Category Archives: Thinking

The Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning and Memory

Today I received formal acknowledgement of enrolment in a conference entitled: The Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning and Memory,

Organised by the Fondazione Mariani in conjunction with Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, the conference will take place in Edinburgh from 9 – 12 June. As part of what I see as payback for the investment in my attendance there, I intend to post write-ups of relevant content, for the benefit of pupils, colleagues and other interested parties.

Some of the highlights of the conference include:

Impact of musical experience on cerebral language processing – Mathias Oechslin (Chair), Geneva, Switzerland

Why would musical training benefit language functions? A neurobiological perspective? – Aniruddh Patel, San Diego, USA

Memory and learning in music performance – Caroline Palmer and Peter Pfordresher (Chairs)

Keynote lecture – Human memory – Alan Baddeley, York, UK

The functional architecture of Working Memory for tones and phonemes in non-musicians and musicians with and without absolute pitch – Stefan Koelsch, Berlin, Germany

Learning and memory in musical disorders – Psyche Loui and Isabelle Peretz (Chairs)

Showcase Rehearsal No. 4/6

There’s always a payback. Today’s payback for some guitar pupils came in the form of a tough rehearsal. Having missed out on December’s snow-damned rehearsal for the East Lothian Showcase Concert,* we really had to press on. We rehearsed solidly for 45 minutes, had a 10 minute break before resuming for a further 40 minutes. This left just enough time for us to pack away before 2/3 of the group boarded buses to complete their 24-mile round trip. Being a Friday afternoon, some of the pupils looked pale with weariness and struggled with concentration. However, not one squeak of complaint was heard and the amount of work covered and improvement in evidence extremely impressive.

As if getting the upper hand on 5 x A4 pages of music weren’t enough**, six pupils stayed behind to grapple with a further 3 pages of accompaniments to songs for this year’s NBHS PTA Burns Supper, which will take place on Fri 4 Feb. Next week’s work experience meant that we really had to press on and last week’s Higher Prelims meant that some pupils were really up against it.

I feel that there exists a point in a notional spectrum where pressure turns into stress. The tricky part in this process occurs when distributing the ensemble parts at the start of the session. Seven months will pass between dishing out parts for the first piece and the concert and a great deal can change in that time. I always hope to gauge the right point in the following line when allocating parts:

will learn nothing as the part is so easy that it’s boring//will just manage comfortably//will learn a lot but will need to raise one’s game//will struggle//will despair..

I hope I’ve got it right.

Hats off to all concerned for sterling efforts today!

* East Lothian Showcase Concert – Tue 22 March @ 19:30 in Queens Hall.

** Each pupil has, in fact, 7 pages to master but we decided to leave one piece aside today as the main complications lay in the other two pieces.

Mindset Matters

Yesterday I attended a CDP event entitled Mindset Matters. The overarching these was the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and the effect of each on pupils’ learning. Presented by Derek Goldman of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, the session alternated tasks, small and whole group discussions and questionnaires designed to help us arrive at our own feelings about confidence and optimism.
The first task was to discuss in pairs the following three questions:
  • What is confidence? (being an incurable etymologist, I knew I’d end up here later)
  • What does it look like?
  • What factors can become obstacles to confidence?
Before long, we realised that the issue is not a straightforward one. Many of us initially summoned up images of extrovert people in action e.g. public speaking or on-stage performance. But what of quiet confidence? There are many who are confident in their abilities but less happy about broadcasting this assurance. The idea that confidence, like fitness, is contextual emerged. We may feel supremely confident in some areas but extremely reticent, even pessimistic about our chances of success in others. As to the appearance of confidence, the ability to look people in the eye was mentioned, along with being able to hold to a minority opinion/belief. Factors cited as likely to be an obstacle to confidence included  peer pressure, adverse criticism etc. Several in the room could recall clearly adverse criticism from their own school days which had resulted in a lasting belief that a given subject or skill lay permanently beyond their grasp.
Discussions of confidence and optimism led naturally to the topic of resilience – the inclination to strive for something despite setbacks. This can be a sensitive area. Belief that bouncing back from failure is possible is unlikely to develop without experience of failure. But – how to afford experiences of failure without incurring damage?
The discussions soon turned to fixed vs growth mindsets, much of this emanating from the work of Standford psychologist, Carol Dweck. The diagram here will give you more of an idea about the ingredients and outcomes of these differing mindsets. One of the most important areas in school life which can affect mindset is summed up by Dweck as person vs process praise or criticism.
Very much like confidence, mindset is not a constant across the whole life of an individual. We may regard some abilities (or deficits) as fixed while retaining more optimism about improvement in other areas.
One area we were asked to consider was our own feelings of confidence in our workplace. For some this is easier to pin down that others but the idea was to dwell upon the place and activities which occupy the largest part of the most standard days. We were asked to score ourselves on three A s:
  • Affiliation – do we feel included in the organisation – that our opinions matter?
  • Agency – how do we rate our own success at the skills required in our job?
  • Autonomy – what level of choice do we have in what’s to be done and how?
Personal nuances are often eclipsed in large discussions and there were a few things I would have liked to define a little more:
  • the difference between a challenge and  things which are merely challenging, which can often amount to little more than repeated and pointless annoyance
  • autonomy – like any freedom, this comes with responsibility. In my own work, I enjoy a massive amount of autonomy, a good example of which can be seen in the running of four guitar ensembles: choice of repertoire; when it should be begun; how it should be presented; how much time to spend on each item; who should play which part. However, if any performance were to come unstuck, I would be entirely responsible for this.
That said, I scored myself a mean of 9/10 in the three A s.
Follow-up was very generous. In addition to being directed to the Centre for Confidence and Well-being and Brainology websites, we were each given two books, which I look forward to exploring:
In the evaluation, I was very positive but felt that questions about how this might change my practice would require some reflection – of which I hope this short summary forms a small part.

