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Note to DJ and all: adult always learn slower than children: myth or science?


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Hello DJ!

I really loved your recent post about how sick you

were of the mediocrity line we adult often get.

From studying psychology, I have learned that the knowlegde

we have about learning and the brain in still very

limited and questionable.

For example, I read recently in a textbook of

cognitive psychology that it is actually NOT

than proven that children learn foreign languages

much better that adults- the word they used was myth!

(J. Anderson, introduction to cognitive psychology)

And as far as music learning

goes, there are still way too little research on the

concrete topic of learning instruments, many of the

current "truths" being borowed from general theories

of developmental psychology. As as far as research in

gereral goes, I am learning to be very critical to

any findings, as the methodes often leave a lot to

desire. (all the sweet little tricks one can play with

statistics for example.) And I wonder just how one

can scientifically compare children and teens who have the time and energy

to pratice hours and hours a day after school with

adults who have to work and raise a family ect -

the conditions are much different! And much of

performance has to do with expecations and beliefs:

for example, one study showed that elderly persons

who had negative beliefs about intellectual performance

in old age actually performed worse in tests compared

with elderly adults who had a positive attitude towards

intellectual performace in old age.

So as far as violin goes- if your teacher or you yourself

are expecting you to do worse because after all, you

are "only" an adult beginner, chances are you will.

I always looked for teachers who demanded just as much

of me as of the kids.

As far as my everyday experiece goes, I know of professional

violinist and cellists who didn't start until they were

16. And like you observed in your music school: At

my first recital I as a 22-year old had actually surpassed (in 6 months)

ALL of the other kids who had started earlier than I-

and the most advanced students were two "adult learners".

At the next music school I experienced more or less

the same thing.

Of course there are "Wunderkinder" who after four years

are playing Mozart and Beethoven like the pros, but

if you stick to the rest of us "average" people, like

you said: most of the kids I have seen are just as "mediocre" as the

adults if not more so. My current violin teacher says

that all of her adult learners have learned faster

than her kids up till now!

And personally, if I had started as a kid, I probably

would have hated it and wouldn't be playing at all!

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In my personal experience, the kids that learned faster WERE NOT practicing more! that was the whole point. I would spend a lot of time, endlessly playing a tune, and then kid #2 would

consistently take the fiddle from my hands and

play it, right, or nearly so, the first time.r This boy is no practicing fiend. I have to remind him to practice almost always. What has been proven is that people who started playing before age 12 have an area in their brain that is larger than the general population of people, musicians, and string players who did not.

I still agree that it's only a general rule, that there

are adults that work harder and kids that are dullards and who don't care and dont learn.

m

: Hello DJ!

: I really loved your recent post about how sick you

: were of the mediocrity line we adult often get.

: From studying psychology, I have learned that the knowlegde

: we have about learning and the brain in still very

: limited and questionable.

: For example, I read recently in a textbook of

: cognitive psychology that it is actually NOT

: than proven that children learn foreign languages

: much better that adults- the word they used was myth!

: (J. Anderson, introduction to cognitive psychology)

: And as far as music learning

: goes, there are still way too little research on the

: concrete topic of learning instruments, many of the

: current "truths" being borowed from general theories

: of developmental psychology. As as far as research in

: gereral goes, I am learning to be very critical to

: any findings, as the methodes often leave a lot to

: desire. (all the sweet little tricks one can play with

: statistics for example.) And I wonder just how one

: can scientifically compare children and teens who have the time and energy

: to pratice hours and hours a day after school with

: adults who have to work and raise a family ect -

: the conditions are much different! And much of

: performance has to do with expecations and beliefs:

: for example, one study showed that elderly persons

: who had negative beliefs about intellectual performance

: in old age actually performed worse in tests compared

: with elderly adults who had a positive attitude towards

: intellectual performace in old age.

: So as far as violin goes- if your teacher or you yourself

: are expecting you to do worse because after all, you

: are "only" an adult beginner, chances are you will.

: I always looked for teachers who demanded just as much

: of me as of the kids.

:

: As far as my everyday experiece goes, I know of professional

: violinist and cellists who didn't start until they were

: 16. And like you observed in your music school: At

: my first recital I as a 22-year old had actually surpassed (in 6 months)

: ALL of the other kids who had started earlier than I-

: and the most advanced students were two "adult learners".

: At the next music school I experienced more or less

: the same thing.

: Of course there are "Wunderkinder" who after four years

: are playing Mozart and Beethoven like the pros, but

: if you stick to the rest of us "average" people, like

: you said: most of the kids I have seen are just as "mediocre" as the

: adults if not more so. My current violin teacher says

: that all of her adult learners have learned faster

: than her kids up till now!

: And personally, if I had started as a kid, I probably

: would have hated it and wouldn't be playing at all!

