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:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/DbtRa3JFf0I?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/FYCxNgebF5c?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[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:
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.
Having been a poor mathematician at school, I was pleased to see the all too easily quoted connection between Music and Maths described more accurately (in my view) in this short New Scientist article as one between Music and Arithmetic:
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?”
I break off from the traditional summer silence to flag up some interesting tests related to Simon Baron Cohen‘s* recent book, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain.
There are four tests:
- Systemizing quotient test (my own score 21)
- Empathy quotient test (my own score 48)
- Autism Spectrum quotient test (my own score 15)
- Mind in the eyes test (my own score 28)
The first three take the form of choosing how much you agree with a given statement: definitely agree; slightly agree; slightly disagree & definitely disagree. The 4th test involves looking at a pair of eyes, through the letter-box, as it were and then choosing which of four given emotions is being expressed.
In all four tests my score fell into the category where “most women score.” This did not surprise me and I imagine that most people employed in the people industries would score similarly. Why not try them? The overall results (with colour coded gender divide) for over 150,000 participants so far can be seen here (slow link – patience required).
I first came across this topic in an article in New Scientist which suggested that reading fiction might develop social skills.