Today’s guest, Gregg Goodhart, takes all the latest research and understanding of how the human brain learns most effectively, and then puts it to practical use, in music lessons and classrooms. Through his innovative Practiclass project he’s able to prove by on-the-spot demonstration with real students, just how effective these techniques can be for breaking past longstanding plateaus and reaching new heights of instrumental ability.
Gregg’s YouTube channel and project is called Learn Like A Genius, and with good reason. When you see the virtuoso instrumentalist, the person who seems like a musical genius, and wonder how they got so good, the chances are that they either consciously or unconsciously have been using some of the learning techniques that Gregg shares today.
We talk about:
- The two disastrous ways that the idea of “talent” sabotages music learners and can hold you back from reaching your true potential.
- Gregg’s simple three-word summary of the powerful idea of “deliberate practice”, and how it can be the key to fast progress.
- The counter-intuitive but foolproof way to break past plateaus where you just can’t seem to play a certain passage correctly at full speed.
You’re going to come away from this episode seriously inspired about what could be possible from your music practice in the future -- and to make sure you’re able to really follow through on that, we’ve got a couple of fantastic ways for you to dive into using these ideas in a practical way.
Watch the episode:
If you’re inspired to try some of the techniques discussed in this episode, here are two great ways to get started:
1. Gregg provides practice coaching in personal 1-to-1 sessions online and currently offers your first session free!→ Click here for details and to book now
2. In January Gregg will be joining us here at Musical U to teach a free online masterclass on these topics and help you level up your practice effectiveness. Register for free by entering your details below!
Links and Resources
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Gregg Goodhart: Hi, I’m Gregg Goodhart from Learn Like A Genius and this is Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show Gregg, thank you for joining us today.
Gregg Goodhart: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Christopher: So I was watching one of your Practiclass videos in which one of the students who actually has a PhD in Education from Stanford said that he felt like he kind of knew that theory behind all the stuff you do, but he’d never been able to apply it in practice. And he said, you’re one of a kind in your ability to actually help students get results using all of these powerful ideas from the research science. I’m super eager to unpack all of that with you because I know from past communication that you’ve got a lot of really meaty stuff to say on these topics. But before we dive into all that, I’d love if we could share with our audience a little bit about Gregg Goodhart, the musician where you came from and your background in music.
Gregg Goodhart: It’s funny because I can look back and now my beliefs about passion and how passion is created. We think we’re born with a passion for music. I could see clearly how mine was created and then culturated into me. My earliest memories dancing around in my basement with my mom to her Rock ‘N Roll 45, Little Richard and Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers and all that sort of stuff. Ana all of a sudden when I became aware of the Beatles when I was about 10 years old, I happened to like Rock ‘N Roll, go figure. I think that was pretty set up.
Gregg Goodhart: It’s a long story how I started listening to them a lot because I wanted to fit in, basically. And the cool kids were doing little Beatles skits, and I needed to learn their music. Well, I quickly forgot about the skits and listened to the music a lot and realized that that’s what I wanted to do. I was playing drums at the time. Then I took up guitar, and it all went from there. Then it went to more complex music, which eventually led to classical guitar, and I’ve really experienced what it’s like to not know how to get better. That’s my whole life until I really started understanding teaching, and I started college and couldn’t read music.
Gregg Goodhart: I was a self taught rock guitar player and so I had to struggle, and take forever to do that music theory. I sure I knew a few things about keys, but the idea here you have to memorize all these key signatures and all that. So I’ve been there. That’s my upbringing. But I loved it so much that I just never got away from it. And that’s just always been the… that’s the part they talk about grit. I have an unreasonable amount of grit even when I should quit, I don’t. Luckily in this I ended up finding out that, hey, you don’t quit. You eventually get there. Before I tried so many wrong ways to get better that I probably should have quit, but for some reason stuck with it. And finally got it.
Christopher: Interesting. We’re going to talk about the alternative, which is I suppose a much happier way to learn, and a much more enjoyable journey. But I’m sure a lot of people could relate to what you just said in terms of sticking with it purely through grit and passion and you kind of question why you do it, but you persist because you loved the music so much. Could you give us a sense of what you were doing back then that now in retrospect you can see was misguided or what did practicing look like that you now look back, and you’re like, I can’t believe I spent so much time doing it that way?
Gregg Goodhart: One specific thing I remember always was I could play things slowly, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t play them faster. When I tried to play them faster, they fell apart. My reasoning at the time was, well, I can walk or run. I can choose to do either, and I actually if you really think about it. You do learn to run if you don’t do certain things when you’re a kid and learned a lot anyway, so I thought if I can do it slow, I should be able to do it fast, and I tried everything. What I did was tried a little bit halfway of everything instead of doing it fully, which is what a lot of us do, we get ideas, “Hey, I hear this idea works,” and you try it for a little while and you don’t realize how long it takes.
Gregg Goodhart: And I just could not figure out how to get over that hump. And I had what I think most everyone has, and I think this is a, in my experience teaching and as a player, I think a lot of people deal with and that is no matter how much you work, most people when you get on stage, make a certain amount of mistakes that are unacceptable. You know no one would pay for that. You may be 95% correct, but the 5% that go down that you worked on like crazy because you knew those sections were hard, don’t work in concert and then you walk off stage really disappointed about the 5% because we all know full well despite everyone telling us that we’re great, we’re wonderful and everyone enjoyed it. We know full well, no one, let’s be realistic, no one would pay for a concert ticket to see that.
Gregg Goodhart: We know that and that’s the, yeah, and it’s good to have that ideal in our mind, and it’s that hump. Getting over that hump. Why can’t I? I know what I want to express, and you are correct. When I’ve read what Musicality says about your training, it is so hard to express yourself if you have that hitch. If you don’t have that foundation to understand what’s going on, it’s also really hard to express yourself if your technique doesn’t work. These get in the way between this and this and your instrument and you kind of have to train them, and the biggest regret I have is I had no idea how to get from the, I can play it slowly and accurately, to I can play it really fast. Sometimes it would happen. If I look back now I can see I was involved in certain situations that made me learn better.
Gregg Goodhart: A great example is I played in a band for a couple of years, and I remember being afraid to go on because oh, I don’t want to make mistakes little, and they were my, other people in there were very good, so I got support. And we got better and better and then we didn’t… something happened, and the drummer left, and we didn’t play it for like eight months or something and we got together for one gig, and it was the best gig we ever played, on weekend at a college club. And I thought, how could we be so much better? Well, without realizing I had learned about interleaving and spacing and retrieval practice all through that experience. If you listen, for instance, to the Beatles, they’ll tell you we became a band in Homburg and we were doing those long nights, and I never understood what that meant when I was younger.
Gregg Goodhart: Now I do, the automaticity of performing the hard parts. Now you can spend thousands of hours jamming with a band or there are specific ways that research has shown us that you can go about getting through those situations, which by the way then takes care of performance anxiety. If you’re not afraid, 5% is going to fall apart when you start playing. Because really how much of it, when we get on stage, how much of it is a roulette wheel? Will we hit the number? Will we have that one in 10 chance that we play those sections correct? Everyone knows what the odds of one in 10 are, they’re one in 10. Or will it go wrong for us? And that’s nerve-wracking.
Gregg Goodhart: I had a student once that I was doing Skype coaching, he was in Wyoming at 13 years old in a very pressure situation, and we never talked that, he was in a competition. We never talked about performance anxiety, never. We just went through killing the sections that he couldn’t play well. And we got them one after another, and he went to the competition, did very well, and I asked him afterwards how it was, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was I wasn’t nervous. It was really weird. We didn’t even work on performance anxiety. So that, you asked about the one thing that I really wished if I could have figured out how to get from this level of the stairway up to greatness or good or competent or whatever it is to this step, to this step. I didn’t know any of them.
Gregg Goodhart: I knew I wanted to sound like here and that I was here, and I was in the dark. I was pulling music off of tapes, kids, if you remember those, and learning songs and boy if I only… and then I took music theory and right there was all the information I needed to unlock the guitar neck and build and I couldn’t see it because I didn’t know how to learn it properly. So that’s the big thing, how to learn taking care of those last sections that always seem to get in your way.
Christopher: Got you. You’re not a man that shies away from speaking directly. So it’s maybe not surprising that you’re willing to say you’ve got as far as teaching music without truly understanding how to practice and how to learn and how to master those difficult sections, right?
