I first came across the idea of mirror neurons in February 2001. How do I know this with such certainty? Because I wrote to New Scientist about the article concerned. The notion has featured recently as several pupils are playing pieces with a moto perpetuo right hand pattern. Here are three examples of such pieces currently being studied by pupils:
Ana Vidovic playing Etude No. 1 by Heitor Villa Lobos:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/DbtRa3JFf0I?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Ben Kearsely playing West Coast* by Helen Sanderson:
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Peo Kindgren playing Estudio No. 6 by Leo Brouwer:
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The essential thing in learning such pieces is to master the right hand pattern, by playing it without any distractions from the left hand. The hope in so doing is that the pattern will soon run on auto-pilot. That way, pupils will not be distracted when the left hand re-enters**. As such patterns are soon memorised, pupils are free to look away from the music and I ask them to look at my right hand while they continue to play the pattern. It may be my imagination but, almost without exception, pupils seem to relax the hand and play in a more economical way than might normally be the case. Could mirror neurons be at work here?
* I would describe this piece as the single most successful teaching piece I know
** An interesting half-way stage between playing without left hand and including the left hand is to introduce an unchanging chord shape which descends one fret-at-a-time. This way the hands can begin to come together in a way which falls somewhere between having no left hand involvement and having very varied (and therefore distracting) left hand content. A diminished 7th chord shape serves this purpose very well and, in fact features in the Villa Lobos Etude(from 0:41 to 1:17 on the Ana Vidovic video above)
I should also point out that some doubt has been cast on the theory of mirror neurons.
Further links on the topic of mirror neurons:
V. S Ramachandran
And here are two short videos on the topic:
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[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/xmEsGQ3JmKg?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
And more generally – Sergio della Sala on neuroscience and learning about learning.