Learning How To Learn

Image courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt
Image: D Sharon Pruitt

I read a lot…mostly nonfiction; business books, history, science, and cognitive psychology, not to mention the endless online journals, blogs, software tutorials, and news articles. When it comes to the practical application of Big Ideas retention rapidly fades. I have so many books I want to read I jump into the next one, hoping that all of this information is somehow being stored in my personal cerebral cloud for later recall. It is easy to become addicted to the novelty of something new.

To apply my rudimentary understanding of cognitive bias or Bayesian inference to a problem, it is not enough to have a broad conceptual familiarity these complex and counterintuitive ideas. I need to strengthen my thinking skills, and that requires intentional practice.

Ideas and skills are encoded in the brain through the process of recall, particularly randomized recall that allows some in-between time for forgetting to occur; not too much forgetting, just enough to create cognitive effort and some failure when recalling the skill. It turns out that contrary to what many of us have been taught, mass repetition (repeating that difficult four-bar musical passage for an hour until you go into a trance) is not the most efficient way to learn; better to spread the drilling over several days and contexts.

Some books are designed around how we learn, continually coming back to key ideas, synopsizing chapters, and building quizzes into the text. I have tried the time consuming task of taking extensive notes while reading, but my notes tend to be forgotten when I move to the next field of study.

Lately I have begun experimenting with flash cards. While reading, I note ideas I want to learn, dig deeper with additional research, and develop flash cards to quiz myself. I am using a program for the Mac and iOS called Flashcard Hero. The program allows you to easily create you own card decks which are stored in the cloud and sync to a free iPhone app. It is easy to quiz yourself anytime, customize the look of the cards, and shuffle them randomly. We’ll see how this goes.

What learning techniques work for you?

Was Alan Turing the Father of Hip Hop?

binary-code-63529_1280The tragic story of brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing has been popularized in the award-winning 2014 film, The Imitation Game and recent books by Walter Isaacson and Steven Johnson. Turing’s work cracking the Enigma code, and developing the technology that would become modern computing has become part of the popular lexicon. Less well known is his work with “pulse code modulation”, the predecessor to today’s digital audio technology.

In 1941, as the United States entered the war in the Pacific, General George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff faced a difficult challenge. He suspected that the encryption system used for military communications, the A-3 Scrambler developed by AT&T in the 1920s, was not secure. In fact, in the fall of 1941 the Deutsche Reichspost, tasked with handling telephone and telegraph traffic, had broken the A-3.

Enter The Green Hornet…

In the early 1940s, Bell Laboratories, under the direction of A.B. Clark and assisted by Turing, began work on what became known as “The Green Hornet”. The name was derived from the soundtrack of a popular serial radio show as eavesdroppers could only hear a buzzing noise. The system, whose official moniker became SIGSALY, digitally sampled speech, converting it into binary code. Consisting of 40 racks of gear, weighing 50 tons, SIGSALY successfully encrypted communications throughout the Second World War, mostly famously between Washington and London.

As with the development of the Internet decades later, military research broke technological ground, creating innovations that reach far beyond their original applications. While it may seem a stretch to connect Alan Turing and Kanye West, the world would not have seen the E-mu SP-12, or Pro Tools without the groundbreaking teamwork that developed SIGSALY.

Now what you hear is not a test…

Rosanne Cash responds to Hypebot’s Bruce Houghton

Beethoven’s Morning

Beethoven_2089781b“Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care – he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked until 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity. (Perhaps for this reason, Beethoven’s productivity was generally higher during the warmer months.)” -from the book, Daily Rituals, How Artists Work by Mason Curry

Musicians Are Natural Entrepreneurs

Berkle article clip imageBerklee Today, the journal for alumni of Berklee College of Music, recently gave me the opportunity to explore the relationship between musical training and the skills of entrepreneurs. I interviewed several Berklee alumni who have gone on to create groundbreaking music technology companies serving independent artists.

Each of these companies provides tools that help musicians distribute music, raise funds and market themselves, but what struck me was the similarity between direct-to-fan and lean startup practices. Direct-to-fan platforms give artists a strong connection with their super-fans, providing valuable feedback and ongoing engagement. In particular, early-stage pre-release platforms like PledgeMusic show artists what their fans value and how they want to be engaged. By the time the funding cycle is complete the artist knows their customer and has had the opportunity to tweak their offerings. Each person I interviewed described their musical training as fundamental preparation for working in a startup environment.