Gregg Goodhart: I got a master’s degree in performance playing this way, and a lot of people do. The very few who don’t are the ones we call talented for some reason. The reason is the way they work. What’s interesting about that is look at the really good, and forgive me if I’m getting off the rails, but look at the really good, for instance, just referencing my country music programs in America, where do they get their students? Through talent auditions. So the people who can figure out how it works is not talent. The people who can figure out how it works, and some figure it out on their own, some are inculturated through certain family values to work this way, whatever it is.
Gregg Goodhart: Who are willing to do lots of deliberate practice figured out, get good, no one knows how. And they pay a lot of money to go to the select schools, which are connected enough to help you get a career. The rest of us go to other, I was in a very good for your music, but I have a master’s degree as well with very good teachers, but I didn’t know how to take advantage of what they were teaching me. Now I was good enough that most people, I was, let’s put it this way, I was better enough than most people that, hey, what are you going to complain about someone who plays better than you? And a lot of us kind of ride that out, you know? Well, I’m better than most people. So that at least gets me some recognition.
Gregg Goodhart: But I will tell you, I was always, and a lot of people out there are like this. I was always internally disappointed. I kept working towards performances or even when I was teaching, working towards doing this or recording or planning at this place, and it never worked. And then, this is interesting, as a teacher, I started to get scared, because I started to get my kid’s good and realized I didn’t know how to get them better. And that’s what started all of this. I said, “What’s going to happen when one of these kids gets to the point where I need to start getting their scales up to serious, serious, start getting up into those virtuoso level.” I don’t know how to do that. And for some reason I just knew that I could do it, but I didn’t know how.
Gregg Goodhart: And it was through that experience that I learned how, so I was good enough to get by. I was good enough that most people said, “Boy, you’re really talented.” I could pull off some good performances that people, it was enough to ignore the stuff that was not so great and the good stuff was very good. And I happened to be in-cultured and trained through my, I got lucky and got an excellent, excellent classical guitar instructor who taught me about interpretation first. So while some of the sections did fall apart, a lot of my heart and mind knew what to do. So I got lucky in that regard. But yeah, I was very disappointed in my playing well up into my teaching years.
Christopher: Interesting. So I can understand that problem you are facing then that you are now for these students, and you had a clear idea of where you wanted to get them, but without having fully understood how to get yourself there, it was even harder I imagine to imagine how to get them there. And you hinted at maybe the path you went down there when you said something about talent, and you have this great PDF about how to practice better that we’ll put a link to in the show notes. But at the beginning of that PDF you say something along the lines of, “You can have all the talent you want,” which is a pretty bold statement. So I have to ask, what is this relationship between talent and practicing? And could you unpack a bit more what you just said about the fact that a select few figure this stuff out, and they’re the ones we call talented.
Gregg Goodhart: I could talk for an hour or two about this with you. So I will try, I will start, you might need to cut me off and I’m trying to think of just where to start. And here’s where I will start. This is a mindset issue. Think about the belief in talent. In other words, you need to have something that you have no control over that is magically gifted to you through the universe. Whatever your belief system is, however you get it, you don’t know if you have it until you see it make you better. And once you have it, people need to nurture it or it might not work. And even if they nurture it, it might just be early talent that doesn’t pan out. Okay.
Gregg Goodhart: So I’m setting the stage now, so let’s just take music. But this is exactly the same in academics. And it’s also the same in sports though in music and sports, we’re much better at getting around us because we’re performance based and not phony test-based, that’s a whole other situation we can unpack. So here’s what we do in music. I’ll just, class music, anything, but I’ll just take private lessons for instance. You’ve come to me for lessons you don’t play, and here you are with your parents and you. And I say, and I’m a great teacher, I have a great reputation. And here you come to me on your instrument and you say, “I want to learn to play the violin,” or whatever. And I say, “Okay, here’s what I need from you. I need you to sit down and practice 30,” or whatever. Maybe it’s 15 to start.
Gregg Goodhart: “I need you to focus like crazy on everything I say. Every minute I need you to be aware. Every time something goes wrong, I want you to think, how could I do it better? And if you don’t have an answer, I want you to write down and ask you in the next lesson and every lesson we’re going to do this. And if you focus and dedicate and practice in a way, you don’t do your homework and you probably don’t do anything else in life that requires, especially by the way the younger you are, the harder it is to do because it requires the prefrontal cortex of the brain right above your eyes organ, which has not fully formed until you’re 25 years old. So we’re going to really be taxing that, you’re really going to have to work at heart and in about six weeks we’ll see if you any have talent, good luck.” How can anyone get themselves to work under those circumstances?
Gregg Goodhart: The answer is, is most people can’t. The few that figure it out and do seem very talented, and then we point to that situation and say, “See, that’s evidence that talent is rare and it takes some magical things, we don’t know how they got there.” Let’s roll that back and start with reality. Let me start by saying, if the idea of talent, as we understand it, talent may exist, whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to matter in any level of skill development. That’s it. Other than providing some enthusiasm by telling your kid you have talent, which is where I’m going with all this. So if talent did exist, it would be correct to say, let’s just try your math and your English and your history and your music and your sports, and let’s just see what you’re good at and hopefully we’ll find something because you’re good, because there’s a lot of truth in that.
Gregg Goodhart: If you’re good at something, it makes you want to study it and do more and more. That’s the idea of getting into flow and that sort of stuff. If that were the truth, then that’s what we should tell people. But what if it isn’t? If it isn’t, we’re essentially committing a crime against education. If we’re telling people no matter what you do, you may not get this or you may work very little and get really good at it. Now, let’s go back to the beginning of that whole thing again and let’s do it this way. Hi mom and dad. Here’s the deal, and the child, here’s the deal. Talent may or may not exist. I’m not sure. In fact, there’s probably a 0.00000001% chance that it makes the greatest players once they’ve put in thousands of hours and you can’t know till you get there.
Gregg Goodhart: But here’s the deal, it appears in all the research I’ve seen to not make a difference, whatever it is in the longterm of getting better and stuff. So here’s the deal, I’m going to ask you to do work. We’re going to start off with very little bit so that we can build up orienting selective attention, for instance. That’s something we never do when we ask kids to practice. If you ask me, I’ll walk you through a whole process of getting kids to practice more. We say go practice for a half hour. The hardest part is getting started and the longer you have to practice, the harder it is to get started. Getting started requires orienting selective attention that is taking your… that’s your prefrontal cortex, taking you away from something that you are doing to getting you to do something you don’t want to. I’ll give you an example of orienting selective attention that when, by the way everyone hates to do it, that everyone hates. That works really well for prefrontal cortex development.
Gregg Goodhart: Take out the garbage at Tuesday night, 7 o’clock, 7:01 is a consequence. But dad, the garbage man doesn’t come till tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. We’re working on your prefrontal cortex. Why should it be hard to do that? Why should it be hard to just take a few garbage cans out? Because it requires and it makes you angry, doesn’t it? It requires, now you’re asking someone to do essentially the same thing on their own when they’re a young person or even an older person, if they’ve never dedicated themselves to practice and somehow sit there and focus for a half hour. You know what? Start with five minutes. Work on orienting selective attention. So that’s the first thing that I do. I say, here’s the deal and it’s like learning to tie your shoe. When you first teach a child to tie their shoe, what’s the, and then you say, “Oh great, you got it.”
Gregg Goodhart: Then the next time you go somewhere and you say, “Okay, time to put your shoes on.” They whine and cry like it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. It’s not because tying the shoe is hard, it’s because it’s hard to orient selective attention and make yourself do something that someone else had previously done for you. So what do we do? We do the right thing, now we’re not going anywhere until you tie your shoe. And after that happens a few times and they build up the ability to orient that selective attention. When’s the last time you got upset about tying your shoes? You don’t love it. You don’t hate it. It just is. And you do it. What we want to do is get starting to practice to the point of it just is. So that’s the first thing.
Gregg Goodhart: Then I say, “Mom and dad, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to see these improvements. We’re going to start with bull hold. Look how badly he’s doing that. If he can control that by next week, that’s a big thing.” And I’ll say something like, “By the way, if you can show me the violinist who played Paganini, 24 Caprices in a month, I will believe in talent. But you can’t find that stuff despite the rumors. What we’re looking for are these little improvements that build and we’ll start playing music. So that’s where the myth is. It’s very hard to get yourself to do work if you don’t know, and this dovetails really nicely with the question you asked me earlier about what’s the biggest problem I had? I didn’t know how to get good. It’s so hard to work when you don’t know how to get good.