What is music for?

An interesting discussion topic, surely: today on Radio 3 at 12:15 and on listen again for 7 days.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vf567

The discussion takes place as part of Free Thinking – A Festival of Ideas 2010, the theme of which this year is, The Pursuit of Happiness.

An earlier discussion in the festival asked the question, is the book dead?

Just as I thought….

For years I have encouraged beginners occasionally to recite the names of notes aloud while playing. My feeling was this practice, annoying as it seems to be for them, encourages them to decide more quickly what they are going to play, resulting in their being able to keep up with the group. At any rate, the playing and reading both seem to improve from this practice.
I was heartened to read in an article entitled The Voice of Reason, in this week’s New Scientist, that there may be another reason for this – that naming improves categorisation, memorisation and, as a result, future recognition.
Many people would argue that they’d prefer to name the notes silently to themselves. The trouble is that they don’t notice when it stops – and neither does anyone else e.g. their teacher.
At the moment, the article, is not online but hopefully it will be at some point. One other estimated statistic is that “out loud” conversation accounts for only 30% of the verbal activity in our brain – this is self-generated verbal activity and does not refer to reading nor, as far as I understand, writing – just thinking and talking to ourselves.

Resonance

It’s funny how the occasional phrase has such a resonance that it immediately outgrows its context and makes you consider its application in your own life. Listening to Radio 4’s Case Notes en route home today, I heard the phrase (coined by Ajit Abraham of Royal London Hospital) “it’s only as good as the spirit in which it’s done.” What was being referred to were safety procedures in hospitals but immediately a raft of associations occurred to me about school life: practice; procedures; routine; curriculum; repertoire; rehearsal; performance….

The Musical Brain

I’m continually indebted to Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), and in particular to Dr. Katie Overy, for flagging up many interesting events. In the relatively recent past I have attended a fascinating conference entitled Communicative Musicality and a lecture on Musical Entrainment.

Two more promising events have been brought to my attention in the last couple of days.

The first of these, entitled The Musical Brain, concerns the growing field which links music and neuroscience.*

The second, entitled The Child’s Curriculum: ‘What is the Value of Early Childhood Education and Care?’ concentrates on “ the value of early childhood education and care, with a particular focus on the implications for future practice and policy in Scotland.” This event is, which takes place in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians, is free but registration is required – details here.

* you can find write-ups of music/neuroscience events I attended in The Wellcome Collection – here, here and here.

Interest in this area has led me to some interesting books which I can recommend:

This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen
Communicative Musicality edited by Stephen Malloch and Colwyn Trevarthen
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

Thanks to an episode of pinball reading (and its offshoots) which I can now barely recall, I received a free DVD of David Putnam‘s*  film, We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For.

Narrated by John Hannah, it explores the huge problems which today’s young people will inherit and investigates how well or poorly current educational practices across the world prepare them for this future.

The conversations and cast (Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Cream Wright, Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray, Dame Ruth Silver, Zoë Redhead of Summerhill SchoolHenry Winkler amongst many others) will be familiar to many but I found it instructive to see an extended piece on this topic with input from many countries: UK; USA; Sweden, South Africa, Netherlands.

If anyone in my weekly orbit would like to borrow this DVD, just give me a shout.

*On the sleeve of the DVD the film is described as having been inspired and guided by David Putnam. The directors are Daryl Goodrich and Caroline Rowland.

p.s. re the title – never end a sentence a preposition with 🙂