Tag Archives: mirror neurons

YouTube Annotations

I’ve long believed that we learn a lot just by watching and copying – surely that’s how we evolved as a species? That’s certainly how tai chi chuan has been handed down.  A certain amount of dialogue and understanding is certainly necessary, but if watching and feeling the movements is not taking place then, experience tells me, various technical misapprehensions can arise.  Chancing upon the theory of mirror neurons strengthened this belief.

In that regard, it has crossed my mind that annotated videos might be a useful learning tool. By way of experimentation, I’ve added a couple to a video I made of a duo by Carulli which was to be performed by a couple of senior pupils. In each case I play one part while a laptop (using Sibelius) plays the other – not in the least expressive, but instructive. The annotations in this video aren’t instructive either – just a test run. They occur at 1:45 and 2:23.

Incidentally, I hit (accidentally) upon a keyboard short-cut which works with YouTube:

Home – returns the video to the beginning

End – shoots to the end

…and, of course, Right Cursor to jump forward – in handy-sized 17” chunks :-); Left Cursor for the reverse; Space bar to Pause and to Resume Playing.

p.s. I’ve noticed since writing this that these shortcuts only work if you’ve clicked on the video once (which will pause it, of course). I suppose it makes sense as, initially, these shortcuts are directed at the page as a whole. Clicking on the video seems to redirect these commands to the video itself. However, as you know, clicking on an embedded video, such as this, will simply redirect you to the source i.e. Youtube

p.p.s. see David Gilmour’s comment below for a link to further shortcuts

Does anyone know of any others?[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/8nE0n4oEgEc?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Mirror Neurons

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:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/FYCxNgebF5c?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peo Kindgren playing Estudio No. 6 by Leo Brouwer:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/36_X-bojjUY?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] 

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:

Wikipedia article

V. S Ramachandran 

 And here are two short videos on the topic:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/XzMqPYfeA-s?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[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.

Mirror Neurons

These few thoughts began as a reply to a comment of David Gilmour’s on a post. As is often the case, the search for one illustrative link unearthed enough to necessitate a discrete post. The initial aim had been simply to launch one more ingredient into the mix of reflections on literacy currently taking place in the profession. In essence, the question was which, if either, is more literate: reading fingerings off the page or reading the movements of a hand on a video?

Although an ardent fan of traditional musical literacy I’ve lately begun to wonder if pupils might benefit from a supplementary option – watching the hands in a close-up video performance of pieces they are preparing – specifically ensemble material, where the moves they are required to internalise account for only a fraction of the overall sound. Preliminary canvassing of a few pupils suggest that they feel that this might be helpful.

I began to wonder about the role that mirror neurons might play in this and, in my search, stumbled upon this explanatory video. In the year of Darwin’s bicentenary, the question would seem to be, “why look an evolutionary gift-horse in the mouth?”

This train of thought is something of a slow burner, as this letter to New Scientist about this article in Feb 2001 might suggest.