Gregg Goodhart: And most of us are in this really nebulous area. Even if we’re taking lessons and I am not criticizing, I am or was a private applied instrument teacher, there is not time in lessons. Just like there’s not time to teach music theory appropriately though you reference it. No time to teach ear training appropriately though you reference it. Music history, there’s no time to teach practicing appropriately though you reference it. Imagine trying to learn ear training or music theory with a couple of tips and tricks thrown at you every couple of weeks in a lesson. Yet it is the single most important determinant factor as to whether you will progress and get good, not just at your instrument, but at your musicality studies and ear training, at your history studies, all of which are important to build the mental model so that you can progress more quickly.
Gregg Goodhart: So that’s the talent thing. It is, I don’t mean to be too stout but it’s pernicious. It causes people to believe that near competence is excellence and they don’t need to reach excellence because only a few people, I’ll unpack that a little bit if you’d like. The idea that for instance, let’s reference academics that getting an A in a class is somehow excellent. It may be if it’s an honors class or an AP or whatever they call them in different parts of the worlds, these accelerated courses, but it’s just competence to get a good grade. The point is, we’re studying terribly. There are no shortcuts to learning, but there are a lot of long cuts and most people take them. So what’s interesting is, if we brought our dry cleaning and they got out 89% of the stains, we’d never go back.
Gregg Goodhart: If we ordered a pizza and one of the pieces was missing, that would be 90% of the pizza. We would be upset. If we went to a gas or petrol station and we were getting less than we paid for per gallon. They could be arrested for that. That’s a crime. Yet we take classes and we say 85% is pretty good. You can’t do anything 85%, and here’s why the essence of learning is so present in music. You either do it or you don’t. If you’re doing music at 95% it sounds terrible. There’s a very interesting video on YouTube called Why A is not Enough. And the guy with this big orchestra, student orchestra, they sound really great. Does what I’ve always said would happen and finally someone did it, have a group play at 90%. That’s only one mistake out of 10 and it doesn’t have to be a wrong note. It could be an articulation or a dynamic.
Gregg Goodhart: So he has this whole orchestra play at 90% accuracy and of course it sounds terrible. I mean if you think about it, 89% and 90% of a 90 minute performance is 10 full minutes of mistakes. Not 10 mistakes, 10 full minutes. No one would keep their job in music. So we have been forced in music to figure out how learning really works and get people to actual competent performance. What do people say about music teachers? It’s so nice that you get all those talented students and are able to just do music with them. That’s their excuse for academic teachers saying, “Hey, some kids get 70, some kids get 90,” and here we are with all the kids in our classes getting 98% or better because there’s no good performance you ever seen that’s anything less than 98 and you’ve criticized some 98 performances too. Justifiably so.
Gregg Goodhart: In fact, not to go too far off the rails, but that’s kind of what got me to where I am. I’m like, what is different here? I mean there must be something, because my goal was musical competence, which by any other measure is excellence. To be able to perform in music would be the equivalent of getting an A in any given class. And of course I am convinced that it is fun, in fact, I actually do academic coaching with people. The turnaround is so quick once you figured out how to do your work, once you figure it out, for instance, how you can memorize large volumes of information very quickly in small sessions and without cramming and keep it in your brain forever, like dual coding and things like that. And you can do those types of things in music.
Gregg Goodhart: What I found was the path to excellence is really just competence. We confuse competence with excellence, and we find that presence in music instruction.
Christopher: So fascinating. I have tendency to blame the media for the talent myth and how it’s kind of grown and grown and grown because I don’t have that same educational perspective you do. And it’s so interesting to hear that kind of counterpart explanation of why we get into this and the kind of disastrous allure that it has to tell people there’s talent and you may have it or you may not. I love the way you just explained it. Before we dive into some of the cool tactical nitty gritty of the things you’ve been talking about, like how to learn quicker, how to enjoy it more, how to memorize faster.
Christopher: I want to talk a little bit more about that big picture, and the kind of strategy we’re talking about here. Because if the problem has been that kids or adult beginners are presented with a worldview that says you either have talent, or you don’t, and if you don’t, it’s going to be a hard slog to get to that 99 or better percent accuracy and performance. That sounds pretty intimidating, that doesn’t sound like something many people are going to be enthusiastic about. So what did the teachers need to do or what did the people need to have that’s going to help them tackle that?
Gregg Goodhart: There are several things. I think the first I’ve talked about though, please ask if you want more detail, but that is understanding the, I don’t want to say the myth, but the great misunderstanding of talent. Then once you understand that, what other thing? Well, learning should be fun but here’s the deal. If you don’t want to make learning fun in the beginning there is a price of entry to learning being fun. I call it getting over the hump. This is hard, very hard. Then you get good and it’s much easier, and there’s a lot of good research detailing and in fact, I continue a particular study that I love to reference that once you get good at stuff, it actually makes you want to get better and better. Now think about the model we currently have. If you find something that you like and you won’t like it if you’re struggling with it, then you have passion for it.
Gregg Goodhart: Now we found your passion. Let’s nurture that passion. Then what happens if you don’t have that for music. Should you give up? Should you give up on math? And then of course we look at talent, well we encourage talent. Sure you do. And the 2% that have it, what are you saying to the other 99%? Usually, we say something like, “Well you have talent in something.” But what if that area is cleaning toilets? I mean, that’s what we’re getting… Nothing wrong with cleaning toilets and nothing wrong with doing an honest day’s work no matter what it is. But if that’s not what you want to do and someone is saying, “Oh, you don’t have talent over here because he didn’t get good at it right away.”
Gregg Goodhart: So that’s the first thing, you have to realize that this is mindset, that you will make mistakes. They will discourage you. Mindset doesn’t work by itself. Mindset has been misinterpreted by a lot of people and oversimplified into just encourage kids to keep going no matter what. No, maybe you have an inferior method, maybe you need to find a different way to teach it. Understand I’m not talking about learning styles there, but maybe you need to find a different way. Maybe all the time I spent repping things over and over and then overnight discovered contextual interference and things got way better. Maybe it’s not talent, maybe it’s that. And those are the kinds of things I try to show.
Gregg Goodhart: So one thing that I do, and that’s why I do Practiclasses, and when I do academic instruction, I do dual coding and get a whole group of people to memorize a bunch of stuff very quickly. The most important thing I think you can do to get past the, what do I want to call, the enculturated attitude of talent, which makes it hard to dedicate oneself to doing work. Once you get past that, everything else becomes much easier. So you’re very upfront. This is going to be hard. It’s not going to be that hard, but it’s going to be hard. I used to say about my classes to my students, this class is not easy. It is also not hard. It’s just a bit of work and if you start following directions, little by little, just do a little bit here, a little bit there.
Gregg Goodhart: There’s an old saying that’s really important that if we would just take it to heart when we practice instead of giving up and getting discouraged, it would work. And that saying is if at first you don’t succeed, try doing what your teacher told you the first time. And it’s funny because it’s so true, but really you think you’re not getting good at something because you didn’t follow a teacher’s direction. I start to talk about these realities with people, and it sets a laugh. Yeah, it’s funny, okay. And why not for a week try it by following directions. I used to do things like write down, let’s write down what your directions are. Put that on your music stand when you practice.
Gregg Goodhart: Now if you come back the next week, and you don’t have it down, instead of saying, “Oh, could you just don’t have talent,” first thing I’m going to ask you is, or actually more say, “You didn’t put that on your music stand.” “No, I didn’t.” How much do we ask that of students? We tell them to do something and just assume. This is actually, here’s a little story. I had a student who was, in my class I graded appropriately and have assessment systems. It was very fair, three times is long to do things as normal because I gave plenty of time for him to catch up. Of course, there’s always going to be a contingent of folks who are going to wait till the night before a test in order to learn an etude, which they never have.
Gregg Goodhart: I remember working with this one kid who he and his parents were so upset. He’s trying, he’s trying so hard I’m like, “Something’s wrong.” “Well, my son’s not a liar.” “I’m not saying he’s a liar. We can think we’re trying when we’re not,” and so I taught him a particular, I knew something was wrong and if he would just do a particular exercise over and over for a few minutes a day, it would take care of this particular technical problem. You wouldn’t struggle with it and it would get them to another place. So after about a week, you still have this problem. Maybe it was even more than a week. You still have this problem, “Didn’t you work on it the way I said?” “Yes.” “How many times have you done it?” “Well, once.” “Didn’t I say you need to do this every day for a few minutes?” “Yeah, I guess you did.” “Why didn’t you do it?” “I don’t know how many times if you’re a teacher,” “I don’t know.”
