How to improve your guitar lessons by repeating

Screen shot 2010-04-27 at 11.22.58 AMA perfect memory

Kim Peek born 1951 can read two pages of a book at the same time and remember all the content perfectly. Peek was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. Peek was not actually autistic He had a remarkable ability to remember large amounts of information after only reading or hearing the information once. In other words he had a eidetic memory more commonly referred to as photographic memory.

Peek helped neuro scientists to discover and learn more about how memory actually works and better still how to make it work for you and I. Memory as we know it involves 4 basic steps. Encoding, Storage, Retrieval and Forgetting. Peek was able to encode information with one swipe like a computer swiping bar codes but for most of us encoding is selective. Our brain actually spends a lot of time forgetting and this happens for a very good reason. Peek’s ability came at a big price. Our brains prioritise information based on evolutionary survival. We are more likely to remember that a stove is hot after one touch than we are to remember where we left our car keys simply because one is painful and the other only inconvenient.

Using pain to teach piano

Now I do recall hearing stories of piano students in days gone by who had teachers that would hit their knuckles with a ruler if they made a mistake. Connecting pain probably helped with the encoding process but unfortunately it often encoded the wrong message. ‘DON’T PLAY PIANO’. While this may seem humorous in hindsight I have met many adults who said they learned piano this way as a child but have not touched a piano since. You could see the fear in their eyes.

The solution? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Encoding information improves with each repetition. A German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus was one of the first to really study memory. He discovered that people usually forget 90% of what they learn in a class within 30 days and most of the information is lost in the first few hours. Ebbinghaus proved that you could increase the length of a memory by repeating the information in timed intervals. This tells us that efficient learning is not about cramming as much information into a students brain as possible. The quantity theory if you like. Its about making sure that what you learn is remembered. The quality theory.

Song overload

This supports my long held theory that learning new songs every week is not only ineffective its frustrating for both teacher and student. In my early years of teaching students would turn up for their weekly lesson and I would ask ‘What would you like to do this week?’ They would hand me a recording and I would spend the lesson working out the song and teaching it to them based on what I heard. I ended up working out thousands of songs but after about 3 years it dawned upon me that neither the student or I were remembering any of these songs. I knew that teaching students in rapid fire was not the solution to real learning. It may have kept them happy in the moment but I knew there was no real learning going on.

Maximise your memory – Here are some important things to remember.

  • Repetitive learning is the key.
  • Decide on a few songs and commit to learning them in full.
  • Try to choose the songs you rant to learn carefully so you can stay committed.
  • A good teacher will keep each lesson to a few topics and also keep you focused on the goal.
  • A good teacher won’t allow you to learn new songs every week. Yes good teachers don’t fold under pressure.
  • You should walk away from a lesson feeling clear about everything you have learned.
  • Your teacher should repeat the information several times throughout the lesson and should have you repeat it back.
  • Immediately revise the information learned asap once the lesson is over. If possible revise several times to dramatically increase the chances of submitting the information to memory.

Hope that helps.

David Hart – Program Director


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