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Personally, my theory is kids have less "mental clutter" than adults, thus less to filter out and more ease in learning. How many of our children when they practice, have to push out thoughts of "Da Boss", our work, the mortgage payments, the car needs a tune up, "oh geez! I forgot to make little Johnny's dentist appointment, Eeek! we are out of milk, gotta run to the store, blah, blah, blah. Yep, less brain clutter with the kids, that's my theory :)

: : cognitive psychology that it is actually NOT

: : than proven that children learn foreign languages

: : much better that adults- the word they used was myth!

: : (J. Anderson, introduction to cognitive psychology)

: : And as far as music learning

: : goes, there are still way too little research on the

: : concrete topic of learning instruments, many of the

: : current "truths" being borowed from general theories

: : of developmental psychology. As as far as research in

: : gereral goes, I am learning to be very critical to

: : any findings, as the methodes often leave a lot to

: : desire. (all the sweet little tricks one can play with

: : statistics for example.) And I wonder just how one

: : can scientifically compare children and teens who have the time and energy

: : to pratice hours and hours a day after school with

: : adults who have to work and raise a family ect -

: : the conditions are much different! And much of

: : performance has to do with expecations and beliefs:

: : for example, one study showed that elderly persons

: : who had negative beliefs about intellectual performance

: : in old age actually performed worse in tests compared

: : with elderly adults who had a positive attitude towards

: : intellectual performace in old age.

: : So as far as violin goes- if your teacher or you yourself

: : are expecting you to do worse because after all, you

: : are "only" an adult beginner, chances are you will.

: : I always looked for teachers who demanded just as much

: : of me as of the kids.

: :

: : As far as my everyday experiece goes, I know of professional

: : violinist and cellists who didn't start until they were

: : 16. And like you observed in your music school: At

: : my first recital I as a 22-year old had actually surpassed (in 6 months)

: : ALL of the other kids who had started earlier than I-

: : and the most advanced students were two "adult learners".

: : At the next music school I experienced more or less

: : the same thing.

: : Of course there are "Wunderkinder" who after four years

: : are playing Mozart and Beethoven like the pros, but

: : if you stick to the rest of us "average" people, like

: : you said: most of the kids I have seen are just as "mediocre" as the

: : adults if not more so. My current violin teacher says

: : that all of her adult learners have learned faster

: : than her kids up till now!

: : And personally, if I had started as a kid, I probably

: : would have hated it and wouldn't be playing at all!

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I personnally think its basically a myth that adults learn slower than kids. I said "basically a myth". I think I've surpassed in the last 5 years what any kid having started say 5 to 7 years old would have accomplished.

However, I'm not at a stage where I think, either kid or adult, I would need to put in 4 or so hours a day to really get to a high level. I'm playing Mozart concertos and my teacher wants to me to start Mendelssohn. But now, I realize my 2 hours a day that I have done RELIGIOUSLY (but a labour of love, mind you) will not suffice.

A kid at the same stage as I, would likely be in high school and would either be in a similar quandry as I, or in some cases, his teachers and parents would arrange that he be in an educationaly environment where the main concentration would be his violin.

I like most adults have to juggle work and playing. I try to use every minute I can get - taking lessons, an hour in the morning before going to work, an hour most evenings, play in an orchestra, play chamber music, listen to music. But if I could, I know I would know how to use an extra 2 hours a day and might have a chance of keeping up with a child at the same stage as I.

I do know of one case where an adult cello player at roughly my stage of technique suddenly fell into a big enough sum of money that he could quick working and did nothing more than play cello. He has progressed to be a very strong player.

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: Personally, my theory is kids have less "mental clutter" than adults, thus less to filter out and more ease in learning. How many of our children when they practice, have to push out thoughts of "Da Boss", our work, the mortgage payments, the car needs a tune up, "oh geez! I forgot to make little Johnny's dentist appointment, Eeek! we are out of milk, gotta run to the store, blah, blah, blah. Yep, less brain clutter with the kids, that's my theory :)

My vote is with Elaine's theory!!

Claire

:

: : : cognitive psychology that it is actually NOT

: : : than proven that children learn foreign languages

: : : much better that adults- the word they used was myth!

: : : (J. Anderson, introduction to cognitive psychology)

: : : And as far as music learning

: : : goes, there are still way too little research on the

: : : concrete topic of learning instruments, many of the

: : : current "truths" being borowed from general theories

: : : of developmental psychology. As as far as research in

: : : gereral goes, I am learning to be very critical to

: : : any findings, as the methodes often leave a lot to

: : : desire. (all the sweet little tricks one can play with

: : : statistics for example.) And I wonder just how one

: : : can scientifically compare children and teens who have the time and energy

: : : to pratice hours and hours a day after school with

: : : adults who have to work and raise a family ect -

: : : the conditions are much different! And much of

: : : performance has to do with expecations and beliefs:

: : : for example, one study showed that elderly persons

: : : who had negative beliefs about intellectual performance

: : : in old age actually performed worse in tests compared

: : : with elderly adults who had a positive attitude towards

: : : intellectual performace in old age.