Gregg Goodhart: This is where we want to be delving into in lessons, and we teach other people. In fact, the biggest lesson that we take is not with our teacher. The biggest lesson we take is with our practice. Are we teaching ourselves through practice? Well, I don’t know what to teach myself, I’m a student. Write it down. Write down what your teacher says. Many people record their lessons. I work with lots of people who record the, go back and look what did the teacher, but that will take longer. No, what will take longer are the massive reps you’re going to do that aren’t going to pay off in the long run if you do it this way.
Gregg Goodhart: So it’s so hard to stop, orient selective attention and pay attention to the little things. So I guess the best answer to your question is, a lot of people misunderstand the word try. Try doesn’t mean you just did something that was unpleasant. It means you started by whether you think it’s going to work or not, following directions. I used to say, I used to say to my students when I taught high school, said, “I just want you to, you guys, you are teenagers, you’re all about reality and get it right and be fair and honest and that’s not fair.” I said, “Okay, let’s talk fair. Let’s talk honest.”
Gregg Goodhart: I said, “You walk into a class, I don’t care what it is, math, English, classical guitar and my class, whatever it is. You don’t know anything about that class otherwise, you would have proficiency and out of that class. You are in the right place, you don’t know. You have someone standing in front of you who at the very least has a four year degree in a year practicum and teaching and has a credential for teaching you. If not that they have a Masters, maybe a doctorate and they’ve possibly been teaching for a year, five or 10 even more and when they give you an assignment,” you say, “I know better. I know, I know an easier way to do this than this person who knows that much,” and I would say, “Does this make any sense?” And I find cutting through that haze, it doesn’t make sense.
Gregg Goodhart: The whole talent thing just doesn’t make sense. The idea that we do things differently, than a teacher doesn’t make sense until you started understanding human nature. And that’s the next place that you get to after you talk about technique and what do we teach, how do we get people to do it? And that’s kind of what comes next.
Christopher: Fascinating. I imagine that is a slightly different challenge with teenagers in a high school compared with the adult beginner at home in their living room trying to carve out that 30 minutes a day for guitar practice or whatever the case may be?
Gregg Goodhart: I don’t know that it is. I don’t know that it’s that different. I would imagine, well, let’s put it this way, if someone is searching for this information and watching this right now, they probably are doing it the same way. If you are doing everything right and practice a half hour a day and listening to your teacher, you’re probably doing okay. You’re probably making progress each week, and you understand how the process, if you’re doing that, and you’re not doing okay, then something was wrong. But I find it to be pretty universal. And here’s the big problem adults have, and I would say older kids.
Gregg Goodhart: When they go to learn a new concept that involves doing some home improvement project or learning something about their car to repair it, they are learning that upon a foundation of something like 12 years of science education in school, 12 years of history, 12 years of, they’ve learned physics or whatever it is. You’ve learned math, even if you are terrible in math, to learn how to reason in that way and take a new information and evaluate it using mathematical principles, even if you’ve got an 80% in math, which means, which means you can’t really do algebra, you will take many of those concepts in. So then you go and learn to do something new. You don’t expect something of yourself.
Gregg Goodhart: If you want to learn to ride a motorcycle, you learn to ride a motorcycle, you don’t learn to ride motocross. No 30 year old says, well… and you know what? We learn in a reasonable amount of time a week or two or three. And we go from not knowing to knowing, okay, after three weeks of study we can figure out how to remodel a bathroom. That’s because we have a mental model for all this stuff. We’ve been taught all the basics of getting through life. Now we go to something completely different, music, has its own written language, has its own audio language, as you well know. Has its own set of constructive principles’ music theory. Has its own history. You know nothing about the history.
Gregg Goodhart: Believe me, you might not know it, but when you’re looking into remodeling your bathroom somewhere in there, your knowledge of history is helping you somehow to figure something out in there because, oh, I remember Napoleon did this or what, and you don’t think about it. It’s just part of your mental model. Now you’re getting into something that you have zero mental model for. You are exactly like an infant, well not an infant. Exactly like a five-year-old in first grade or six year old. Now think about that. What did you do in first grade? You’re like wrote the letter A, over and over and nobody thought twice about it and then after years you wrote sentences and then read novels and then I analyze them and then maybe what some stories and hey, how is it in music that you don’t think you need to start out writing A over and over again because we have this indicator from life.
Gregg Goodhart: We’ve seen the evidence, we’re smart, we’re adults. We can figure things out. If we can’t figure this out in three weeks, like we could figure out the bathroom remodel, which we didn’t know how to do that when we started. We didn’t have any knowledge, but you had so much similar knowledge then we’re not talented, but it’s not that at all, especially when you’re an adult beginner and another factor that goes into this and that is you have to be willing to look like a child while you’re learning, like a clueless child. that goes to pride and if you, and listen, we all have pride. I had a jazz improv teacher that said something something great. If it weren’t for pride, we’d all still be living in caves. I realize that’s not exactly historically accurate, but I get what he was saying.
Gregg Goodhart: Healthy, being proud of what you’ve done motivates you to do more work. As anyone knows this, adults know, once you’re old enough that you can take that too far. If you’re too proud, it can get in your way. Pride comes before the fall, all that sort of stuff. So yes, it’s good to be proud and acknowledge what you’ve done, but if you need that accomplishment to be, believe me, when you’re done remodeling that bathroom, in most cases you’ll be pretty proud of your work. You’ll want to look at it. People will say, good job and rightly so, and that will feel good. Not that the praise feels good, but the acknowledgement that, yeah, I did do a good job. It’s going to be really hard to get that with anything meaningful.
Gregg Goodhart: You’re not going to get the equivalent of a remodeled bathroom on an instrument for a good year, where you’re able to actually do something that looks like the end product and show it to other people. So you have to, if we were going to stay with this bathroom, you’re going to have to start to understand the inner plumbing of a toilet. That’s where you’re going to have to start. And not even with the toilet. You have to go in and learn how gaskets work, and we don’t, especially when we’re older, we don’t have to experience that. We’re used to getting stuff relatively quickly because we’ve gone through mandatory education. This can be extremely discouraging for adults.
Gregg Goodhart: Let me say to any adult who wants to play out there, it is totally normal to struggle. It is also very normal, and please be aware that you will think you should make more progress than you do while also using inferior methods. So, you know you’re learning sometimes when it hurts, slow down so slow that you’d be embarrassed for anyone to hear you, concentrate on the smallest things and never let it go. If you don’t want to do that, you’ll be experiencing what makes most adult beginners want to quit. And you can either give in to that or go through it but this is normal. Nobody picks it up. Don’t talk about, I know this guy down the street, you bet… You don’t know. Look at it, there’s evidence out there that empirically investigates how quickly people learn stuff from the beginning. Look at that.
Gregg Goodhart: You don’t know what happened down the street. It reminds me what you just said about the media and how you believe that absolutely. Because talent is viewed like someone being a King or a great, it’s a compliment, why is it a compliment? You didn’t do anything to get it. But it’s a compliment and people really want it. So throughout history, people have misrepresented the child prodigy. Beethoven’s father is a great example. Lied about his age because he wanted people to think he was a child prodigy. Now, was he playing any better if you thought he was younger? It’s because it’s a marketing tool. The whole Kubla Khan poem, which supposedly came in an opium dream. No, no, if you look at the way it all came about and if there’s a previous poem that was based upon that was a marketing tool to get people interested in buying the poem.
Gregg Goodhart: So you’re right about the media. The media love’s talent and the idea that these, so few people should be put on a pedestal. And by the way, I think we should put people with high level skill on a pedestal. Not only should we admire their work that they’ve done, but it is wonderful to experience high level skill. I don’t care if it’s a football game or a Beethoven piano Sonata. It is wonderful to see humans achieve at that level. I’ll use an example that’s in the book, Talent is Overrated, which I always say if you read one book the rest of your life other than the book of your religion, it should be Talent is Overrated. He talks about an incident that I’ve gone and looked it up and read about this where there was a Mozart symposium somewhere in Europe and one guy gave up and gave presentation called Mozart is a Working Stiff and he mentioned that Mozart never really wrote anything for art’s sake. He wrote it for money. That’s what he was doing and he was just a normal working dude who was really good at what he did.
Gregg Goodhart: And he was denounced and told he shouldn’t say such things because Mozart’s music belongs in the aethereal spheres of the heavens. What’s the difference? How is the music any… see this is how I talk to students. Come on folks. Let’s all get on the reality train because it’s really good. I’ve had people say things like, “Well, even though what you’re saying is wrong, I see that it’s good because it encourages students to do their work.” That’s a problem. I’m not lying, I’m telling the truth, but it was the other way I’d be honest. That I believe, and again, I’m going all over the place here, but that I believe that idea that we’re just trying to get students to work hard so we can see if it works. I think that most people, most kids believe that when we say to them, you can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it, that they view that as a phony statement to encourage them to work hard, where they’re going to fail most of the time to find that one small area where they’ll be successful, and it’s just not true.