You can read the full issue of Berklee Today here or download a pdf of the article. Please check out each of these inspiring entrepreneurs and their companies. You will be amazed!

The rare and valuable skills of musicians

Daniel IndartI recently had the opportunity to create a presentation for Daniel Indart’s Music Entrepreneurship students at the Cornel School of Contemporary Music at Shepherd University in Los Angeles. My presentation: Thinking Different(ly)…The Rare and Valuable Skills of Musicians discussed the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset in today’s music industry. While business and music are diametrically opposed activities, they are complimentary. The life of professional musicians is remarkably like a startup company. We may not think of ourselves in that light, but the similarities are striking. Musicians can learn a great deal by thinking metaphorically and studying lean startup practices. We are uniquely equipped to learn new skills because we understand the process of deep, deliberate  practice. This also makes musicians valuable in a continually disrupted economy where innovation, flexibility, and intrinsic motivation trump past work experience and training.

The students were inspiring and I had a great time. You can check out my slides, a list of related resources, and a survey of revenue streams for musicians from the awesome folks at the Future of Music Coalition.

Please be sure to find out more about Daniel Indart and Latin Music Specialists. Daniel is one of the premier authorities on all genres of Latin music, a prolific composer/producer and a wonderful educator. Thanks for inviting me!

Chamber Music America Jazz Grant Workshop

chamber-music-america

As musicians we spend as much time as possible working with our craft but can struggle with the business side of our careers. I  think of business as the complete chain of events that brings the music out of our imaginations into the world. Money is fuel, but is only one piece of the equation. Bringing music to life requires the skills and attention of many smart people; musicians, presenters, managers, agents, marketers, labels, publishers and fundraisers. Composers and performers are musical CEOs, managing each step and partnership along the way.

Organizations like Chamber Music America (CMA) are making a huge contribution to classical, jazz, and world music by providing grants and the business education that musicians need. On January 24, 2013, Jeanette Vuocolo, Program Director for CMA Jazz led a well-attended workshop at The Blue Whale jazz club in downtown Los Angeles. Ms. Vuocolo’s presentation focused on the New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble grant application process and featured panelists, Bennie Maupin and Remy La Boeuf.

The New Jazz Works grant, which is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, provides funding and music business guidance to professional US jazz ensembles of 2-10 musicians in three phases:

1.  CORE: Creation and Performance

The creation of a new work, the work’s world premiere, and one additional performance. Both performances must take place within the United States. This phase must be completed within eighteen months.

2. Continued Life

The second phase supports additional concerts, touring, open rehearsals, master classes, clinics, school and community visits, residencies, conference showcasing, promotion, self-presenting and recording. Activities can take place in the US or abroad.

3. Better Business

Phase three supports the ensemble leader, funding business related activities; attending conferences, meeting prospective presenters, taking classes, and working with mentors and consultants.

Both musician-panelists described what they have learned. Besides the opportunity to compose and perform a new extended work, they found that the application process itself was educational, helping them to articulate their goals and musical vision. Both Mr. Maupin and Mr. La Boeuf described the many new opportunities and business relationships that have emerged from their involvement with CMA. The program also encourages musicians to give back to their communities, mentoring others and sharing their experiences in panels and conferences.

For more information and application materials please visit: http://www.chamber-music.org/

Thinking Different(ly): Creative Music in the Digital Economy

On January 15, 2013 I gave a presentation to alumni of The Royal College of Music in Stockholm Sweden. The topic was music careers in today’s economy – musical entrepreneurship and developing multiple income streams. Here are the slides featuring case studies of several entrepreneurial musicians and a basic overview of the principles music publishing and licensing.

RCM: Business books and resources

A list of business-related books referenced in my recent seminar at The Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden:

  • ReworkJason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

RCM: Creativity, problem solving, and skill building resources

A list of creativity, problem-solving, skill-building and teaching/coaching resources. referenced in my recent seminar at The Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden:

  • SwitchChip Heath and Dan Heath