: : : So as far as violin goes- if your teacher or you yourself

: : : are expecting you to do worse because after all, you

: : : are "only" an adult beginner, chances are you will.

: : : I always looked for teachers who demanded just as much

: : : of me as of the kids.

: : :

: : : As far as my everyday experiece goes, I know of professional

: : : violinist and cellists who didn't start until they were

: : : 16. And like you observed in your music school: At

: : : my first recital I as a 22-year old had actually surpassed (in 6 months)

: : : ALL of the other kids who had started earlier than I-

: : : and the most advanced students were two "adult learners".

: : : At the next music school I experienced more or less

: : : the same thing.

: : : Of course there are "Wunderkinder" who after four years

: : : are playing Mozart and Beethoven like the pros, but

: : : if you stick to the rest of us "average" people, like

: : : you said: most of the kids I have seen are just as "mediocre" as the

: : : adults if not more so. My current violin teacher says

: : : that all of her adult learners have learned faster

: : : than her kids up till now!

: : : And personally, if I had started as a kid, I probably

: : : would have hated it and wouldn't be playing at all!

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WOW...just starting Mendelssohn concerto?

If you were in high school now, you definitely would NOT be at the stage to drop all your schoolwork in anticipation of a big concert career. If you were 15 years old and had already "technically" mastered all of the major concerti (Mendelssohn's actually pretty small spuds on the list of majors), and had won a couple of significant competitions, THEN it might be warranted. That having been said (and comparing you to a high school student of equal abilty), that student would have to balance practicie and schoolwork the same way you must balance practice and your job. Think about it.

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Maybe you misunderstood the previous post. I have never even contemplated giving up my work to devote myself to music, nor do I entertain even the wildest fantasy of competing with anyone else!

The discussion, it seems to me, was about whether adults were inherently slower at learning the violin. The point of my post to which you responded is that at a certain point, the time required to really work through the many challenges of advanced playing, often surpass what time many working adults have.

You really do not need to state "WOW...just starting Mendelssohn concerto?" nor remind me that what I'm playing amoun ts to "pretty small spuds". It does give me the impression that at least in regards to emotional maturity, you're not exactly in the adult category. I know my limits and don't care at all. As I mentioned, I play for the sheer love of it. Its a great joy in my life and, sure, I would love to have more time. But I'm also free from a lot of the stress and competition which young musicians face when they try to take a crack at becoming a professionsal.

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Dr. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues are experimental psychologists who have been conducting research for 15+ years on the concept of expert performance. Dr. Ericsson and I have spent many hours discussing our joint research interests. Dr. Ericsson, Tom Heimberg (who is a contributing writer for Strings magazine and a violist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra), and I are currently working on a research project related to a concept called "deliberate practice" (I won't go into the details about it because it would take too long right now). It is impossible to summarize 15 years of Dr. Ericsson's research, however, some general SCIENTIFIC conclusions can be made:

1) Expert performance, defined as skill great enough that a person is able to earn a living as a performer) is different from the ability to learn to play an instrument in general.

2) The vast majority of people who are experts began learning their instrument or skill before the age of 10.

3) Some interesting research on music conservatory students (none were over the age of 25) divided into 3 skill levels (ranked by the conservatory teachers) demonstrated that the primary difference between the 3 groups was the age at which the person started playing.

4) Approximately 10,000 hours of highly focused practice is minimum for achieving a moderate skill level (defined as entry level music conservatory students).

5) In my discussions with Dr. Ericsson, we are more and more convinced that "talent" is a combination of above-average intelligence, creative problem-solving skill, and an intense motivation/drive to learn a particular skill to the extent that other activities/commitments are distant in the priority hierarchy (this may be a response to some of Elaine's comments re: divided attention). All three of these ingredients are essential to the concept of talent and the development of expertise.

A few additional points I would like to make include:

1) To Ari: Perhaps there is a cultural difference here, but cognitive psychology as taught in graduate school in the U.S. is the experimental study of human mental processes including perception, learning, language, nonverbal processes, memory, attention, motor skills, and other human behaviors. Cognitive scientists spend their careers conducting research on how the mind (and it is assumed that the mind is what the brain does) processes information. Cognitive scientists have discovered how babies learn to communicate, the safest/most efficient location for the accelerator and brake controls of your automobile, and how people know how to get from one place to another even if they can't provide the directions verbally, and many many many other important facts which in turn provide much useful information to industry, medicine, and education. Obviously, cognitive psychology is not "bull".

