Let me start with a story:
There once was a music teacher who had two students, approximately the same age and skill level. One week, she assigned each student the same new piece. The students were equally excited about learning the piece. When the students came back for their lessons the next week, however, there was a significant difference in their results.
The first student walked in saying, “It was so much fun – I learned the whole thing!” And though the student was able to get through the whole piece, there were countless misread notes, uneven tempos, rhythmic mistakes and thoughtless dynamics.
The second student started by saying, “I made pretty good progress.” This student had only learned the first section. It was very slow, but all the details were there: fingering, dynamics notes and rhythms. Good progress, yes, but it would clearly take many weeks before the end of the piece would be in sight.
Which was the better student? What should the teacher say to each? And do you recognize yourself in one of these students?
I call these the Greyhound and German Shepherd music learning styles.
Greyhounds and German Shepherds are both excellent dogs, breeds adapted by nature and man to excel at specific tasks. The Greyhound is sleek, fast, high spirited and built for racing. The German Shepherd is observant, loyal, responsible and intelligent.
Which is the better dog? Neither. There are no bad dogs here. Each is excellent in its individual way. Like the two students in the story above, each has a different style.
So which is the better student? Neither. However, each of those musical learning styles requires some adaptation so that the student can finish the piece and play it well.
The musical Greyhounds will always need to remind themselves to slow down and spend some time on the details. The musical German Shepherds will need to remember to let go of the details, have some fun and get to the end.
What does the teacher tell each student? Each has done good work that is essential to learning the piece. The astute teacher will allow each student to work in their preferred style, while helping them direct some of their efforts to rounding out their practice. They will develop a toolkit of techniques they can use to make their practice more effective, whichever learning style they have.
Do you recognize Greyhound or German Shepherd tendencies in yourself? Being aware of your musical learning style can be very helpful. Recognizing your strengths and knowing some techniques or strategies you can use to balance those strengths can help you make your practice more efficient, effective and fun. Just understanding your learning style can give you the power to use your strengths to their best advantage.
Need some practice technique ideas? Check out the Kaleidoscope Practice ebook! It’s filled with techniques to help you whichever type of learner you are.
Quick poll! Leave your musical “dog-ality,” either Greyhound or German Shepherd, in the comments below. Me? I am by nature a Greyhound, who became better “practice-trained” over the years!
Want to listen to my very first podcast episode inspired by this post? You can do so by clicking here.