Thoughts on the learning process: Step by step

The process of learning the Taubman Approach is a huge and fascinating topic. In the hands of a good teacher, no single step is difficult. On the contrary, most people are amazed by the logic of the information. Why didn’t I think of that? Why wasn’t I taught that? Why didn’t I question what I was taught before?

Intellectually understanding each task required isn’t hard. Like everything, applying the information to one’s own playing is more challenging. Repeating the new skill in the practice room without the eagle eye of the teacher is another step. Then, the deliberate, conscious practice results in the new element becoming an automatic part of the playing, a fresh second nature. Only after having fully internalised that process, can one demonstrate, explain, and help others reach the same intellectual and physical understanding of that particular skill.

The complexity in learning is that there are often several pieces of information to simultaneously attend to; the tiny fragments need to be combined. For most mere mortals, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny little adjustments to make in our playing in the learning process. Yet often, we are not trained to prioritise and sift through so many moving parts, and most of us struggle with simultaneously holding several different strands of information in our mind.

As one becomes more involved in learning the Taubman Approach, it becomes clear that any moment, all instructions are not equally important. Some skills may be radically new and need intensive attention; others need reminding for a day, a week or a month. Others just need a light thought now and again when the problem reappears. What may critical to remember today may not be so important by tomorrow. Fixing one critical element may take care of three other items on the homework list. Once a step has been absorbed, it’s no longer necessary to have that thought at the front of one’s mind. Typically, many of us focus on the last piece of information given, at the expense of other critical steps. When we are consumed by one thought, we are oblivious to other elements that still may need our attention.

Of course, the end goal is to be fully present to the demands of the music, in order to be fully at the service of our artistic vision. Before this can happen, many steps often need to be built in the privacy of the practice room to ensure the necessary technical freedom and security to do so. Without this process in place, the tumultuous coda of a Chopin ballade may be tumultuous for the wrong reasons, or we find ourselves with arms so fatigued that we stop listening, and start praying for survival.

While the Taubman Approach can be tapped into at any level, the energy and commitment determines the results. I can do a yoga class once a week, and feel the benefits, but these would be greater if I practiced yoga every day. However even a daily routine would not make me a yoga teacher. Whenever I receive an email from someone who has taught herself the Taubman technique from watching the DVDs, my heart sinks. In my experience, it can be easier and faster to work with someone who is familiar with the concepts, but has not yet tried to incorporate rotation into their Rachmaninov etude without an experienced teacher.

Really learning and mastering a profound and complex activity takes time. Rather than being disheartened, isn’t it a joy knowing that there is no end to the learning available, or to the improvement possible? There is a reason why some the best teachers of this work still have weekly lessons, and by doing so continually grow as performers, pedagogues, and communicators of the work. Those looking for a quick fix might be discouraged to hear that this kind of learning exists in the Taubman Approach, but more would complain were this technique so superficial that it could be mastered in one lesson. Mastering an instrument is a task for a lifetime, and I am so grateful that there are tools available for every step of this journey.

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