2) To all adult beginners/re-starters etc. Skill level is such a relative term that I don't even want to touch what it means to be "mediocre" or a "beginner" or "advanced" etc. It's useless to try to compare yourself to someone else if not actually listening and watching. Even stating what repertoire you are working on is not really helpful: working through the Mozart concerti is much different that being skilled enough that you are asked to play one of them with the Chicago Symphony. Personally, the more skill I acquire, the more I realize that I have to learn. This was brought home to me yesterday when the 15 year old student of a friend of mine announced to me that he could play the Vivaldi a minor "perfectly".

3) To KJS on your criticism of statistical methods: If an inappropriate statistical technique is used, sure, the data can be manipulated inappropriately. But my experience has shown me that there IS a single "best" (i.e. most appropriate or ethical) statistic to use for each data set, and using the appropriate statistic will yield valid scientific conclusions so long as correct rules of logic are applied.

The background producing my particular bias/viewpoint includes a bachelor's degree in violin performance (University of MI), and a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology with a minor in behavioral statistics (WSU). I set aside a career as a professional musician to learn more about human behavior, because this was where my motivation led me at the time. I stopped playing seriously for about 14 years in order to get my non-music career started, then resumed playing for the same reasons I set aside music for a while in order to become a scientist: it's where my motivation led me. I will probably never achieve my full potential in either field because of my choice 5 years ago to spend equal time on both my musical career and my scientific career, but I'm content and at peace with this decision because both pursuits so deeply enrich my life.

If you are interested in reading the scientific literature on the acquisition of expert performance, I would recommend that you begin with the following journal articles:

1) Ericsson KA, Charness N. Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 1994;49(8):725-747.

2) Ericsson KA, Krampe RT, Tesch-Romer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquistion of expert performance. Psychological Review 1993;100(3):363-406.

Please email me if you would like, but I'd love to see more meaningful discussion on this topic on this forum!

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: 4) Approximately 10,000 hours of highly focused practice is minimum for achieving a moderate skill level (defined as entry level music conservatory students).

I'm so encouraged! At 20 hours a week, in 10 years

I will be moderately skilled (yes, I'm dripping with

sarcasm).

Actually, I found this post very interesting. And

I would like to learn more about "deliberate

practice". I plan on tracking down the reference,

but could you give us a short abstract of

the paper?

Tina

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If that was your point, all I can say is that you explained it much better the second time around. I thought you were just whining.

You said that a kid at your present level would most likely be in high school and re-arrange school studies in order to focus more exclusively on the violin. I say "WRONG". At that stage, it's not time to sell the family tractor and head for the big city.

As far as emotional maturity goes, give me a break! I'm only three-and-a-half years old. My mom thinks I'm too young to be reading Maestronet (she must've seen some of those cool posts from ADean !), so I had to secretly assemble this computer using only my Snoopy soldering iron and some electric parts scavenged from my Fisher-Price wireless intercom.

Oh, speaking of the "rash" thing -- do you have any Desitin I could borrow?

KRA

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Mimi,

You know what? I'm am not sure I totally by in the

neural pathway stuff and all. I really thing that

children simplify stuff. I am 18, still a student

but violin playing is all in the approach you take

to it. I think as a general rule adults make it

harder for themselves.

just what I feel,

Tandre

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: Dr. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues are experimental psychologists who have been conducting research for 15+ years on the concept of expert performance. Dr. Ericsson and I have spent many hours discussing our joint research interests. Dr. Ericsson, Tom Heimberg (who is a contributing writer for Strings magazine and a violist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra), and I are currently working on a research project related to a concept called "deliberate practice" (I won't go into the details about it because it would take too long right now). It is impossible to summarize 15 years of Dr. Ericsson's research, however, some general SCIENTIFIC conclusions can be made:

: 1) Expert performance, defined as skill great enough that a person is able to earn a living as a performer) is different from the ability to learn to play an instrument in general.

: 2) The vast majority of people who are experts began learning their instrument or skill before the age of 10.

: 3) Some interesting research on music conservatory students (none were over the age of 25) divided into 3 skill levels (ranked by the conservatory teachers) demonstrated that the primary difference between the 3 groups was the age at which the person started playing.

: 4) Approximately 10,000 hours of highly focused practice is minimum for achieving a moderate skill level (defined as entry level music conservatory students).

:

: 5) In my discussions with Dr. Ericsson, we are more and more convinced that "talent" is a combination of above-average intelligence, creative problem-solving skill, and an intense motivation/drive to learn a particular skill to the extent that other activities/commitments are distant in the priority hierarchy (this may be a response to some of Elaine's comments re: divided attention). All three of these ingredients are essential to the concept of talent and the development of expertise.

