Foundation Books for any Alternate Keyboard player
It may seem like an odd thing to do, to start off a new career as an “Alternate musical keyboard developer” with a bunch of book reviews, but prior to this there was little time to do jammer practice and no time to blog. Writing, for me, requires just piles of thought and careful review.
What could be done, in between parties, shows and other events, is read books on learning and skill acquisition, so I started reading … and jackpot! There are not just one, but several gold mines out there. Recent research has hit paydirt and the gold is piling up. And now with online book summaries and reviews it’s possible to get the recent good stuff – way better (in some ways) than going to a library and wandering the stacks. *
*Don’t mistake me: there are great benefits (and fun) in browsing a library, but when you need the most recent work, online rocks.
Naturally, these reviews are not pure altruism. These books have so much useful information that that time doing reviews tis indeed time very well spent. I intend to re-read them in a few months, to help keep on the right track.
Here’re my recommendation and don’t-bother list, along with a link to a detailed full book review and summarization, from the point of view of an aspiring alternate keyboard player who needs to know how to practice, how long he/she might be practicing, and how to keep the right kind of motivation going.
Henceforth "deep practicing" is my top priority - every workday morning two 60-90 minute sessions on my jammer. Will it work? According to these books, absolutely.
Music Science Guy’s recommended reading list.
Note: I suggest these books should be read in roughly the order listed below, to make a logical progression from the frighteningly long term and perhaps ridiculously dedicated, to practical and/or short term actions to create talent, then filling in the key ingredient: conjuring the exactly right and persistent streams of motivation.
- Talent is overrated: what really separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else Geoff Colvin, Portfolio (Penguin Group) 2008
my detailed review
This book gives the big picture, an excellent summary of some of the key principles in becoming a world-class talent, with examples all the way from Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, through Tiger Woods, among many others, and how they learned their craft. Surprisingly, not one of these illustrious stars was born “gifted”. Each used deep, “deliberate practice” (and, usually, but not always, great coaches).
This book has a pretty heavy business focus at times, so you will want to skip through some sections.
Deliberate practice is not “working hard” or doing a task repetitively; it is focused, careful improvement in countless small, careful steps. The numbers of hours needed to become a world class expert seem daunting, but we alternate instrument players need not despair: it looks pretty certain now that our careful craft and clever design can cut these numbers, as I hope to describe and then demonstrate.
Note also that this and the following books show that it’s often worthwhile to use deliberate practice, even in small amounts (a week or two), and that you (and organizations of all stripes) can benefit substantially from it.
- The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. Daniel Coyle, Bantam Books 2009
my detailed review
Coyle calls it “deep practice”, the method that is used by nearly every person that becomes a famous talent or even just “talented”. In this engaging book, he gives diverse examples of talent creation and shows what ties them together, from the point of view of a keen coach.
If you can read only one book in this list, this is the book. It has great study hints: you will invariably do much, much better in tests if you study less but test yourself more. It shows what deep practice is; it’s where one is at the edge of ability, making a controlled number of mistakes –and correcting them immediately, the best known way to practice.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. You have to not just really, really carefully practice a lot, but the technique you’re developing has to be right, because you can’t ever unlearn it. Get it right the first time:
- slow it down
- get expert coaching
- break it into manageable, learnable chunks
- learn the whole thing, every detail, until one cannot get it wrong
- your practice area must appear improvished to trigger primal drives to succeed
- never blame the circumstances for a failure
- focus on creating manageable steps to fix failure
The trigger to work hard to excel is called Ignition, and he details how they occur.
The coaching section is great as well, and more applicable than you might think. I will be expanding on this in later postings.
- The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills. Daniel Coyle, Bantam Books 2012
my detailed review
Daniel Coyle’s follow-up to his great earlier book. Full of well thought-out and often personally verified tips for improving anyone’s skills, or couching them to succeed.
- Find a role model(s) to glean technique from, a goal or a person to aspire to be like, and aim to do deliberate practice at least daily.
- "Steal" good techniques (find useful small nuggets) from everywhere they can be found, taking it all, every move, every timing, every note and nuance.
- Be willing to make mistakes (as long as you learn from them), even be willing to appear stupid.
- Practice in a Spartan, even impoverished location (think "monks cell") and never drill; always make it instead, somehow, into a game, and test yourself.
- Target practice to the kind of skill; "soft" or "hard"; each requires its own practice technique.
- Your coach is important: pick a good one
- The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!.
Josh Kaufman, Penguin Group USA 2012
The claim that it takes 10,000 hours to become an “expert” is scary. This book shows what and be done with just as few as 20 (or even 10) hours. The author demos by learning an amazing array of skills.
- Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, Carol S. Dweck 2012
A quite inspiring book by experts in the field of how to maintain the right attitude to achieve; it’s totally worth reading. It turns out that there are two major ways to be motivated, and both are useful, but onw is what you want to culitivate for practice. Key tidbit: with a child after a successful test, the difference between "You are so talented!" and "You must have studied hard" is vast.
- Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning
Gary Marcus 2012
And here’s a fun book to read to see what can be done if you “just” want to get into a band, applying the principles in the books reviewed about.
Gary, really, really wants to be a musician, he just aches for it. So he does what any cognitive psychologist with no discernable talent, and in fact a genuine handicap in rhythm perception, do? He studies, experiments and documents, and eventually hits the jackpot.
Save this book to read (or re-read) a few months after you start your deep practicing regimen.
And paradoxically, the next book is not a good read for the just-starting-out, aspiring musician. It makes being a musician seem like work; a job!
- The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness, Gerald Klickstein, Oxford University Press. 2012
It’s totally worth reading if you are entering Julliard.