Gregg Goodhart: So anyway, to go back to the adult beginner, yes, you will struggle if that, and it will definitely, and this goes for everybody, including myself. It will take a lot longer than you think it should. You will feel like you’ve put in enough work, more work. And I always say, by the way, when did mother nature promise you that the neuro biological changes that need to take place will happen in six days, six months, six weeks? When did you, I missed that memo, but Oh, it’s going to, how many times did we program a senior recital in April and we’re going to put all this really difficult music on it and it’s August and we tell ourselves we’re going to work hard nine times out of 10 that fizzles off, and some of us work really hard and then wonder why didn’t it work, I gave it eight months. Who said eight months? What if it’s nine? What if it’s 20? Who knows? And were you’re doing the work right?
Gregg Goodhart: So you will always feel like you put far too much effort in that if anyone else had done it, they’d get a lot farther. That’s normal. If you can get through that, you will. I guarantee you get very good.
Christopher: I think that point you just made that children and adults alike, are really skeptical of these comments we make is such an important one. It’s one I’ve been really conscious of in our marketing and Musical U because we’re trying to spread this message that, Musicality isn’t an innate gift, it’s a learnable skill and you just know that some people read that and they’re like, “Ah, you’re just trying to flog a product.” Like you’re spinning the facts the way you want to. But it’s not the case. Like the scientists out there with zero reason for bias, zero skin in the game except academic excellence at telling us this. Christopher: Gregg, I feel like we could end the interview here and it would be a fantastic episode and my summary would look something like: Talent is not a real thing. It’s going to be hard, but stick with it and you’ll be able to achieve it. And that would be a really valuable thing to put in front of our audience! Christopher: But actually the reason you are such a fascinating individual is that you actually tackle that problem and say, “Maybe there is a way to make it easy. It’s not talent, but maybe it doesn’t have to be such a hard long slog.” And in particular you do that with a structure you called the Practiclass. I’d love if we could talk a little bit about that, what’s in it, how it works and what our audience can learn from the things you share with students there.
Gregg Goodhart: Well, the main purpose of a Practiclass, let me give the overview. I always say “you, like me”, and I think I say this near the beginning, “most of you probably”, and I’ll say “how many people have experienced this problem?” and everyone’s hands go up. “You work like crazy. You have a few sections in your music that are very, very, very hard that are just technically beyond you. You know what you want them to sound like, but you continuously make -- they’re a problem and you work on them like crazy until the date of performance and you wonder why they don’t go well. And then you get very upset” And I say “I, we will fix one of those problems.” Gregg Goodhart: And I generally work with people who just did it in a jury or a recital or just gave a, don’t bring me something new. But we work on new stuff too, bring me something that you’ve given it your all and you just can’t get it. And in about 20 minutes, and I’ll talk about the method here in minute, in about 20 minutes or so and there’s video online of me doing this so I’m not making it up. And I think there’re enough students there that everyone can realize, I don’t know all those people in that part of all around the country that it was a set up and they can already do it and we’re faking it and I’m in front of an audience many times. So that’d be quite a setup. Again, when I do my practice coaching I always say, okay, first session is free come and by and I just do the same thing in this session. And in about 20 minutes we fixed one of those things so that it’s cleaner, exactly the way you want to sound. Faster, actually many times faster than you even want to play it. Think about that for a minute. It feels like you’re playing slow on stage and easier to play. It feels easier to play.
Gregg Goodhart: Now if you can do that -- after working on it for six months, if you can do that in 20 minutes, imagine what else you can do. And that’s the real focus of the Practiclass. I have come to find it is so hard to get people to do deliberate practice and to work like this because frankly it’s hard. My favorite line from the original deliberate practice study, which I always talk about in my workshops at Erickson’s 1993 study quote, “Deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable.” That’s my favorite line. If it is your probably not doing it, but you need to look for that difficulty, that challenge, that focus. So it’s going to be hard to do and you’re not going to get an immediate payoff, so you have to stay with it.
Gregg Goodhart: I designed the Practiclass to give that immediate payoff so that you could feel, it’s one thing for me, and you talked about, boy, it’s not a marketing tool. You’re fighting the good fight. If I may put it that way. You’re trying to get this good information out there that you know has a scientific basis and can be looked at as well, maybe he’s doing it for this. So what I do in a Practiclass is, okay, feel it. You feel it. I can say all day long that these empirical studies show this or that and that’s why I put the videos online. See it, hear it, feel it. You lack talent. You work as hard as you could, you couldn’t get it. And in 20 minutes you just got it. That internal feeling is the greatest motivation in the world. That’s what motivates people. And there’s good research that shows, if you will get people good at anything, and some of the research was throwing darts in a puddle.
Gregg Goodhart: They had one group that just tried and tried and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And they had another group that they gave a training regimen to. The first group, yeah, it was okay. And these are people who didn’t care about our darts at all. The second group couldn’t wait to play more and learn more about darts. By the way, that is where I believe passion comes from. Now I am positive, 100% positive passion can be created where there was none before. That is in the literature. I’m positive. So you can become passionate about music if you didn’t have a passion for music, you can become passionate for math and all of your academic studies, whatever it is. I know that sounds crazy by following teachers’ directions, doing a little bit of work at the beginning and gaining confidence so that it’s more fun instead of the wrong kind of struggle, which is the struggle that doesn’t get you results.
Gregg Goodhart: So to feel this is a really big deal. So I set up the Practiclass and what I do when I’m doing academics to get them to do this is I do dual coding. I said earlier, I give them to memorize a large volume of information. And then the whole, I stop every 15 minutes. What did I say? And they just rattle off. Well, my memory can work like that. They say, “Wow, my fingers can work like that?” And they can. The other thing I use, and I’ll tell you the methods in a second, but the other thing that is different about a Practiclass that I find important is I use it as a vehicle for teaching.
Gregg Goodhart: that is, unlike a masterclass where people will kind of say, “Yeah, do this and hey, what about that?” And I love this and tell stories about the famous people that they knew. When something happens, I stop and look at the class and say, “Listen, this is what’s going on.” What happened there was this, it was mindset. It was self control. Then here was contextual interference. This is how we did it. And as they’re struggling, you’ll see in almost every Practiclass as they’re struggling, I say, this is it. Everybody look, this is where you want to quit. This is what you want.
Gregg Goodhart: And then they watch as it’s struggle, struggle, struggle. They never get it right. Struggle, struggle, struggle, and then we stop you go back and do it the original way, and it’s through the roof. So I use it as a teaching exercise. So what do I do in that class? Generally, I consider a Practiclass a bit of a parlor trick, though it is genuine. First as it builds off the practice they already have, it’s not going to work if you’ve never played the thing before though we can get you from never playing to learning pretty well, not to performance level by doing the same thing. And what I’m doing is employing a particular thing called contextual interference. Contextual interference is learning-
Christopher: Sorry, to interrupt. I wonder if you could pause before diving into this because I feel like what you do in that context is actually a notch more sophisticated than what most people out there are teaching on the topic of deliberate practice. I want to make sure our audience can appreciate what’s going on. So if you wouldn’t mind, could we first just talk a little bit about the idea of deliberate practice and then what that might look like in a vanilla sense and then what you’re doing in the Practiclass that’s maybe a bit different.
Gregg Goodhart: Sure. Of course everything is deliberate practice. So anything, any devices that I would bring in, will be serving deliberate practice. Deliberate practice demands constant improvement. In music, it’s very easy to explain, but the same explanation works anywhere. I will say that this is, I kind of came up with this on my own. I had seen other people talk about it but never in this context. I was at Florida State University, which is where K Anders Ericsson is at now doing some things and on a whim on my layover right before I got there, I emailed him. Then I asked, I said, “I used your research. I think it’s great.” He showed up to this classroom lecture I was doing, which was great. I was honored until I got to my version of deliberate practice and I realized I had never run it by him before and I was taking his research and explaining it, boy talk about performance anxiety.
Gregg Goodhart: I’m in the middle of my talk and I realized this, I’m about to pull up a slide, whatever… I talked to him later and he said it was fine. So Ericsson is fine with this, but boy that was nerve-wracking. So here’s how I illustrate it. We all do something, right. We’re going to do something. You’re going to learn a piece. In fact, we do reps, let’s use it in terms of doing reps, every rep should follow this.