:

: A few additional points I would like to make include:

: 1) To Ari: Perhaps there is a cultural difference here, but cognitive psychology as taught in graduate school in the U.S. is the experimental study of human mental processes including perception, learning, language, nonverbal processes, memory, attention, motor skills, and other human behaviors. Cognitive scientists spend their careers conducting research on how the mind (and it is assumed that the mind is what the brain does) processes information. Cognitive scientists have discovered how babies learn to communicate, the safest/most efficient location for the accelerator and brake controls of your automobile, and how people know how to get from one place to another even if they can't provide the directions verbally, and many many many other important facts which in turn provide much useful information to industry, medicine, and education. Obviously, cognitive psychology is not "bull".

: 2) To all adult beginners/re-starters etc. Skill level is such a relative term that I don't even want to touch what it means to be "mediocre" or a "beginner" or "advanced" etc. It's useless to try to compare yourself to someone else if not actually listening and watching. Even stating what repertoire you are working on is not really helpful: working through the Mozart concerti is much different that being skilled enough that you are asked to play one of them with the Chicago Symphony. Personally, the more skill I acquire, the more I realize that I have to learn. This was brought home to me yesterday when the 15 year old student of a friend of mine announced to me that he could play the Vivaldi a minor "perfectly".

: 3) To KJS on your criticism of statistical methods: If an inappropriate statistical technique is used, sure, the data can be manipulated inappropriately. But my experience has shown me that there IS a single "best" (i.e. most appropriate or ethical) statistic to use for each data set, and using the appropriate statistic will yield valid scientific conclusions so long as correct rules of logic are applied.

: The background producing my particular bias/viewpoint includes a bachelor's degree in violin performance (University of MI), and a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology with a minor in behavioral statistics (WSU). I set aside a career as a professional musician to learn more about human behavior, because this was where my motivation led me at the time. I stopped playing seriously for about 14 years in order to get my non-music career started, then resumed playing for the same reasons I set aside music for a while in order to become a scientist: it's where my motivation led me. I will probably never achieve my full potential in either field because of my choice 5 years ago to spend equal time on both my musical career and my scientific career, but I'm content and at peace with this decision because both pursuits so deeply enrich my life.

: If you are interested in reading the scientific literature on the acquisition of expert performance, I would recommend that you begin with the following journal articles:

: 1) Ericsson KA, Charness N. Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 1994;49(8):725-747.

: 2) Ericsson KA, Krampe RT, Tesch-Romer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquistion of expert performance. Psychological Review 1993;100(3):363-406.

: Please email me if you would like, but I'd love to see more meaningful discussion on this topic on this forum!

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Very interesting responses so far. I routinely get pointed at as an

example of an adult that learns instrument quickly because of "talent."

I have to laugh at this vision! I have three observations on: 1) how I

learned as a child; 2) how I learn now; and 3) how I see other adults

approaching a new instrument. I do not have experience with adults with

no musical background.

1. As a child, I spent about half my time learning the instrument (piano) and

about half my time learning music - what I wanted things to sound like. How the

pieces were put together and why. I had little vision on first reading of a

piece and spent much time and energy figuring out a "target" for the music; what I would

aiming at making it sound like. I was also rather inefficient in studying. This was

mostly in the way I thought about and how I concentrated on what I was doing. Going through

motions while attempting to figure out why.

2. Now I am armed with much greater analytical and studying skills. I can quickly grasp

the essential components of playing an instrument from observation of

skilled players (preferably while able to question them at length), reading literature

on the technical elements of performance, and watching myself attempt to work the elements

on the instrument. And I listen. Very quickly, I develop a "target sound" that I can

aim at achieving and build a plan for attacking the technical challenges. My efficiency in

figuring out the problem, designing a solution, and implementing that solution is very high.

Thus I am a "fast learner." My solution virtually always includes slow scales, lots of

standard technical exercises, sight reading, and so on. The basic stuff, but implemented with

the goal of getting control of the musical sound that I want. My focus and efficiency in seeing

what to learn are far greater than when I was a child. I suspect I spend 1/4 or less time

in accomplishing things than when I started doing music, and I don't have to learn the "music"

part of things. I may work 8 or 10 times faster than I did as a child. I know that my 40 minute

sessions now produce more results than 3 hour sessions when I was 9. Each new instrument makes the other

ones I know already sound better; I hear differently and make better music on the old ones. Taking up

violin immediately improved my guitar performance.

3. Other adults taking on a new instrument systematically want to jump ahead and skip all the slow scales

and exercises that get the instrument under their fingers. They want to play music right now! I see

this as a big hurdle. Adults are in a hurry and have lots of noise in their heads. Learning happens with

calm, relaxed, complete focus. I suspect that this lack of complete focus on the dull stuff (which I don't

find dull) interferes far more than any biological loss of learning ability.

Age and cunning typically win out over youth and a few more brain cells. As an adult, I have taken on

classical guitar, acoustic guitar, pipe organ, flute, recorder, and violin. I have performed on recorder

and guitar in public a large number of times and have been an invited soloist often.

