22. TRADITION V.S. PROGRESS. Cramming: When One Has Nothing Else to Depend On
Music is a language, and learning music is similar to learning a different language. Learning is based on common laws of perception, memory, and the development of skills. If a gradual pace, elements of fun and a rational evaluation of the results are maintained, the person will become familiar with music easily, and relaxedly. In contrast, if one can’t keep our developed ‘habits,’ the laws of perception and development, in mind, then little will be achieved in study.
Cramming: When One Has Nothing Else to Depend On
A person has many channels of perception – a huge stream of information! Fundamentally, it comes from the outside through the sensory organs. We try to sound out all that we fixate on – we give each occurrence a name and collect definitions. Memorizing and sounding out these words, it is as if we make these occurrences a part of ourselves, a part of our consciousness. All that is named and sounded out is saved in our memory in the form of familiar images. Specifically with the help of these images we are able to think. We can think out and speculate using our imagination. And then appears a wish to influence the order of events – an urge to create.
The learning of something new involves a gradual increase in knowledge and experience. Everyone knows this, but only the rare pedagogue really understands this! The main word here is “gradual.” The principle of gradualness is at the foundation of any education. It literally means that each step or skill must we acquired completely, worked out to the condition of free application. And if this hasn’t happened yet, to move on, to demand something new, is unnatural and unacceptable. Gradualness means that each student, alone, according to his own peculiarities, defines the speed at which he will learn something new. The problems in education arise only when the teacher starts to demand that which is impossible, undeveloped, and incomplete.
New information is accepted only when we are ready for it. A new understanding must be a logical development of knowledge that has already been acquired. A new exercise is a straight consequence of skills that have already been worked out. That which has already been adapted is the single support for something new. Anything that isn’t adapted is rejected by our perception; for us, the unfamiliar is simply dead weight.
When you assimilate something new, you add another step to a staircase that you’re building yourself, rising one step higher. Before strengthening the new step, you can’t put any weight on it. Of course, it is possible to force a person stand on this step – but he will simply slip through and fall.
Our usual music lessons are full of breaks and falls! Holding hands a certain way, sitting up straight, looking at the sheet music, playing without mistakes and even dynamically, the teacher asks the student to do all of this without giving him the chance to develop at least one of these skills! If he manages to familiarize at least something once in a while, his sigh of relief isn’t noticed – the program doesn’t wait!
A good example of gradual learning is the use of alphabet cubes when teaching the letters. Here is a cube with a picture of an apple. The symbol next to the apple is some sort of letter. The child already knows what an apple looks like, and knows how to say the word “apple.” He also knows that the letter “A” exists in the alphabet. This has long ago been voiced and understood, and is his support, his “step” on the staircase. All that’s left to do is to take the next “step,” find out what the name on the block is. The picture of the apple is a hint. The name of the letter is the answer to the question that the child can ask of himself. This is why the answer is perceived and becomes a part of his experience.
However, the time for cubes quickly runs out! When he comes to school, the student quickly falls into the world of “educational programs.” What gradualness there is here! After primary school, a waterfall of information rains down on him. There isn’t time to master all of his skills, but nobody demands this from him. All that is needed for good grades is to repeat what’s been read. As for music school, all that is needed is to play it out. This is when a habit of cramming appears.
If a focal point for new information isn’t ready, a conscious memorization of it isn’t possible. Then, the memory starts to work mechanically, using the path of the repeated completion of the unknown at the level of muscle memory. There isn’t anything to lean on: the supportive steps of experience have run out! This unknown information simply hangs in the air. There is only one escape: complete memorization without any sort of understanding. This is cramming, enforced by aggressive and involuntary memorization of new information.
During piano lessons, cramming is a common resort. In order to free oneself of the torment of reading notes from the paper, students memorize songs by ear, and with their fingers, using muscle memory. I have read many times that highly respectable educators recommend that students learn new music not by reading it, but by cramming measure after measure into memory! Where do these methods come from? Only from our inability to teach children to fluently read notes. What do they give to the students? A cartoonish suspension in the air. Still raw, pieces that are performed are wiped from the memory without the possibility of return. Having played out a piece at an academic concert, and even receiving high marks, a person forgets it and isn’t in the condition to recollect it. Without a visual focal point and inner hearing of the music notation, the performed piece is disposed. Hearing and muscle memory aren’t capable of drawing out all of the musical information, and it is quickly lost.
Perception is free by nature. It doesn’t like to be forced, tied down with that which is incomprehensible, and without fail will fight against it. Crammed information, not finding application, is pushed out of the memory. Because of this, the effectiveness of cramming is inversely proportional to its labor intensity.