If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for immediate gratification: tangible results that you can point to and say, “There! That’s what I just did.”
And while much of learning classical guitar is a study in patience and progressive learning, there are a couple of simple mindset tweaks that can help you learn music faster and more easily.
The Importance of Importance
It’s easy to believe that learning takes time, and that “Good things come to those who wait”, and all the other platitudes we tell ourselves.
And these are, in part, true.
However, not all learning is slow. Sure, some things take repetition after repetition, but others we get in one go.
You’re walking in the desert. The sun is shining. The little dusty flowers are in bloom. Everything is swell.
You come across a creature you’ve never seen before. “How cute!”, you think.
It appears friendly, so you approach.
As soon as you are an arm’s length away, it bears teeth and prepares for a strike.
Assuming you escape intact, how many times do you suppose this would have to happen before you knew not to approach this creature? 100? 500?
If it’s important, we get it on the first time. No repetitions required.
And this is also true for positive experiences as well: How many chocolate chip cookies did it take to figure out you liked them?
So to bring it back to guitar, how can we make our new piece, scale shape, chord or exercise such a potent experience that we never forget it?
Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Our minds are expert at blocking out information. If we took notice of every blade of grass or every word we see we would be paralyzed and get nothing done.
Instead, we subconsciously decide what’s important. Everything else fades to the background.
So the trick to speedy learning is to make sure that your mind is deeming the new information important enough to cross the attention threshold.
The Intention to Memorize Music
One way to get our new music past the gatekeeper and tell the brain it’s important is to set the intention to memorize it.
When you have a positive agenda to memorize your music, you automatically perk up, and pay more attention.
Your mind looks for details it would otherwise gloss over. You take note of every note.
Even if you don’t really care to memorize it (or don’t believe you can, which is a false assumption), simply setting the intention can be enough to do the trick.
Even if you still play with the music in front of you, intending to memorize it will get you to proficiency more quickly and easily.
Tip: Take a moment to visualize a scenario where you’ll be called on to know your new material. Visualize an enormous upside to the success (all the tea in China!), and also the dismal downside of failure (the whole internet crashes!). Make it all emotionally compelling.
Turbo-Booster: The Intention to Teach
Now, if you really, really, want to learn something quickly, set the intention to teach it to someone else.
You have to go in front of a group one hour from now, and teach them the material in this article in a clear, succinct, and convincing way.
Chances are, you’ll get this information ingrained, understood, and organized very quickly.
In your music, pretend that you’ll be teaching your new notes, the technical issues involved, the musical phrasing and all the rest to a group of other guitarists who play at your level, or just below.
As you learn, you’ll be constantly looking for ways to express the ideas clearly. You’ll be organizing, filing, and cross-referencing every little move and sound.
To really get the most from this practice method, actually put it to the test.
Use your words. Demonstrate each element of the choreography. Narrate your demonstration, out loud.
Do this directly after you learn the new material, and again at widening intervals.
Caught with the bridge up and have a few minutes of solitary car time on your hands? Teach yourself. Out loud.
Can’t get to sleep? Walk yourself through each move, note by note, move by move. Visualize the page and your hands. Use your words. If you get stuck, jump to the next section and go from there. Take note of the forgotten spot and look at it in your next practice.
Here’s a question:
How well do you think you could explain these ideas to someone right now? How about tomorrow, if you can’t go back and review?
- Deeming something “important” helps you learn it more easily.
- Make it important by setting the intention to memorize it.
- Go even further by setting the intention to teach it.
- Imagine a specific pretend scenario when you’ll need to know the material, and your success has big consequences.
Remember, when you set a positive agenda for your learning (be it memorization or the desire to teach it), you activate your brain and turn on your “learning muscles”.
Give this a try with the very next thing you learn. Let us know how it goes in the comments, below!