My violin-playing assignment for the Christmas break is practicing the D major and the A major scales. Finally. When I started the lessons with my daughter four months ago, I expected that I would be doing only “scales and arpeggios” , like Berlioz from “The Aristocats” – the movie that at the time shaped my view of music education.
I can see that breaking up the established muscle memory and coordination between my right and left hands is not going to be easy. That is why kids have an advantage in learning music – they don’t have years of muscle memory to unlearn.
For myself, as a late-starter in music, I see it as a good opportunity to practice John Boyd’s “Destruction and Creation” principle. I recently came across his essay of the same title, and it is a fascinating read. Boyd himself was an amazing character. He developed a highly-influential Energy-Maneuverabilty theory of air-to-air combat. His writing is to-the-point practical and concise but also surprisingly deep in the underlying philosophy.
One of the main ideas is that creative process (he used the process of decision-making as an example) is really a combination of analysis (“destruction”) of the existing mental models in view of the current observations of reality, followed by synthesis (“creation”) of new and improved models from the individual components (concepts, ideas, etc.) that are the result of breaking apart the old models. In other words, breaking-down and building-up go hand-in-hand in a continuously repeating loop. In fact, one of the best-known results of Boyd’s work is the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop, which has been the foundation for training of fighter pilots and design of fighter aircraft. There, “Orientation” is the part that contains the analysis and the synthesis of the observed data to form a current mental perspective.
With music, five-year-olds have an advantage over adults in that they have less breaking-down (of existing habits) to do before they can get to the creative part. On the other hand, I’d like to believe that as an adult, if I do the analysis part of my existing habits well, I would have more material to play with when I am eventually in a position to do some synthesis.