This weekend we had an absolutely phenomenal masterclass with Marc Gelfo, the creator of the Modacity practice app, all about accelerating your music learning. Marc packed a ton into his masterclass, from highly practical, tactical ideas about how you practice, to some quite deep emotional and mindset guidance.

It’s no exaggeration to say there were a couple of dozen really meaty ideas he shared, and everyone who attended found plenty to help accelerate their music learning. We’re excited to be adding the recording to our masterclass library inside Musical U for members.

Today we wanted to share just one small nugget with you, Marc’s idea of “hacking habituation”. As you’ll be hearing, this led on to some interesting discussion of the emotion of musical expression and mastering the inner game too…

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Transcript

Hi, this is Christopher Sutton, founder of Musical U, and welcome to the Musicality Podcast.

This weekend we had an absolutely phenomenal masterclass with Marc Gelfo, the creator of the Modacity practice app, all about accelerating your music learning.

Marc packed a ton into his masterclass, from highly practical, tactical ideas about how you practice, to some quite deep emotional and mindset guidance. It’s no exaggeration to say there were a couple of dozen really meaty ideas he shared, and everyone who attended found plenty to help accelerate their music learning. We’re excited to be adding the recording to our masterclass library inside Musical U for members.

Today I wanted to share just one small nugget with you, Marc’s idea of “hacking habituation”. As you’ll be hearing, this led on to some interesting discussion of the emotion of musical expression and mastering the inner game too.

You’re going to hear my brief intro to Marc, then a section of his presentation, and then a bit of the subsequent Q&A where Marc went into more detail.

I hope you’ll enjoy this little taster of Marc’s masterclass and find it useful for applying in your own musical life to accelerate your music learning.

My name’s Christopher Sutton and this is the Musicality Podcast from Musical U.

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Christopher: So the topic of today’s masterclass is accelerated music learning. And I’m particularly excited about that because we did a survey recently. Both of our email list and Musical U members. And it was astonishing how many of you called out practice as a hot topic for you. It’s something you were struggling with. And this came up in the sense that people were saying they didn’t have enough time to practice. Or they were putting in time, but they didn’t feel like they were really getting results from it. Or some people saying they sit down to practice, but they’re just not really sure what to be working on. And they wander around, and go back and forth, and it all feels very ineffective. If I had to sum it all up in one word, it was people frustrated that their music practice did not seem to be effective.

And that’s why I’m particularly excited to have Marc with us today. Marc Gelfo is an expert in just this topic. He is a neuro symphonic hornist, which is not a phrase you hear every day. And he has a passion for holistic health and self-actualization. He’s the man behind Modacity, which is a popular music practice app you may well have heard of, which is designed to organize, focus, and track you progress with music learning. So this is kind of the ideal technology companion to somebody who really wants to make the most of their music practice time. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Marc last year for the Musicality Podcast. And sorry, I should be polite and say Marc, please do just say a quick hello to everyone before I ramble on.

Marc: Hello everybody. I’m Marc Gelfo. I also deeply care about effectiveness in music practice just like you. And have been spending at least 20 years, 25 years thinking about it at this point. It’s a great pleasure and honor to be on here. I really enjoy what Chris is doing in Musical U and I’m looking forward to sharing everything I’m gonna share today.

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Marc: So that is a time hack that a lot of people are not aware of because I think they want to do more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. In fact, the slower, bigger, stronger is the way to go.

Okay, and finally hacking habituation. This is a really fun one. Habituation simply means that you get used to things that are in your environment. Like most of you are not aware of the feeling of your shirt, or your shoes, or socks, or whatever you’re wearing. I know it’s a Skype masterclass so no assumptions. But that is something that you’re not aware of. You habituate to it. Or you habituate to the fact that you’re breathing air. Well, when we practice, we habituate to our environment, we habituate to our sound. As a french horn player, I’ve always got the bell on the right side of my body. And one thing that I do is I just play reverse. And it sounds so different when the bell is in my left ear. It’s really weird.

Now as far as learning goes and accelerating music mastery, we can actually leverage this fact. This is a major time leverage point. There’s a bunch of environmental learning studies that show that you recall things better in the environment that you learn them in. So if you study for a quiz on a beach, then you will recall and perform better on that quiz at the beach than you would in the forest. Or orange classroom versus green classroom, you will do better remembering those things in the context that you learned them in. And that can be scary for us because we rarely perform in the places that we practice.

So one way that you can hack this and hack this habituation is actually to change your environment and make sure that the environmental learning effect only applies to your internal environment. And one simple do it for the rest of your life tip that will really change things around is to change location in your practice room. So you’re looking forward. You’ve got 360 degrees of rotation. Just rotate yourself 90 degrees in between reps. If you play four different scales, play them facing north, south, east, and west. And what that will do is give you a different environmental context and avoid habituating. It’s a really, really powerful, simple time hack.

Christopher: So there was a lot of interest in the hacking habituation. I think that was a new idea to lots of people and there were some comments about that. Marc, you did say you could speak a little more to how to change your location. But in particular, we had a question from Kayla and Amy who are both pianists. One of whom plays the grand piano wondering what is in it for them.

Marc: Look, your environment is so rich. The inner environment is one place where you can do that too. And one way that I hack habituation is to change my inner environment, especially on Thursdays, which is emotion practice day for me. And on Thursdays, I have a whole inventory of emotions like anger, joy, calm, resentment. And I will, like an actor, I will go … I play emotion bingo. And I’ll just land on one. And oh, okay, peace. And I’ll play the scale peacefully. And then I flush the inner environment. And then okay, shame. What would this sound like if I’m feeling incredibly ashamed? And that trains a certain resilience.

I want to actually go into this for a second. I think it’s really important. I noticed maybe five, six years ago that I was feeling sometimes a lot of shame in the concert hall. Something wouldn’t go the way that I wanted and I’d feel ashamed. Then I started to notice as I listened to myself more that I could tell when I was feeling ashamed and that had a certain sound. Or I could tell when I was feeling shy and that had a different sound. Or I could tell when I was analyzing as I was playing. And that had a certain sound. And you could hear it. You could hear what it sounded like when I was analyzing. You hear what it sounded like when I was managing my technique. You could hear what it sounded like when I was in an emotional flow state. And when you learn to listen that way, you never go back. You never go back to just saying, “Oh, yeah. That was the right note in a good tone.”

So the reason that I state this is because well, you don’t change those kinds of patterns over night. For better or worse, shame in the concert hall, fear, anxiety, worry, a lot of us have them. And actually, I don’t have a lot of that these days. But five years ago or 10 years ago I did. And so I practiced. What I did was I practiced cultivating those emotions in a safe place, in the practice room. Understanding what they sound like and accepting them. And that is the different way to practice habituation. In a sense, it’s actually to get used to some of these challenging emotions by cultivating them, practicing them, seeing what they sound like, changing the inner landscape around, and always having something fresh in your environment whether it’s inner or external.

Christopher: Wonderful. There were two different and equally valuable answers there, I think. One is that your environment doesn’t need to be where you physically are. It can be what physically is around you. And obviously, even if you’re sat at a grand piano, you can put different objects in sight. You can change the lighting in the room. Presumably, you can change your environment in a number of ways. But I love that you took it deeper and talked about the inner state. And I guess that touches too on your mastery of state and emotional state when practicing too. It’s part of that being very conscious of what’s going on inside.

Marc: Yeah, real quick, as a pianist too, you probably want to get up from the piano bench and to go play table piano at the kitchen table and stuff sometimes too. That can be a way to figure out what’s going on here that’s not the piano’s fault.

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