Tag Archives: Music

Musicians, memory, and learning

Great post over at Scienceblogs.com by Dave Munger titled “Musicians have better memory — not just for music, but words and pictures too

As musicians, we are constantly training ourselves to memorize. We spend hours upon hours memorizing music, and using mnemonic cues such as melodies, song form, harmony, music notation, and so on to help us memorize. Many of us start at a very early age.

Not only that, but practicing music is really doing repetitive calisthenic exercise on the parts of your brain that process technical thinking. We count over and over again (one and a two and a…), those beats are subdivided into fractions and complex mathematical iterations begin to permutate in both rhythm and harmonic elements of music performance.

It gets better: Music composition is really just another flavor of writing code. Musicians who read music are trained to read code from an early age. Musicians make excellent programmers.

So it is clear to me that music instruction is a critical component of education, and should begin consistently and from an early age. This is the best way to develop inherent technical thinking skills, improve memory, and help kids survive in an age where the people who know how to write code, or at least can think in code-like patterns, have a far greater chance of success professionally.


Mazurka for Guitar

I have been learning LilyPond for music engraving lately and I love it!

I have always been intrigued by the intersections between music and programming. LilyPond really appeals to the coder in me because you are basically writing code in a text editor, and out comes beautiful sheet music.

Here is a work I did many years ago, Mazurka, for guitar. I used this as a learning example because it presents several problems for music engraving, in a nice short work that doesn’t require one to commit to a huge ordeal. It covers basic notation issues such as fingerings, arpeggiation, a free-form cadenza, dynamics, tempo, and articulations.

The PDF of the work will remain available right here, and I’m releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license, so please feel free to download it, play it, and redistribute it as you wish–just always attribute the composer, and don’t alter it in any way. Enjoy, and thanks!

Oh, and if you do perform it or have any questions on interpretation, please feel free to let me know in by posting a comment.


I am a recent convert to Last.fm, but know that this has been a long time coming.

I have hit Last.fm many times since they launched. But I always found it, well, kind of useless in the past. I wasn’t grabbing very useful recommendations, and the usability of the software client and the website were lacking in my opinion. Cut to many months later, and something appears to have changed. The content of this site appears to have improved since last I checked – more music of the type I was looking for. Probably the root cause of my problems before was that I have a masters in music performance on a bizarre instrument known as the double bass, with tastes that includes baroque lute music, north Indian classical music, Charles Mingus, and Nine Inch Nails. Suddenly where before things appeared kind of barren in the eclectic world, some critical mass has been reached to the point where I am finding music I am interested in, and the mind of this thing is able to make reasonable recommendations to feed my insatiable consumption of new things to hear. This is the good part.

However, there is a bad part. Their widgets are a hideous bluk of code. I so wish they would just make ’em 100% Flash or something so I could do some sort of standards-compliant embed mode that had a bit more architectural beauty than this behemoth:

(Note – the widget that was here has been redacted because I couldn’t stand looking at the HTML validation errors that appeared here every single time I visited my own website. Please visit my playlist on last.fm instead.)

It pained me to post that. Sure it looks and works great in a nice big browser, but I’m sure this is going to suck on my iPhone and embedding all that inline design cruft and HTML table junk was heartburn-inducing. 100% Flash would have been nice. Or better, just an MP3 stream URL. Well, it is a cool widget and all, but it just seemed like a lot of code…

In addition, the site itself seems to be a bit much. I think less features would make it more usable, but it’s hard to take things back once they’re out there. There should be an add to playlist button or something in the player when viewing a single track web page rather than leaving it in the left column. Recommending tracks to others in my network should be easier – a select menu or type-ahead autocomplete feature rather than having to go look up or memorize everyone’s user IDs.

But on the whole, this is the most interesting music-related website I’ve seen yet. I’ve been addicted to it for the past few days now and really think this one is a hit.

Key Points on Practicing Music

As I work on my research for my final project, I came across this gem from “The Science and Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning” by Parncutt & McPherson. If you are a practicing musician or a teacher trying to motivate your students to practice, these points are really worth taking to heart:

  • Engage in metacognition—become mindful about practicing and related physical and mental processes. Be consciously aware of your own thought processes.
  • Approach practice systematically. Do not go about practice haphazardly. Practice is more effective when it is structured and goal-oriented.
  • Engage in mental practice (cognitive rehearsal) in combination with physical practice.
  • Invest time in score study and analysis, particularly when beginning a new piece.
  • Plan regular practice sessions with several relatively short sessions distributed across time.
  • Acknowledge the relationship between time spent practicing and achievement and set out to invest the time necessary.
  • Be aware of the importance of motivation. When teachers and parents allow students to make some choices about goals and repertoire, student motivation is likely to increase.
  • Listen to high-quality models of musical performance. This is particularly important for beginning musicians. Parents and teachers should invest in a library of fine recordings and, if capable, play and/or sing often for their charges.
  • Support and nurture young musicians. Parents and teachers should demonstrate keen interest and involvement in music study and practice.

I would love to hear if anyone has any further practice ideas akin to the above list, or comments on these issues.

Reverse Psychology

This is how I get Max to practice:

Get my bass and his violin out. Ask Max to help me learn his pieces on the bass (i.e. Suzuki book 1, ABCs of Violin, Fiddle Magic, etc…) Play the piece he’s working on and ask him to point out any mistakes. Intentionally make many mistakes. He points ’em out, with much giggling. Ask him to play it for me so I can hear it. And voilà – he’s playing it just fine. Repeat, simply making mistakes where he needs to work on it.

Bonus points: I get to work on my thumb position technique and treble clef reading at the same time.