

C.       Maybe she did mention it, but in one-in-a-million chances you forgot?

D.      Maybe she didn’t mention it because you couldn’t do it

E.       Maybe… maybe for many other reasons…

How would you know if your student is right? You trust your instincts, right? Well, don’t; trust your own teaching and your student’s future progress.

I’ve written it before, but I seriously doubt that any human being followed one of the most sacred of duties (piano teacher) to destroy the extraordinary talent of someone’s child. Their goal was to educate and to teach, so let’s just respect those poor souls and just let them be. Okay?

 

Repertoire

And, enough of this fixation on repertoire. Repertoire is… repertoire. Again, you never knew the circumstances under which a former teacher chose what they chose, so forget about it. It’s future now.

Just make sure your future choices of repertoire are the right ones and stop worrying if that method was better than the other, or if that edition of that piece was not the right one – Respect your poor colleague.

I never knew a bad piano teacher at heart. Even the ones that backstabed me were good. They were all good. They all didn’t know any better. I didn’t. They were simply human beings trying to get through another day in the piano jungle. 

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Copyright © 1st of December 2020, by Nikos Kokkinis

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The Primary Quality of a Piano Teacher

The Primary Quality of a Piano Teacher

Hm… what should be the primary quality, the most needed, the most desired quality, that would make a piano teacher fulfil their teaching duties to the fullest? 

Could it that the teacher should be kind and accepting of the student’s individual pianistic customs? Could it be to be compassionate, or perhaps able to instil confidence to their pupils? Could it be to be ever-pleasant? Or, what about having a tendency to succumbing to the students’ idiosyncratic voguishnesses? Could it be this and that and the other thing? 

It could be all, albeit unachievable, but some of them qualities, and perhaps one of them, should surely be paramount in a teacher’s journey.

I have decided that the primary quality a teacher should have is to understand the quality of the student. Because, when a teacher apprehends the ‘quality’ of the student that stands in front of him, he would then efficiently lead the student to make the most out of their own qualities.

But before going any further, let us understand what is the “quality of a student”. For me, the quality of a student is what a teacher perceives as the gestalt of the student; i.e. how the teacher perceives the student through their physical, verbal, nonverbal, and piano-performing signals they emanate.

So, in order to feel the quality of the student, we need to answer two questions: a) what the student’s provenance is, and b) what the student’s desired end-product is.

 

Student’s Provenance

 

Every student enters your piano studio with a bagful of distinct history (or provenance, as we say). Some of them come with lessons from a previous teacher, some have a grand piano that sits around at home, others like to listen to piano music in general, and some of them had to come to you simply because their parents forced them to have piano lessons.

Some questions to answer here are: What type of music my student likes to listen to and wants to play? Does he receive the necessary psychological support to pursue the piano? Has he got an instrument at home to practice? Is he busy in his everyday life? How old is he? (yes, age matters—read here why).

Your goal is to understand which provenance follows a student, and then you take it from there.

The reason to do that is to decide how to implement your teaching regime to a particular student; for example, you would approach differently a student that likes the piano and one that doesn’t. You would teach differently a student that likes to play Michael Jackson on his five-octave keyboard than someone who adores Keith Jarrett’s solo improvisations. You would ask for a bit more commitment from a student that sports a Steinway grand in their living room than from a student that his parents live with benefits and cannot afford a keyboard at home. As you can appreciate, the students and thus the individual teaching strategies, are innumerable.

 

Student’s End-Product

 

After finding the student’s inclinations through their provenance, the next step, and perhaps the most important one in order to teach them efficiently, is to get a sense of where a student wants to go with their piano.

You achieve this through dialogue, so as to explore the student’s presuppositions and future pianistic goals, but also sometimes through the student’s own playing. I more than once understood a quiet student’s pianistic goals by listening to the way their sound came out of their fingers; a few years ago, to the astonishment of my student (and to mine to be honest) I understood his penchant towards Adele’s music by how he was projecting the chords in the “introduction” of the Beethoven’s Pathetique (bars 7 & 8).

This led me to evolve my teaching behind the scenes, change my teaching pace, and make micro-adjustments to his future repertoire. I said ‘micro-adjustments’ because one must not alter his teaching dramatically to cater for a student’s musical caprices; I teach the classical piano and my goal is to make every single student of mine to have a classical sound (per se).  I would refuse to make their playing jazzy, pop-like, or anything else, because, frankly, I do not know how to do those things.