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: Very interesting responses so far. I routinely get pointed at as an

: example of an adult that learns instrument quickly because of "talent."

: I have to laugh at this vision! I have three observations on: 1) how I

: learned as a child; 2) how I learn now; and 3) how I see other adults

: approaching a new instrument. I do not have experience with adults with

: no musical background.

: 1. As a child, I spent about half my time learning the instrument (piano) and

: about half my time learning music - what I wanted things to sound like. How the

: pieces were put together and why. I had little vision on first reading of a

: piece and spent much time and energy figuring out a "target" for the music; what I would

: aiming at making it sound like. I was also rather inefficient in studying. This was

: mostly in the way I thought about and how I concentrated on what I was doing. Going through

: motions while attempting to figure out why.

:

: 2. Now I am armed with much greater analytical and studying skills. I can quickly grasp

: the essential components of playing an instrument from observation of

: skilled players (preferably while able to question them at length), reading literature

: on the technical elements of performance, and watching myself attempt to work the elements

: on the instrument. And I listen. Very quickly, I develop a "target sound" that I can

: aim at achieving and build a plan for attacking the technical challenges. My efficiency in

: figuring out the problem, designing a solution, and implementing that solution is very high.

: Thus I am a "fast learner." My solution virtually always includes slow scales, lots of

: standard technical exercises, sight reading, and so on. The basic stuff, but implemented with

: the goal of getting control of the musical sound that I want. My focus and efficiency in seeing

: what to learn are far greater than when I was a child. I suspect I spend 1/4 or less time

: in accomplishing things than when I started doing music, and I don't have to learn the "music"

: part of things. I may work 8 or 10 times faster than I did as a child. I know that my 40 minute

: sessions now produce more results than 3 hour sessions when I was 9. Each new instrument makes the other

: ones I know already sound better; I hear differently and make better music on the old ones. Taking up

: violin immediately improved my guitar performance.

: 3. Other adults taking on a new instrument systematically want to jump ahead and skip all the slow scales

: and exercises that get the instrument under their fingers. They want to play music right now! I see

: this as a big hurdle. Adults are in a hurry and have lots of noise in their heads. Learning happens with

: calm, relaxed, complete focus. I suspect that this lack of complete focus on the dull stuff (which I don't

: find dull) interferes far more than any biological loss of learning ability.

: Age and cunning typically win out over youth and a few more brain cells. As an adult, I have taken on

: classical guitar, acoustic guitar, pipe organ, flute, recorder, and violin. I have performed on recorder

: and guitar in public a large number of times and have been an invited soloist often.

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: Very interesting responses so far. I routinely get pointed at as an

: example of an adult that learns instrument quickly because of "talent."

: I have to laugh at this vision! I have three observations on: 1) how I

: learned as a child; 2) how I learn now; and 3) how I see other adults

: approaching a new instrument. I do not have experience with adults with

: no musical background.

: 1. As a child, I spent about half my time learning the instrument (piano) and

: about half my time learning music - what I wanted things to sound like. How the

: pieces were put together and why. I had little vision on first reading of a

: piece and spent much time and energy figuring out a "target" for the music; what I would

: aiming at making it sound like. I was also rather inefficient in studying. This was

: mostly in the way I thought about and how I concentrated on what I was doing. Going through

: motions while attempting to figure out why.

:

: 2. Now I am armed with much greater analytical and studying skills. I can quickly grasp

: the essential components of playing an instrument from observation of

: skilled players (preferably while able to question them at length), reading literature

: on the technical elements of performance, and watching myself attempt to work the elements

: on the instrument. And I listen. Very quickly, I develop a "target sound" that I can

: aim at achieving and build a plan for attacking the technical challenges. My efficiency in

: figuring out the problem, designing a solution, and implementing that solution is very high.

: Thus I am a "fast learner." My solution virtually always includes slow scales, lots of

: standard technical exercises, sight reading, and so on. The basic stuff, but implemented with

: the goal of getting control of the musical sound that I want. My focus and efficiency in seeing

: what to learn are far greater than when I was a child. I suspect I spend 1/4 or less time

: in accomplishing things than when I started doing music, and I don't have to learn the "music"

: part of things. I may work 8 or 10 times faster than I did as a child. I know that my 40 minute

: sessions now produce more results than 3 hour sessions when I was 9. Each new instrument makes the other

: ones I know already sound better; I hear differently and make better music on the old ones. Taking up

: violin immediately improved my guitar performance.

: 3. Other adults taking on a new instrument systematically want to jump ahead and skip all the slow scales

: and exercises that get the instrument under their fingers. They want to play music right now! I see

: this as a big hurdle. Adults are in a hurry and have lots of noise in their heads. Learning happens with

: calm, relaxed, complete focus. I suspect that this lack of complete focus on the dull stuff (which I don't

: find dull) interferes far more than any biological loss of learning ability.