Gregg Goodhart: You plan, I’m going to do something. You then do it. Then you reflect, put that right there. Then you reflect what was good, what was bad, how could I do better? If I don’t know how I can do it better, how could I find out? Perhaps writing it down and talking to my teacher. This is what I would call, I’m sorry if I’m using an American reference here, but the Indy car of learning. Indy cars, Indy 500, they go 212 or 230 miles an hour. They are highly engineered to the tightest tolerances. They are amazing, amazing speed machines. This is how most people do it and is the tricycle of learning.
Christopher: I should maybe just explain for anyone listening to the audio only podcast, what we’re looking at is a triangle with a plan, do and reflect in an endless loop. And what Gregg just covered up to create the tricycle was the reflect. Removing that from the triangle.
Gregg Goodhart: And isn’t it interesting, as we’re pulling together all we’re talking about because learning is an ecosystem. It isn’t one thing. Yes, deliberate practice, but how are you going to do it unless you know the factors that go into it? Isn’t it interesting that the reflect stage is orienting selective attention? What we talked about was so hard that we would want to begin to train by doing practice for short periods, so this is very hard to do. So people should be aware you can do this, I’m going to tell you a couple things are going to happen. You’ll do it the first time and then you’ll do your next one and it will be less unless you go, how much am I focusing? This is called meta cognition. Thinking about your thinking, unless you’re constantly going, am I doing this right? Am I doing this right? Trust me you won’t because I do it too.
Gregg Goodhart: I teach people how to do this. I’ve been doing this for years and in my own practice I will stop and go, I haven’t been focusing for the last 10 minutes. Like I have not been focusing. I had been on auto pilot. So you constantly need to readjust and see if you’re actually even doing this. It’s going to be hard because orienting selective attention takes mental energy, which is something refers to it as a psychic energy. You only have so much mental energy and you can only concentrate for so long. Apparently the research shows that experts can’t do more than five hours a day, and by the way, five hours a day of practice is a lot more than most people think it is because if you think you practice five hours, try documenting your start and stop times and take out everything, when you make a sandwich, when you fold laundry, you’ll find out it’s a lot less than you think because you need breaks.
Gregg Goodhart: So one thing that’s important about this is, the less you’ve done of it, the less you’ll be able to do of it. That means it’s going to frustrate you and you’re going to get to a point where you just can’t… Do you know how you know when you reach that point, when you reach mental confusion, I should be able to do this but I can’t. I think we’ve all had an experience where we’re repping something and then all of a sudden we just can’t do it. That means take a break. Well if sometimes that happens in a Practiclass, what I do there, because obviously we can’t take a 10 minute break at that point. I say stop everything you’re doing. Stare at the back wall for 30 seconds and think about nothing music related, thinking about what you’re going to do this weekend, think about it, whatever.
Gregg Goodhart: And after 30 seconds, it’s amazing because they go back and they can play it. So one of the first things you want to recognize about deliberate practice, and this is part of the original study and all subsequent research, is that if you’re doing it right, if you’re forcing yourself to focus and to reflect, it will weigh on you and you will experience mental fatigue. The only solution for that is a break, which is really weird because if you’ve finally gotten yourself to the point of I’m going to work hard, I’m going to focus and you’re all wound up to work hard. Once we get to that place, we want to have strength and that, “Oh, I need to take a break.” Yeah, that’s right.
Gregg Goodhart: Constant hard work isn’t a good thing because it diminishes the quality of the work we can do mentally. And this is in the literature. The general rule is three to one. If you do it for 45 minutes, take 15 minutes off. You generally can’t do, I found more than 90 minutes straight at a time and that, that takes years to develop. How about you start if you’re going to practice, how about instead of 30 minutes a day, how about several, two, three, four, five, five minute sessions of art. Because especially if you’re starting, you’re not going to need a huge warm up because you’re not doing whatever it is. You’re not doing anything real. You’re probably just learning bull-hold or home position on the piano, but do it. And then once you get it right, do it again. And then once you get it right, do it again. Make sure you have it right.
Gregg Goodhart: Then review the next day. Even though you’re sure you have it, don’t just do it. Go back and reflect and take breaks. So intense focus. Let it go after five minutes, watch how that works for you and it almost seems easier. Then as you start, then what happens is it becomes easier to focus A, because you’re building this circuitry in your brain because I’m telling you that reflective piece is everything. That reflect piece of that process is everything and that is a skill very few people are born with. It usually only comes out when fear is present. Boy, we reflect really well when we are afraid because we want to think. The brain knows how to learn best when it wants to get itself out of a bad situation. But we generally don’t, if all our needs have been met and were okay, which generally we’re not practicing music if those things haven’t happened.
Gregg Goodhart: So it will get frustrating and you will need breaks, it’s hard to make yourself take breaks, but once you start doing this, you will pretty quickly see the benefits. And this gets too, and the price of this is doing the frustrating deliberate practice. This leads to something that one researcher calls flow. This is a great concept. Everybody has experienced it. Have you ever sat down to practice or maybe if you’re more of a beginning practitioner and musician sat down to do something, anything work on a project, a home project or something for work and you start working and you feel like it’s been 10 or 15 minutes and you look up and it’s been an hour. We’ve all experienced that. Some people call it the zone. Some people just go, “No man, I guess time flies.” There’s a researcher who’s dedicated his entire career to figuring out what that is.
Gregg Goodhart: His name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s spelled just like it sounds. I always have to say that. What he is found, he calls it flow. What he has found is that’s just not a random state that occurs. That’s a state that you’re in control of and that you can make yours. And I do it all the time now and I do it with students. Once you get lost in the plan do reflect, time melts off the clock. You feel good because you’re constantly challenged. It’s a curiosity, by the way, this is the highest state of learning for the brain. What your brain wants more than anything else is to be rich and be, not just learning, but in being involved in the act of learning. But if we never get over that hump and we always think school sucks and right, I don’t like it. And learning isn’t fun because we’d never done it this way.
Gregg Goodhart: Then once you start doing enough of it that way, you get into flow states where you get so wrapped up in what you’re doing. That time melts off the clock. I had a friend over for a party about a week ago and we were talking about this, and he’s in the recording industry out here in Los Angeles, and he does all sorts of television series and voiceover work and stuff. And he always tells me how much he doesn’t like his job. “Eh, I don’t like my job. It’s a grind, it’s a grind.” Listening to someone say something 90 times in a row and having to edit stuff out there. And I’m just talking about flow he goes, “You know, that happens to me sometimes at work, but I don’t like work.” And I said, “So when that hour goes off the clock, you stop and go, boy, I hated every second of that?”
Gregg Goodhart: “No, I guess that I don’t”, he was even experiencing flow in a place where he thought he wasn’t experiencing enjoyment. I will tell you at the very least, if you have unpleasant work you want to do, losing time is enjoyable. Let’s just start with that. That an hour feels like 10 minutes. But if you really think about it, the reason you lost time is because you were so involved in problem solving, the essence of high efficiency learning. So that’s I guess the basics of deliberate practice.
Christopher: Thank you. Yeah, you’ve just kind of bridged to what I find so fascinating about the Practiclass as you run because often when I see deliberate practice talked about, it’s simplified down to you’ve got to work on the bits that are difficult. So in the music context I think a lot of musicians immediately think, okay so we don’t get to play the whole piece, which you can play these two bars and if I flub it then I’ll think about, well maybe I should finger it this way instead. Or maybe I should try playing it that way instead. Which is all true and all genuinely characteristic of deliberate practice.
Christopher: But what you just said about flow, I think points to what I find so fascinating about the Practiclass, which is that you also introduced this idea of contextual interference, which in a sense fabricates that zone of the perfect level of difficulty in a way that I think is difficult to do otherwise. We want to be just focusing on the tricky part, but that gets pretty boring and you have to really try to think of new ways to tackle it. And it’s quite limited compared to what you do in the Practiclass. So I’d love if you could share what is contextual interference and what’s the relevance here?
Gregg Goodhart: Well, contextual interference is basically doing something but in a new way that is confusing. I’ll elaborate. I know that sounds confusing, but in a new way that confuses you. It’s been called by one researcher at UCLA, a two of them actually Roberts and Elizabeth, your desirable difficulty. One article they wrote was called Making Things Hard on Yourself, but in a Good Way. There are ways, and this is a very prescriptive, you can’t just make something harder on yourself. You can’t go outside and practice in a downpour and expect that to work. Though actually it probably won’t be that bad. Anything that makes you focus harder, right?