What my students want from me is none of my business. My students come to me for my own distinct product; as you wouldn’t go to a Chinese restaurant to order tacos, equally you won’t ask a jazz pianist to teach you how to play the La Campanella. The Chinese restaurateur couldn’t care less if you wanted tacos because he only prepares chicken fried rice and other Chinese indulgences. The same applies to the jazz pianist: He wants to make you the next Oscar Peterson, not the next András Schiff.

At the same time, dialogue and general verbal communication will often give you telltale signs of what the students want to eventually achieve with music and the piano.

Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1: Student says: “Sir, when I finish school I want to do piano and [so and so].” That “and” near the end of the sentence means that the student does not want to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the piano: I.e. they don’t like the piano enough to make it their sole future occupation (sorry to break the news)—meaning that probably they won’t progress enough to compete in this merciless world of music job-hunting.

Example 2: Student says: “My last two piano teachers weren’t inspiring enough”. Again, that means student is not interested in the piano and superficially seeks to find a pedagogue as a means to entertain themselves and to be magically injected with the ad libitum superpower of endless inspiration.

Example 3: Student’s says: “Sir, I practiced at my aunt’s yesterday afternoon, since I couldn’t bear the b flat being so out of tune”. That shows a commitment on the part of the student, a sense that time is of utmost importance, and perhaps an urgency to perfect the art of piano playing.

So

So, your goal as a piano pedagogue and teacher is to masterfully lead your students abide to yourown end-product calling. To achieve this, you must possess the quality of identifying the student’s individual quality.

Good luck on your musical endeavours.

 

Copyright © 1st of November, 2020 by Nikos Kokkinis

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash. Thank you for the wonderful image used in this artcle.

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The Old Man and the Sea and Its Pianistic Symbolism 

The Old Man and the Sea and Its Pianistic Symbolism 

Premise

So, Santiago, an old-aged fisherman nearing his last days on the sea, goes out to fish after an eighty-four-day unlucky streak. He finally advances towards a huge marlin and wants to catch it. However, the marlin, strong as it were, entangled itself in the nets and is pulling Santiago’s skiff all over the place. When Santiago finally exhausts the marlin and straps it to his skiff, he feels that by taking it to shore and selling it, he might just be able to call it a career.

Pianistic Symbolism

Marlin

 The marlin here is our dream piano performance. The bigger the marlin, the more successful our piano performance. 

Santiago

Santiago the fisherman symbolises us, pianists, the pianistic demise that old age will surely bring to us. He symbolises our need to show to the world that we still got it and can just about pull a last successful performance off, longing to show that our capacities as pianists haven’t deteriorated through time.

Skiff

 The skiff is our proudly owned, modest pianistic equipment, that hasn’t matured enough through time to compete with the big players, but is still sufficient to us, and can still elevate our playing when needed.

Manolo

Manolo the young boy symbolises the new guy/pianist/teacher that is lurking around the corner to push us aside and succeed where we didn’t have the nerve to succeed. It is the changing of the guard, so to speak, of the old ways falling prey to the new. The new guy (Manolo) will always support us and encourage us to do great things because deep inside he knows that we’re finished. Our pianistic road is reaching its ultimate destination, but the new guy out of courtesy doesn’t want us to feel it.

The Sharks

The sharks are our peers in music. Behind their standing ovations to our performances, and their big, appreciative smiles, hidden is their desire to steal a piece of the action, to our disadvantage, of course. We can never really fend them off, however. Still, now and then we do manage to stay under the radar and succeed through our own persistence, always to their concealed condemnation.

Carcass

 The carcass symbolises our pianistic demise on the concert stage. The audience will still be able to see that behind our clumsy playing there used to be a good pianist, but whom they couldn’t identify on that occasion. They will acknowledge our playing Honoris Causa, and rush to lift us on their shoulders before we bit the (pianistic) dust.

Hemingway’s colossal masterpiece offers life consolations that could last us a lifetime. Its symbolism can be transferred to many of our everyday struggles, and it never fails to educate with its laconicism. It is a novella that casts an eternal shine to all of our dreams so we never forget them, and promises that it is never too late to find what our inner self desires.

Regarding the piano, this work can teach us that the ultimate performance is always out there somewhere, waiting for us. It shows that our ineliminable old age will never succeed to conceal our true identify as artists. If anything, it reassures us that as long as we are conscious of what the standard of our ultimate performance should be, we do not even have to accomplish that ultimate performance.

It is as if our best self will always show, no matter what.