: Age and cunning typically win out over youth and a few more brain cells. As an adult, I have taken on

: classical guitar, acoustic guitar, pipe organ, flute, recorder, and violin. I have performed on recorder

: and guitar in public a large number of times and have been an invited soloist often.

John S comments:

I could not agree more.

Anecdotal observations (not statistically verified by prospective studies) on self:

At age 38 emigrated to a new country and had to requalify (in law). Did not attend

university classes but had to write various exams with relatively minimal study time

thinking kids these days seem ten times brighter and more committed than we were.

Thought on each occasion would plug. In fact, to my own surprise, summa cum laude.

Absolutely no way would have done without the cunning of experience.

One of my kids took up cello 3 years ago & we had a spare cello in the house. Took up

cello, at age 42, then two years ago. Within one year (although I have been listening

to Bach with a passion for 20+ years) playing whole of first Bach suite most movements

of c-major suite and various movements of others with I suspect a reasonable degree of

competence.

I do it for fun, becauseI love it.

At age 6 or 10 or 15 - take your choice - I had other things on my mind, other social

pressures, and, had I then taken up the topic, I reckon, there would have been a 50/50

chance of my spitting the dummy - possibly for good.

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: Dr. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues are experimental psychologists who have been conducting research for 15+ years on the concept of expert performance. Dr. Ericsson and I have spent many hours discussing our joint research interests. Dr. Ericsson, Tom Heimberg (who is a contributing writer for Strings magazine and a violist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra), and I are currently working on a research project related to a concept called "deliberate practice" (I won't go into the details about it because it would take too long right now). It is impossible to summarize 15 years of Dr. Ericsson's research, however, some general SCIENTIFIC conclusions can be made:

: 1) Expert performance, defined as skill great enough that a person is able to earn a living as a performer) is different from the ability to learn to play an instrument in general.

: 2) The vast majority of people who are experts began learning their instrument or skill before the age of 10.

: 3) Some interesting research on music conservatory students (none were over the age of 25) divided into 3 skill levels (ranked by the conservatory teachers) demonstrated that the primary difference between the 3 groups was the age at which the person started playing.

: 4) Approximately 10,000 hours of highly focused practice is minimum for achieving a moderate skill level (defined as entry level music conservatory students).

:

: 5) In my discussions with Dr. Ericsson, we are more and more convinced that "talent" is a combination of above-average intelligence, creative problem-solving skill, and an intense motivation/drive to learn a particular skill to the extent that other activities/commitments are distant in the priority hierarchy (this may be a response to some of Elaine's comments re: divided attention). All three of these ingredients are essential to the concept of talent and the development of expertise.

:

: A few additional points I would like to make include:

: 1) To Ari: Perhaps there is a cultural difference here, but cognitive psychology as taught in graduate school in the U.S. is the experimental study of human mental processes including perception, learning, language, nonverbal processes, memory, attention, motor skills, and other human behaviors. Cognitive scientists spend their careers conducting research on how the mind (and it is assumed that the mind is what the brain does) processes information. Cognitive scientists have discovered how babies learn to communicate, the safest/most efficient location for the accelerator and brake controls of your automobile, and how people know how to get from one place to another even if they can't provide the directions verbally, and many many many other important facts which in turn provide much useful information to industry, medicine, and education. Obviously, cognitive psychology is not "bull".

: 2) To all adult beginners/re-starters etc. Skill level is such a relative term that I don't even want to touch what it means to be "mediocre" or a "beginner" or "advanced" etc. It's useless to try to compare yourself to someone else if not actually listening and watching. Even stating what repertoire you are working on is not really helpful: working through the Mozart concerti is much different that being skilled enough that you are asked to play one of them with the Chicago Symphony. Personally, the more skill I acquire, the more I realize that I have to learn. This was brought home to me yesterday when the 15 year old student of a friend of mine announced to me that he could play the Vivaldi a minor "perfectly".

: 3) To KJS on your criticism of statistical methods: If an inappropriate statistical technique is used, sure, the data can be manipulated inappropriately. But my experience has shown me that there IS a single "best" (i.e. most appropriate or ethical) statistic to use for each data set, and using the appropriate statistic will yield valid scientific conclusions so long as correct rules of logic are applied.

: The background producing my particular bias/viewpoint includes a bachelor's degree in violin performance (University of MI), and a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology with a minor in behavioral statistics (WSU). I set aside a career as a professional musician to learn more about human behavior, because this was where my motivation led me at the time. I stopped playing seriously for about 14 years in order to get my non-music career started, then resumed playing for the same reasons I set aside music for a while in order to become a scientist: it's where my motivation led me. I will probably never achieve my full potential in either field because of my choice 5 years ago to spend equal time on both my musical career and my scientific career, but I'm content and at peace with this decision because both pursuits so deeply enrich my life.

