Putting the Brain in the Driver’s Seat

Putting the brain in the driver’s seat is a choice people have, not a fait accompli. The battle for the minds of students is a never-ending challenge for teachers of all sorts.

The quest for accuracy underlies the daily practice sessions of serious practitioners of music. Eliminating error may well depend on understanding the cause of error. Understanding the cause of error is precisely the role of the teacher in the teacher/student relationship.

An in-depth knowledge of the cause or causes for error seems to be the basis of competent, skilful teaching. Competent teaching is the font of high quality information for the student. It is the task and responsibility of the student to apply this information regularly and intelligently. The degree of success in the application determines the rate of progress made by the student.

The bulk of errors is caused by the student at that moment being physically driven. Physically driven means the presence of physical without specific messages from the brain relating to and controlling the activity. Having identified the cause of error, it is now possible to put in place ways and means to achieve accuracy in practice and performance.

This process of teaching and learning will not emerge until the brain is put, firmly, in the driver’s seat. The success of the process is dependent on both teacher and student being mentally driven throughout the journey.

Putting the brain in the driver’s seat is not some kind of Freudian cliché. The fulsome understanding of how to apply the notion may well be the catalyst for a successful and satisfying teaching career. Remember, when the brain is not directing your activities you are physically driven. Physical activity, minus brain, is random and the results of this type of activity will be likewise, random.

The ‘physically driven’ condition is a cause of most errors and is very common in our daily lives. It is the daily ‘battleground’ for both teachers and students. An enemy well worth the dedication required to conquer.

An excellent example of ‘ physically driven’ can be gained in the preparation of the dreaded scales. Boring though they may be to many students, they hold the kernel for mentally driven practice. There seems to be a generally held belief that if you spend hours practising the scales you will become, eventually, proficient. You may and you may not.

The notion for the need to spend long hours practising to achieve proficiency in scales is classical example of physically driven assumption. The term ‘practice’ supplies no ways or means and one supposes that the nominated scale will be dutifully played. If the outcome is not successful, probably, it will be played again. Should the latest attempt be now successful, then mission accomplished.

Success in this manner leaves the player in the same state of doubt and anxiety about the next attempt. Hence, the need for hours of practice to reassure the result can be depended upon some time in the future.

It is difficult to substantiate that not knowing how you achieve success is a legitimate practice method. The business of ‘playing’ at music, without specific messages to the fingers is the essence of physically driven activity.

Your fingers do not have a brain, to state the obvious, and are totally at the mercy of the messages relayed to them from the brain. In this manner, we function as human beings and it invites no argument.

Let us return to the preparation of scales, only this time in mentally driven mode. The first thing you need to accomplish is being familiar with every note in the scale. Knowing the sequential order of the notes in nominated scales will allow the player to relay the specific information to the fingers for execution. Obviously, you need to know where the notes are on your instrument and which fingers to use.

‘Saying’ the notes before the playing keeps the mental ahead of the physical for every note. This process is not confined to scales and will be just as rewarding for every reproduction of the written material. Allowing your eye or ear to pick up the symbol first guarantees the success of your resulting physical activity. It is a foolproof practice method and will ensure the accuracy of your practice.

Physically driven is the process by which all errors are accomplished, and they are accomplished. Errors and mistakes are fellow travellers and both come from physically driven activity, i.e. the fingers acting before the brain has delivered the specific information.

You cannot learn a piece of music solely with the fingers. Forget trying to correct your fingers, rather check out the message you did or did not send to the fingers.

Sounds easy, it is, give it a try.

The philosopher, René Descartes, spent a good part of his life searching for ‘Certain Knowledge’; he finally concluded ‘ I think, therefore I am’.

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