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Copyright © 1st of September 2020, by Nikos Kokkinis

 

 

Photos by Daniel van den Berg and by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash. Many thanks to both artists for their Wonderfull works used in this article. 

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Should You Seek Your Students’ Approval?

Should You Seek Your Students’ Approval?

Intro

Approval seeking was always (and will always be) a common predisposition to mammals like humans. Humans seek and crave approval from the others in order to simply carry through with their existence. Approval-seeking can be found in all of our personality traits, and in all of our everyday doings.

Together with this relentless craving of approval, we have taken to compare ourselves to the others, and thus, making our lives even harder than they already are. And all this laborious psychological endeavour leads to nothing less than constantly falling short in our expectations of ourselves. Great, isn’t it?

Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken”. Behind those two unassuming sentences hidden is the massive psychological world that we call self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is difficult to achieve for us pianists. Mind you, for those of us who tackle students, self-acceptance is paramount in our road to pedagogical excellence; if we haven’t accepted ourselves, how can we teach some fragile souls to accept their sound and art? How can we ultimately lead our pupils to accept themselves? So, self-acceptance must be one of our foremost priorities to mature both as teachers but also as performers.

I, Nikos Kokkinis, writer of this website, long so much for any external approval from my peers and from everybody else that I have gone to great extents to hide it. For instance, I rarely comment on social media and I do not write online about me or about any politically sensitive issues because I want to hide my ineptitude in so many aspects of the everyday life and in my art. However, I do not know why, but I do not crave the approval of my students—but, I am willing to learn more about why that happens.

I suspect that one of the key reasons I despise the notion of student-validation and approval is because I hate the ever-pleasant and voguish teachers. I hate the politically correct correctness of the smiley pedagogues, and I despise the teachers who reassure their students that everything is possible in life if they “really want it”. Really? Can a 75-year-old start violin lessons, become the next Heifetz and play a solo violin recital at Carnegie Hall? No. That’s my answer. But obviously I’m not pedagogically sufficient for some of my fashionable peers.  For some, anyway.

Should You Seek Your Students Approval

Should you seek your students’ approval? My belief is that you shouldn’t, since seeking approval in music (and in life in general) can only lead to pedagogical failures:

Here’s some of the caveats of approval-seeking in the musical arena:

  • Approval-seeking can disorientate our piano teaching process and result to undesirable pedagogical effects on our students’ progress; when we crave approval, we usually fall into the trap of constantly endorsing our students’ playing in order to make them like us, and so, our students, basically, do not progress. Here, honesty needs to come to play, and we must clearly tell our students when they play well and when they don’t. Students need to be able to trust themselves and they do not want teachers that cannot rate them precisely because, at the end of the day, students won’t be able to trust their own instincts if the teacher constantly does not mind whatever they play—Bear in mind, that students subconsciously always know when a teacher lies to them.
  • Approval-seeking can lead us to agree in default with a decision made by a student after consulting voguish mentors (as you have noticed I like the word “voguish”)—Mentors can be the student’s relatives, coaches, teachers, friends or people that possess an accepted social status; we must stand strong and support our position, even if it is the least popular.
  • Seeking validation from students is a dream for the voguish teacher (sorry) who quickly grabs the opportunity to become politically correct with whatever is currently in fashion; naturally, the voguish teacher will rapidly develop oversensitivity with things such as, repertoire, popular politicians, zeitgeisty solutions to save the earth, dietary choices and of course, my favourite, “tolerance”—tolerance, whatever that means, becomes a career-advancing tool for the voguish teacher, especially for whatever currently is… guess… in vogue. Later, of course, tolerance for the validation-craving pedagogue becomes a distant memory from a trip to a trendy nearby protest.
  • Approval seeking can make you a weak partner in the music business because, well, partners want strong and clear-speaking partners. If you constantly agree with your peers in an effort to become likeable, then they will eventually consider you a weak “player”, someone whom on his services they cannot fall back on if things become harder.
  • Pianistically, approval-seeking is a universal “decease” because you will make performing decisions according to what the others want and not according to your artistic views. You do not want to become a performing “sheep” following the zeitgeisty flock of an audience—yes, audiences are always, always zeitgeisty in music too, because they follow the spirit of their era (ok, you’re not).  Notable exceptions that managed to escape from the claws of the horrid musical zeitgeist of their era were Vladimir Horowitz, Andras Schiff and Glenn Gould: those unassuming fellows made their fingers do the talking and, of course, you know what followed: total hypnotic performances that will arguably stand the test of time.

 End

So, STOP IT—I know you crave your students’ validation. I do.