Gregg Goodhart: So what has been found is that, by the way, Bjork isn’t the only one. And some of these scientific findings go back to the late 19th century and we’re still not using them in most learning. So when I talk about doing something in a different way, you want it once everyone probably knows the experience most people, and if you’re just starting out playing, you will know if you start doing deliberate practice, you will experience this as well. You’ll slow down, you’ll work something out, we’ll figure out the fingering and now you can play it. You can’t play it fast, you can’t play it the way you want, but technically your fingers are all going to the right spot.
Gregg Goodhart: Old thinking was, and by that I mean the way I practiced for a long time and it will work to some extent, was now do that thing a hundred times in a row every day until it feels good. And I would do that. I used to have what I call a hundred rep scheme that I used to go through keeping track of my rep and it worked. But boy, Oh boy, if I only knew how much time I was wasting and having my students waste by doing that. There is a place for mass repetition and we don’t have time to get into it here, but there is a master repetition, then contextual interference, then spacing and all this other stuff. There is a place for mass repetition one after another help refine and initially get it in, but we all know that we seem to hit plateaus, we do repetition and we wait with all music teachers and anyone who’s been studying music for a while knows about the plateaus.
Gregg Goodhart: The thing about the plateau is it can be broken. I know for years when I taught, especially in my music store days when I didn’t know very much about teaching at all, I would say just stay with it. I’ve been at this long enough to know that plateaus break over time. They do. It may take 14 months, but they, I’ve experienced them but they do. Oh my gosh, every time you hit a plateau, just use the cure. And the cure is some sort of contextual interference that is making it slightly harder, making you reload it into your brain. One of the ones you’ll see me using a lot in a Practiclass is dotted rhythms. The reason I use this is because they’re a little bit easier to teach. Because there’s a good 30 or 40 things I have that work this way and once, and I will tell you once you use this, will become less and less effective as you get better at doing it.
Gregg Goodhart: So you have to find new ways to make it more difficult. It’s funny, I’ve run into this on the East coast and Southeast a lot when I’ve taught out there in the United States. I say, well, do you try different rhythms? And I will for anyone curious, explain this process. It’s also on that handout on my website, which is called practical ways to play better now, right now come on, go do it. That’s really how I feel about all this stuff. Just go do it. Stop your whining and complaining, just try this. It takes 10 minutes a day for five days. It’s free. You don’t have to pay me anything. Then go to Musical U and do what they say in that way. There you go. Just try it. Please get better.
Gregg Goodhart: So, I’m sorry. I lost my train of thought. But applying deliberate practice. So what we start with is, I generally start with dotted rhythms. If you’re playing a melody, here’s the melody and if the melody has different rhythms in it, okay, straighten them out, one note at a time. That alone for some people will cause desirable difficulty. If you have trouble doing that, be very happy. That’s exactly what you want. If you are not having trouble, you are not getting what you want now that’s okay. You might not have trouble with the first step, then relearn it with a dotted rhythm. Now play. This is where you started. Now play it like this.
Gregg Goodhart: In almost every case, everywhere, people will start to have a lot of problems and they won’t be able to do it. That’s what we want. Now, in some cases, I had people do dotted rhythms very quickly and very easily. Usually people who play jazz, they know dotted rhythms inside and out.
Christopher: Was that the East Coast thing you mentioned?
Gregg Goodhart: Oh, then the East coast thing. So I say, have you been, and so anyway, then I do what I call a reverse dot, music history calls it the scotch snaps, which is very uncommon and that trips everyone up. So sometimes I ask the people, do you do different? “Oh yes,” what do you do? “Oh, I do rhythms.” I say, “Well, show me.” And they do once with a dot, once with like a triplet, and they had this specific set where you already learned those. They’re not working anymore. So what happens is, and it all is in the communication, how do we teach deliberate practice as we were saying, what is, is their teacher taught them a manifestation of the concept of desirable difficulty. He did not teach them about desirable difficulty.
Gregg Goodhart: So that they gave them a fish, and they ate for a day instead of teaching them how to fish, so they could eat for a lifetime. So yes, it worked because you can bet when they first showed it to these people it works spectacularly well. Then what happened? It worked less and less, and now we’re right back where we started. How was it that you didn’t give them the, well just keep looking for something different to do. So that’s what we do in the Practiclass. Sometimes it will be a different situation. Sometimes I want them to play it backwards. Backwards is great. Usually after we do that we play it backwards, and I can usually tell I’ve gotten it right when someone goes, that’s what I wanted to do. If it’s going to cause you that kind of distress, that’s what you’re looking for.
Gregg Goodhart: We just go through whatever variations we need to go through, and you’ll watch, they will struggle. I will point it out to the group, look at them struggle. In fact, I talk about the universal sign of learning. There really is a universal sign of learning. For instance, this, everyone around the world knows what this is. It means you’re choking it’s universal, a smile is universal. Everyone knows that means happy everywhere. You don’t need language. There is truly, and I’m not joking about this, a universal sign of learning, and you can see my videos when I point to it happened. It looks like this.
Gregg Goodhart: The brow furrows, the eyes narrow, the lips purse. When someone starts doing that, losing track of their facial expressions and has to focus so hard, then you know you’ve hit the sweet spot. I call it the international sign of learning and that is the manifestation of desirable difficulty, which is kind of a moving target. If you’ve learned rhythms, you better learn some other ones after that comes something called spacing and interleaving, but that’s probably going too far. Just try this much. It will get you so far and then you’ll have the tools to investigate it further.
Christopher: Fantastic and I want to make sure we are giving people the concepts, not just the fish as it were. Something else you use in the Practiclass is to slow things right down to the point where the student almost can’t help but get it right on the basis that practicing it perfectly is what creates the connections in the brain that we’re looking for rather than trying it at full speed and stumbling half the time. That might seem that, I think to some people at odds with this idea of playing it a whole bunch of different ways. Is that not confusing the brain and teaching it different correct performances?
Gregg Goodhart: This is what we see in a lot of this stuff. Everything is true at the same time, and you have to know when to use what. In other words, you have to work hard and take breaks -- but when, that’s the key.
Gregg Goodhart: So you were asking about the seemingly contradictory information that well, we should get it really, really slow and then well, why should we get it slow and do it differently? And it seems contradictory. Well, this is how it works. You first, in fact, I wish I had the graphic with me. It may even be on our old interview, I might’ve sent of the three images of the brain learning a task, it’s on my website. It’s a FMR imaging of how a brain learns a task at the very beginning, basic moves. It was a fine motor skill task, and it shows the brain lit up like crazy trying to figure out what’s going on, right?
Gregg Goodhart: We only use 10% of my brain. No one knows where that came from. It’s a myth. I think what it really means is we only use 10% of our effort. It’s actually better to use more of your brain in the beginning and less later. If you watch is the skill becomes more and more automatized, which is what we want, not having to think about it. Less and less of the brain is used until it collapses down in what is called a process efficiency change. That is the most efficient small area retro. Why use more of the brain when you can do it more efficiently and use less? The brain cannot store energy. It’s glucose that it recruits from the rest of the body. It cannot store energy. The less energy it uses, the better. It already uses the most energy of anything in your body and that’s a good thing.
Gregg Goodhart: That is a neural network. I wish I had the, please ask me. I’ll send you graphics for this. The way neural networks work is everything that we do, everything that we think are represented by a neural network, that is neurons, brain cells, talking to other brain cells. They do this by sending a little electrical chemical impulse back and forth between each other. But to get the neurons to communicate, you have to tell them which ones need to be communicating. That’s the initial slowing it down process. If you’re playing too fast, if you’re doing something wrong, those are the neurons that will communicate. Those are the neurons that will say, this is what we want to do when we come to this part of the music.
Gregg Goodhart: Think of this. If you’re never really focusing, and you’re just doing reps, and you do it four different ways and none of them are probably exactly right. Which of those four are you going to get in the performance? Is it any wonder we have so many problems. So the first thing you want to do in order to get the neural network, which is the movement, which represents the movement, is you want to get the movement absolutely correct. You can’t know what you’re going to apply contextual interference to until you know what you’re going to apply contextual interference to. You have to be able to do it. So that is the first process. Now what’s really interesting is you go, and you can only do it slowly.
Gregg Goodhart: Learning research shows, I love this statement from one study was the first steps of learning are usually mitigated by vision. In other words, if we’re learning something, we need to look at it. You need to either watch ourselves and do it or read or look at directions and if you go too fast, your eyes aren’t going to pick it up. Why? Because you don’t have a mental model for what it should look like. You’re developing that mental model. This goes to something for all you cognitive psychology. This goes to cognitive load theory if you’re into that stuff that’s kind of new. It’s too much on your working memory to figure out what to do. So you know what? Slow it down so slow that you are in full control of everything.
