Have you 'got' it?

It’s great when students get things. That happy moment when the penny drops, the eyes light up and we become enveloped in that warm glow of satisfaction knowing that our teaching has been successful.

But then, oh dear.

Our students return the following week and that new fingering or rhythm seems to have departed from their minds. What they had (and please forgive the usage) gotten, they seem now to have for-gotten. Interestingly, to forget tends to imply that the information isn’t entirely irrecoverable. In saying we’ve forgotten, we generally mean “I can’t remember it at the moment, but it will probably come back.” And that may indeed be the case. 

But it’s often not the case.

I love a particular word that disappeared from common usage many centuries ago. And that word is un-get. This is often what happens after we teach our students something new for the first time. The fact is, it hasn’t been temporarily forgotten. Whatever that thing was that they had got, they have now un-got.  It is irretrievable. It has completely gone! 

But that’s okay, let’s not worry about it. Instead, and with good humour, we simply need to teach it again, to encourage them to re-get it! And how do we do this?

The secret is to teach it again from other angles.

One great way to achieve this is by using the Simultaneous Learning Musical Map of the World (available to download free here) which will give you lots of ideas for teaching the matter in question in different ways and contexts that are linked to the piece you are working on. The key is to alter the order of steps that led up to that teaching/learning moment.  Simply make the appropriate connections in a different order.

This will help us discover what hasn’t quite been understood and is therefore preventing our student from properly getting it. Maybe they are not playing a phrase staccato – although they did last week. The reason they haven’t entirely got it yet might be aural – they are not hearing the staccato in their musical ear – or it could be a technical issue, or maybe it’s to do with dynamic levels or some aspect of their technique.  Let’s explore all these possibilities, vary the order in which we do so and, all being well, our student will eventually get with less likelihood of subsequently for-getting or indeed un-getting.

And so here is my ‘re-’ declining of the verb to get:

I get – which happens sometimes. But often… 

I for-get – which is possible. But more probably…

I un-get – which is more likely!  But that’s okay, because with a good teacher to reinforce the idea…

I re-get! – and it stays!

And that can’t help but make us all feel so much happier…

Paul will be presenting “Are your students really learning?” at the Music & Drama Education Expo, London on 6 March 2019.

The Double O Mindset

Simultaneous Learning is rooted in a ‘can-do’ world where activities are always pro-actively set up to flow sequentially and so provide the greatest chance of success and therefore persistent progress and direction.  This continually allows both teachers and pupils to live in in an environment of positivity.  And if we explain carefully how the process is working as we are teaching it during lessons, then pupils learn to use the same process in their practice. 

This doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong from time to time, however careful we (or our pupils) are in setting up the next thing to do.  Maybe a pupil struggles (in a lesson or practice) to get something technical to work or can’t quite figure out a musical point.  

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I’d like to suggest a way to deal with this, and I call it the Double O Mindset.

So often, musicians and others who find they can’t do things, get annoyed and frustrated: “I CAN’T do this” or maybe “Why CAN’T I do this?” they inwardly scream. This often leads to the follow-up thought: “I’m no good,” or worse, “I’m useless.” 

Of course, it’s entirely the wrong reaction; the wrong response. Rather than this aggressive, subjective, and angry riposte, teach pupils (and ourselves if we need to) to go for the Double O Mindset:


Observe and be Objective

In other words, we quietly observe what exactly is going on, and then analyse the situation in an agreeably and peacefully objective manner.

Instead of ranting “Why CAN’T I do this?”

We say, gently and thoughtfully,

Why can’t I do this?

We observe carefully what we are actually doing and we objectively search for a slightly different way that may well simply solve the problem. 

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The word carefully is important.  When we analyse what we are doing we often don’t delve nearly deep enough.  If it’s technical, try to look, for example, exactly at hand position, use of all muscles involved in the task, exactly at what is being done in relation to the intended outcome.   If it’s musical, is there something not quite understood in the sequence of thought required to be at that particular point.  If our pupil takes this view, they may well solve the problem or realise what it is they don’t get, and bring that with them to the next lesson when, together, we can solve it.


So, do consider the Double O Mindset:  Observe and be Objective. It may well save a lot of time and emotional and misdirected negative energy.

News from Denmark and thoughts for a productive new term

Following my tour of South Africa, I’m just back from a wonderful visit to the “happiest country in the world”, Denmark, presenting teaching workshops, giving a recital and working with young players. Wherever I go in the world, there are two things I can always rely on: the unqualified enthusiasm of young learners and the reflective and thoughtful enthusiasm of their teachers. 

Our aim in life should always be to make things better. Through our music, it should be to refine and develop our own playing or singing and to guide our pupils to develop theirs. To do this we all, teachers and students alike, simply need to open our minds. We need to minimise the ego and allow ourselves to re-evaluate our methods with unconditional honesty.  

That will be at the heart of the fourteen insets I’m about to embark on as the new academic year gets under way. I shall be talking about Simultaneous Learning, Group Teaching, Being a Virtuoso Teacher, Teaching in the Digital Age, and much more.  I hope we may meet during these next two weeks. 

Whether we do or not, I hope 2016/17 is a great year for you.  Let’s do our best to transcend any problems, enjoy our music making and teaching and try to inspire others with what we are doing! 


Teaching in Copenhagen, August 2016

Teaching in Copenhagen, August 2016

My time in South Africa

Having been back from my adventure to South Africa for a couple of weeks now it’s very good to look back on it and muse on the many exciting experiences I had there. The main purpose of the tour was of course to meet and talk with teachers about this extraordinary thing that is teaching! And indeed I did. In my solitary, but hugely event-packed, week I visited Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Mostly I talked about Simultaneous Learning and it was greeted with much enthusiasm. I found so many teachers eager to explore the positive and pro-active forms of teaching I love talking about and sharing. I also understood why many go to live in South Africa - among other things, their winter is generally more summery than our summer. And although it's still a country with some serious unresolved issues there is something very special I clearly felt manifest in the camaraderie and cheerfulness of all those I met...

I was hosted by the excellent Lovemore Music – music shops are still very much the thing in SA. People go and visit and browse and are sometimes lucky enough to be helped in their searches by Danni and Steve, whose massive knowledge and good humour keeps much of music making and teaching alive and well. In my case they also displayed massive industry and diligence in booking all the accommodation and the many flights and making sure I was at the right place at the right time. Which, thanks to them, I was. Also for the food. I enjoyed some types of fish I’d never even heard of prior to my visit. 

And yes … I did actually go on safari in my suit - travelling light does have its unexpected consequences!   My one afternoon off was well spent in a very well-protected specially designed wagon … and we really were that close to that lion.