However, you wouldn’t want to become an approval-seeking zombie, per se, in life. Equally in music, approval-seeking is malign and can destroy your pedagogical and artistic integrity.

Ok, you’re free to unsubscribe.

 

Copyright © 1st of August 2020 by Nikos Kokkinis

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Why It Is Hard to Unlearn a Passage

Why It Is Hard to Unlearn a Passage

Learning and, especially, keep learning perpetually is what makes our species special according to the… “experts,’.

I enclosed the word ‘experts’ in inverted commas in an effort to be sardonic, because firstly, I do not share this belief by the experts and secondly, because, repeatedly, “experts” are being proven wrong. And, surprisingly, science—that claims to be the gatekeeper of all explanations—is being proven wrong and surprises itself all the time. Funny, isn’t it?

Here’s one of many examples where science surprised itself: Hungarian scientists claim that they might have found a hint of a fifth force of nature hanging around. This claim only surfaced a couple of years ago, my dear readers. Not in the early 2010s nor while Einstein was the master of the universe or prior to the landing on the moon. It happened after we landed on Mars, after Steinbeck wrote the Grapes of Wrath, and after we claimed the distance from the Sun to Antares to be roughly 550 light years. Actually, according to my personal calculations with a precision ruler, the distance was only 549,3 light years. 

While we were superbly enlightened in other disciples—such as in Psychology, where we claim to almost fully understand the human psyche(!)—this trivial fifth force, that, by the way could drastically alter the way we think about the universe, skipped our attention.  Hm. Go figure… So, ENOUGH with the “experts”. And, to be honest, isn’t it just plain un-scientific to claim that only science can explain everything? It is in my poor and over-simplifying mind. 

But enough with my disrespectful ramble and let’s get back to learning and unlearning.

 

The Reason Unlearning Is Hard 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an art, but a habit.” Aristotle said. Fortunately for Aristotle he didn’t have to listen to any of the voguish modern pianists… otherwise, he would have said: “We are what we repeatedly do without wrong notes. Excellence, then, is not an art, but a habit to play fast and without mistakes. Following the composer’s instructions is reserved for the non-virtuosos; the scholars”, he would have added philosophicaly. But fun aside, Aristotle said it all behind his effortless lines. He insinuated that habit is a powerful state humans find hard to break.

“Wait, what? How did you come up with this extravagant interpretation, Nikos? And on Aristotle’s sayings, of all people.” I hear you ask.

Shush. It’s my article, and I can come up with any explanation I want. Keep reading.

The scraping off of a music passage from our minds and relearning it correctly is a hard and time-consuming endeavour. Breaking the “habit” of playing it wrongly is often no mean feat.

This process of learning, relearning and unlearning is constant in our lives because, after all, we are human beings, and it is only natural to make mistakes. But, mistakes are to be corrected and this correcting usually adds time to the time we took to learn that mistake in the first place. In the case of musicians, when we correct a previously learned passage, we really subtract time from meaningful musical ventures, from pieces to indulge in and from professional opportunities. Nothing less than that.

Here’s a simplistic explanation of what happens when we relearn something.

 

States of learning a new passage  

First State

Second State

Third State

Total:

We do not play the passage

We practise the passage

We play the passage

 

1

1

1

3 states

 States of correcting a passage 

First State

Second State

Total:

We correct the passage

We play the passage

 

1

1

2 States

 

 Thus, if all states, from learning to unlearning and learning a passage correctly are added together, we come up with five learning states in total; two more unnecessary states from just learning a passage accurately on the first go.

 Those last two excessive states are the ones that people who we call professionals avoid. Professional musicians are (mostly) conditioned to evade unlearning, and coming back to Aristotle from above, they make a habit of avoiding any unnecessary learning impediments. Indeed, for the seasoned pianist, avoiding learning something incorrectly is a habit. And thus, by having this wonderful habit, they make art. 

 

How to Avoid unlearning Something

Well, this part of the article is the easiest one to grasp because, simply, we all know how to stop the act of unlearning something. We just need to commit to a conscious effort to learn a passage properly from the very first time we see it. It is often easier said than done, since we are constantly preoccupied with our everyday things in our lives, but there you go.

 Phhh… go and practise now. 

 

Copyright © 1st July 2020 by Nikos Kokkinis

Many thanks to the wonderfull photographs used in this article. The artists are: Lucas Vasques and Lauren McConachie. Photo by Lucas Vasques on Unsplash. Photo by Lauren McConachie on Unsplash

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