Gregg Goodhart: This gets the correct neurons to fire off and create the right neural network. Now, and if you look at the way we did in the Practiclass. Now, once you have the neural network, now make it… Now it’s easy. Now you’re just going to play it over and over again. That’s great for a little while. That produces something called myelin, which insulates your axons and helps the electro chemical impulse, called action potential move faster. But then it only goes so far and then we hit the plateau.
Gregg Goodhart: So first do it right, get the neural representation right then gradually introduced contextual interference. I will tell you, we don’t have time for it here. There’s actually a step after that where you do something else different on top of that. And that’s how you space and schedule your work that actually works beyond that. If anyone really gets into this stuff, I would encourage them in their investigations to look into interleaving and spacing. A really great book for that is called Make it Stick. But believe me, you could just do what we talked about today, and it would keep you going for a couple of years.
Christopher: Absolutely. I love that you have videos of some of these Practiclasses on YouTube for people to watch and see an action how this works and see the students push themselves but in a really productive and effective way. Is this the kind of thing you get into at your practice coaching as well, where you’re working one on one with someone over a period?
Gregg Goodhart: Yes, we do the these online much like I use Zoom as you are using, and we’re never really taught how to learn. If you think about how we teach anything, if you’re an instrument teacher or if you teach anything, if you teach, you’re a manager, and you teach people at work, we don’t say figure most of it out on your own. We give very specific directions and think about how we teach an instrument. Do we teach something once? No, we go back to it next week, next week, next week and we don’t do it for a month. Then we go back to it again. Then we check to see if you got it right and when we go back to it, what do we do? We refine it. Okay, good. You got that now what you want to do is move your finger this way.
Gregg Goodhart: Now on your bull-hold, do this. Now pressure do that. What do we do with learning? At best a couple of tips and tricks. So what it is, it is the same thing as learning an instrument, but for learning practice, it’s basically practice lessons. I call them coaching sessions, and we placed them in between lessons. So you have your lesson on Thursday, you do your practice coaching session on Monday or something like that. The first thing I say is, what does your teacher wants you to learn? Well, this, okay, how are you doing it? And it always goes like this while I was doing this. Okay, let’s stop. There’s a better way to do that. And what will happen, and I think if anyone watches this or maybe downloads the document or does some of the things on your site, what will happen is over time you will get away from this stuff.
Gregg Goodhart: It’s just human nature. You won’t notice it. You’ll start to focus a little less, progress will be a little less. You’re not as curious anymore. Not only do you have to continue focusing, but you then have to ask what’s next? That’s another reason why I teach in that format, anyone could figure it out on their own, how to do this. It would take an extraordinary amount of effort and a long time. So anyone could figure out how to play the violin like a Virtuoso on their own, they’ll probably take 30 years because you would be competing against people who are going to teachers who, because it’s all trial and error, right? Plan, do, reflect, try, try again. Keep trying. All teachers do. I hope no teachers get mad at me about this. All we do is reduce the amount of trials. That’s all teaching is.
Gregg Goodhart: We get you more close more quickly without trials, what you need to do and then you can do the trials within that area. So we have this for instruments. We’re smart enough to know that theory is really important, but we need to have a several year course outside of instrument to teach music theory. We know that ear training is really important, and we use it in lessons. We have courses outside with music history, and these courses aren’t just one week they’re years long yet for practicing the single greatest determinant and probably the most difficult and mysterious area of all of them, you do nothing. Not even a week long workshop, which by the way, I teach week long workshops, one at Arkansas state and one in Louisville of all every summer that’ll be up on my website soon for teachers and students to do this.
Gregg Goodhart: We just don’t teach it, so it just doesn’t need, it doesn’t it in general. Now I have had students who show up to, this has happened at least once, who show up to a Practiclass. Oh my gosh, I get it. I’ve never talked to again who downloaded stuff up there and started doing their investigation on their own and ended up soaring. That’s very rare. That would look like talent. Most people will try and then without knowing it, move away from it and back and need to be guided. I’ve just done it with so many people. It really is, teaching is as complex as surgery and if anyone laughs at that, they don’t understand teaching. Part of the problem we have with learning how to learn and learning how to practice because most people don’t understand how involved teaching is. And at the end of the day, practice is teaching yourself. That’s all that it is.
Gregg Goodhart: It’s taking the information you got from someone and learning how to best get it inside of you so that you can use it. How well we teach ourselves really is the key. So that’s what practice coaching is a course of study. And I would like to add something that is not the best business decision in the world, but it works great. And that is, I almost never will allow anyone to stay longer than eight weeks. Even though I would get paid for it and most people will ask, things have been going so great. I say, “No, no. What you need to do is you need to start, you need to feel the desirable difficulty of figuring this out on your own,” so it’s not open-ended. It’s not well, sign up for practice coaching in the next five years you’re studying violin, and you’re studying, that might be good for my virtual studio, but it’s not the way the brain would learn best.
Gregg Goodhart: At best, I recommend, and this happened sometimes come back in six weeks or six months if you still feel that way. Most of the time they don’t come back at least for six months, or a year because they’re afraid at first, but it starts to work. They start to figure it out. They’ve learned besides the actual things that we do problem solving, which is the key, they’ve learned to think critically, and they start to figure things out on their own. So I did want to add that it’s not, “Oh great. I have to sign up for endless lessons.” It’s a pretty quick deal to get to that point, and you get better right away. It’s just like the play. It’s like a really intensive Practiclass every week.
Christopher: Tremendous. And for now at least, you’re very generously letting people get that first session free to see if it’s a good fit. I know that for a lot of people in our audience, one of the biggest challenges in learning music is feeling like they don’t have enough time and then not improving fast enough. I think I just have to echo the sentiments of the Stanford PhD I mentioned at the beginning who said, “I came across the theory, but I wasn’t really getting the benefit from it in my life.”
Christopher: I know that’s so common, these ideas around deliberate practice and different ways to approach practice are becoming a bit more known among musicians, but how many of us are actually using them and getting the benefit and improving so much faster. So I just, I call them recommend highly enough the work you do, I can’t applaud highly enough the work you do and recommend ggoodheart.com we’ll have links in the show notes, but check out the Practiclass videos. Get the free handout that tells you all the details of this contextual interference approach, well not all of them, but certainly I have left enough to keep you busy and having fun for awhile and to check out the practice coaching Gregg offers because yeah, I what better use of your time than learning to make better use of your time? Any parting words of wisdom or encouragement for audience Gregg?
Gregg Goodhart: Well, anyone who knows me, and my students know that this is a very important concept with me is I don’t do false praise. I think you’re doing wonderful work with Musicality, and I think it’s the good fight. I do appreciate what you do as well. There’s one thought I had when you brought up the guy from Stanford. I want to tell you a little bit about him. He’s an actor. He was working on getting his acting better, so it had nothing to do with music, and he didn’t tell me about this at all. He had figured out what he wanted to do and get better in this, so I show them the structure, how to do it, how to build practice, all that stuff. And said, “This is amazing.” In the very last session we had, he said, “I have to tell you something. I have a PhD from Stanford in science education.”
Gregg Goodhart: In other words, he’s the guy you want running your high school science department at the most expensive, elite private school in the country. He’s everything you want. And he said, “I never figured this stuff out like you’re doing.” I said, “But of course, Carol Dweck is at Stanford, “Mindset”! That’s where she’s at.” I said, “You must have talked about Dweck, of course, we talked about Dweck. You must’ve talked about Bjork. Yes, we talk about Bjork. But no one showed me how it all fits together and how it all works.” I think what we’re doing is truly revolutionary. And what I have found to my she grin, but to be historically accurate. Is that true revolutionary innovation is hard until it hits.
Gregg Goodhart: Most people believe in talent as an article of faith, not as an art and if you tell them it doesn’t exist, they feel that you’ve told them something is wrong in their belief system or them. It’s very hard to be in our position seeing the solutions to this stuff, but they are out there, and I will say they are just like my friend who I met in a professional capacity, and friends now they’re just like my friend from Stanford. You can have that much training, that good and still not know how to do it and guys like me and him are the ones who can show you how to, I know it sounds crazy, but guys like me and him are the ones who can show you how to do it. And if he misses it after a PhD in science education, please don’t take it as an insult to think that you’ve been missing it 10 times worse. It’s not an insult. It’s a valuable piece of information that will help you with everything you do. Thank you for your time.
Christopher: Thank you so much Gregg.
Gregg Goodhart: All right. Take care.
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