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_2089781bBeethoven 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


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