Learn Music and Develop Pattern Recognition

This article deals with one important aspect of brain-based learning, namely pattern recognition.

To illustrate pattern recognition in action, let’s start from a simple example:

Let’s look at two rows of 6 numbers each.

A: 19, 21, 25, 31, 39, 49

B: 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14

Look at them, analyze them, and try to remember them. Without looking, take a piece of paper and write the numbers down in order. Now compare your numbers with the ones on this page. Which row was easier to remember? How did you do it?

When asked how they remembered the first list, some people will give some complicated rule, others will say that they memorized it outright. As for the second list, they will say something like “I counted backward from 19 to 14”. When asked to recall the two lists at some later point, most people will likely remember B while having forgotten A.

Most people would agree that the list B was far easier to remember. What makes it easy to remember is the recognition that the numbers are not random, but go in a certain order (“count backwards”) In other words, memorizing a small amount of information (in this case, the numbers 19 and 14) and seeing a pattern or a rule (count backwards) is a faster, easier and more effective way of learning than rote memorization.

Here is how this insight applies to learning music and playing the piano. In the Brain-Based piano method, in the “Initiation level”, students learn first by listening and playing how to recognize and apply the “rules of music” (equivalent to “counting backwards” in the example above) by ear before they look at a song on paper. This allows them to concentrate on understanding what they hear, without the distraction of trying to learn to read music notation at the same time.

Once they are introduced to printed music, they are already looking for patterns they know “must be there”.

Here is an example of the children’s song “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. For comparison we have also included the same song, as it would normally appear in a traditional elementary method (A), and as it appears in the Brain-Based Piano method (B).

  1. The children’s song “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as it would appear in a traditional method.Mary-Traditional
  2. Same song as it appears in the Brain-Based Piano Method.Mary-BBPM

Both are written on the standard double staff, with two connected staves, a top staff with the treble clef for the right hand (which plays the melody) and a bottom staff with the bass clef for the left hand (which plays the accompaniment).

Let’s repeat the experiment with the two number rows, this time with the two pieces of music. Look at picture A and see if you can spot some patterns. Then do the same with picture B.

Most beginners fail to see any pattern in A. The beginners we asked to describe what they see in B said something like “two lines of music almost the same”. And they are right. The song is comprised of two phrases that start the same but end differently. The first two measures of the first line are the same as the first two measures of the second line. This situation, called in music theory “antecendent-consequent phrases” is frequently found in children’s songs. In the BBPM, it is called “question and answer”.

The left hand in A hand has little repetition, but a lot of notes without any obvious pattern or connection to the melody or anything else. A student asked to learn it has no choice but to learn by rote. We do not know personally any student who enjoys doing that.

The left hand in B has a pattern that is easy to detect: two times the same sequence of two notes: Do-Do-Sol-Do. These two notes (called the Tonic and the Dominant) are very special for the melody as well as the accompaniment.

Most students learn the left hand intellectually in a matter of seconds. Being able to play it physically takes a little more time and practice. After a while, in which playing the song on this level (and many other songs) has had time to become second nature, it is possible to add the figuration seen in figure A in the left hand (a style of accompaniment known as Alberti Bass). This figuration is based on the same notes Do-Do-Sol-Do.

This is perhaps the most fundamental difference between the traditional method and BBPM. Whereas in the traditional method the student starts by learning by rote relatively complicated pieces, only to learn the organizing principles of music later (perhaps in a theory class), in the BBPM, these principles are front and center, learned along and with the songs and the repertoire.

Music abounds with patterns, proportions, structures inside other structures, etc. The Brain-Based Piano Method-Beginner Level presents the core organizing principles of music using children’s songs as vehicles for learning and experimentation. The curriculum is organized on principles derived from our knowledge about how the brain learns best. Complexity is built gradually on a strong foundation of core elements. Students using this method learn to play while understanding how the music they are learning works and, starting from these principles, how to create their own music.

 

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