Thursday, November 1, 2012

Learning and Mastery

I have begun a dialogue with a former student, now a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, about the impact of Tonal Refraction upon my teaching of young children.  The conversation was prompted by a recent interview with a colleague of his who works on the fear response of animals, including humans.  This pre-conscious response is a matter of survival:  we feel and respond to fear before knowing its cause.

It struck me at the time that one could substitute musical tone for the fear-producing stimulus .  It struck me, too, that I have in fact been experimenting with reaching children's response at exactly that level ever since working with Tonal Refraction, that is, since 1993.  To explain the connection you need to know that Tonal Refraction is a method of visualizing the pre-conscious emotional responses to tone buried under the layers of  theoretical abstraction and technical instruction that are the basis of conventional music training.  It is, as one eminent theorist put it, "what gets trained out of us."   The act of visualizing this has been of extreme (I do not exaggerate) importance in restoring confident musical function to many professional and amateur musicians who, in either physical or psychological pain, are removed from full satisfaction in their music making.

If it works after the damage is done, I wondered, wouldn't it be possible to avert the damage by teaching children to read and play directly into and out of the validity of that moment?  Now that a full cycle of the approach has been realized with the graduation from high school of a student who advanced to a level of sight-reading far more sophisticated that where I was at twice her age, I am taking the work public. 

The biggest difference between the fear response and the musical response is that tone triggers a whole range of emotional reactions, from glorious to horrifying.  What makes mastery is owning the experience at whichever extreme or wherever in between. The ownership is reinforced by my hearing the effect in the child's playing.  To be continued.