: If you are interested in reading the scientific literature on the acquisition of expert performance, I would recommend that you begin with the following journal articles:

: 1) Ericsson KA, Charness N. Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 1994;49(8):725-747.

: 2) Ericsson KA, Krampe RT, Tesch-Romer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquistion of expert performance. Psychological Review 1993;100(3):363-406.

: Please email me if you would like, but I'd love to see more meaningful discussion on this topic on this forum!

I would not meet the criteria, because I do not need

to and have never given a moments' thought to making

a living by this means, having long since made my living

by other means.

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: If that was your point, all I can say is that you explained it much better the second time around. I thought you were just whining.

: You said that a kid at your present level would most likely be in high school and re-arrange school studies in order to focus more exclusively on the violin. I say "WRONG". At that stage, it's not time to sell the family tractor and head for the big city.

: As far as emotional maturity goes, give me a break! I'm only three-and-a-half years old. My mom thinks I'm too young to be reading Maestronet (she must've seen some of those cool posts from ADean !), so I had to secretly assemble this computer using only my Snoopy soldering iron and some electric parts scavenged from my Fisher-Price wireless intercom.

: Oh, speaking of the "rash" thing -- do you have any Desitin I could borrow?

: KRA

Touche.

Seriously, with to question whether adults or children

(in general)learn quicker or, to put it another way,

whether in general an adult taking up a topic would

learn at a rate faster than he or she would hve as

a child,my money, in general, is on the adult. See

my earlier responses.

If the question is whether some person taking up

a particular field as an adult is less likely to

be succeed in that field than an adult who has

persisted in that field sincea young child...caedit quaestio.

Never trust a person under 30.

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I've 30 years old and i've started to stusy violin about six moins ago. for passion. I know guitar, but violin is only six moins that i thake lessons. I'm Italian. My teaccher sayd that i've, very fast to learn that children. Is only a problem of neuromotorius brain and only with exercice.

ciao ciao from italy

: In my personal experience, the kids that learned faster WERE NOT practicing more! that was the whole point. I would spend a lot of time, endlessly playing a tune, and then kid #2 would

: consistently take the fiddle from my hands and

: play it, right, or nearly so, the first time.r This boy is no practicing fiend. I have to remind him to practice almost always. What has been proven is that people who started playing before age 12 have an area in their brain that is larger than the general population of people, musicians, and string players who did not.

: I still agree that it's only a general rule, that there

: are adults that work harder and kids that are dullards and who don't care and dont learn.

: m

: : Hello DJ!

: : I really loved your recent post about how sick you

: : were of the mediocrity line we adult often get.

: : From studying psychology, I have learned that the knowlegde

: : we have about learning and the brain in still very

: : limited and questionable.

: : For example, I read recently in a textbook of

: : cognitive psychology that it is actually NOT

: : than proven that children learn foreign languages

: : much better that adults- the word they used was myth!

: : (J. Anderson, introduction to cognitive psychology)

: : And as far as music learning

: : goes, there are still way too little research on the

: : concrete topic of learning instruments, many of the

: : current "truths" being borowed from general theories

: : of developmental psychology. As as far as research in

: : gereral goes, I am learning to be very critical to

: : any findings, as the methodes often leave a lot to

: : desire. (all the sweet little tricks one can play with

: : statistics for example.) And I wonder just how one

: : can scientifically compare children and teens who have the time and energy

: : to pratice hours and hours a day after school with

: : adults who have to work and raise a family ect -

: : the conditions are much different! And much of

: : performance has to do with expecations and beliefs:

: : for example, one study showed that elderly persons

: : who had negative beliefs about intellectual performance

: : in old age actually performed worse in tests compared

: : with elderly adults who had a positive attitude towards

: : intellectual performace in old age.

: : So as far as violin goes- if your teacher or you yourself

: : are expecting you to do worse because after all, you

: : are "only" an adult beginner, chances are you will.

: : I always looked for teachers who demanded just as much

: : of me as of the kids.

: :

: : As far as my everyday experiece goes, I know of professional

: : violinist and cellists who didn't start until they were

: : 16. And like you observed in your music school: At

: : my first recital I as a 22-year old had actually surpassed (in 6 months)

: : ALL of the other kids who had started earlier than I-

: : and the most advanced students were two "adult learners".

: : At the next music school I experienced more or less

: : the same thing.

: : Of course there are "Wunderkinder" who after four years

: : are playing Mozart and Beethoven like the pros, but

: : if you stick to the rest of us "average" people, like

: : you said: most of the kids I have seen are just as "mediocre" as the

: : adults if not more so. My current violin teacher says

: : that all of her adult learners have learned faster

: : than her kids up till now!

: : And personally, if I had started as a kid, I probably

: : would have hated it and wouldn't be playing at all!

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