Teaching and Study Guidesback to Pedagogy Best Practices

Experimenting: A Golden Path to Discovery

by Mary Gae George


Students of any age will flourish by focusing their daily practice on experimenting.

Yes, there is an assignment to accomplish, but that assignment was designed to develop many different kinds of skills.  Musical skills are probably what most students think of, but music teachers have a broader view than that. The personal development of our students is equally important to teachers of music. You see, we know from our experience what clinical psychologists have shown—that music study can develop the total person more than any other activity.

Experimenting as a way of learning develops artistic judgment and personal involvement better than many weeks of being coached by a teacher on how to play a passage of music. It takes imagination to experiment. It takes judgment to make decisions about the potential of each and every experiment. Learning this way is an exciting process of “seek and ye shall find” rather than “do as you are told.”

Built into the process of experimenting is the necessity to plan before playing:

All these questions heighten the performer’s intentions, and foster a proactive, autonomous state of mind.

Music lessons and practice procedures are intriguing when based on experiments that lead to discovery. They are exciting and give a sense of personal accomplishment. They show how to solve problems. They are definitely not dull repetition. To be sure, once we discover what a passage needs in order to “come alive” under our hands, we will want to play it several times to test it and to enjoy it fully. But that also is not dull repetition—it is artistic accomplishment!

Many years ago, I had a very bright idea. I decided to ask my students to record one of their better practice sessions and bring me the recording. This proved to be an important experiment. Listening to those recordings was one of the most agonizing things I ever did. What I heard changed the way I taught every student at every lesson or class. It also clearly defined why so many students do not enjoy their practicing. At best, the recordings demonstrated boring repetition instead of productive probing.

Our daily practice puts us in contact with master musicians. These composers are some of the greatest minds and spirits that ever graced the face of our earth. It is our opportunity to learn from them, and to reach deep within ourselves to bring the best we can to the heritage these masters left to us.

How can we possibly do that by repeating an assignment endlessly the same way with the mundane goal of meeting a daily practice time requirement? Even if we are satisfied with our performance, experimenting shows us what is good about it, as well as possibly helping to find an interpretation we like even better. It can also vividly demonstrate something we don’t want to do again!

As an example of that last point, I have never again asked my students to bring me recordings of their practice sessions. But I have asked them to record their practicing and listen to it themselves. There is almost always an immediate improvement in what they accomplish—and a big smile at their next lesson. Try it!

COPYRIGHT © Mary Gae George, 2006


Courtesy of Mary Gae George mg@ArtistryAlliance.net