The Learning Curve - Tips to Learn Something New

In the recent issue of the Indiana University Alumni Magazine (Summer 2016, p. 40) the following good advice is offered and we share it with you here. This comes in a piece on teaching violin at the world class Jacobs School of Music at IU. These ideas apply to all teaching, including our own teaching of mathematics. Enjoy.


Maybe you want to play the piano or speak enough French to get to know a Parisian or two on your next European vacation. Don't assume that because you are over a certain age learning a new skill is impossible, or even more difficult.

We asked Jacobs School of Music students, former students, faculty, and elementary violin teachers to give us some tips on how to learn - and teach a new skill.


Break it down. When learning anew skill, particularly one that you find challenging, try to break it down into its simplest components and focus on mastering each one before you add the next. This way you will build a solid foundation." Kasia Bugaj, PhD'13, former Attica teacher and Florida State University assistant professor of string music.

Listen. 'If you can focus and listen, you can learn. Also, learn not to be distracted by every little noise." Ann Harrison, BS'67

Set Goals. "Have a detailed plan and try and incorporate this vision on a daily basis" Matt Berg, BME'13

Learn in a Group. "If you're learning something with other people who are also learning it for the first time, there's less self-consciousness and the process is more natural and productive." Natalie Boeyink, BM'Ol, DME'15


If you've just learned something, teach it to someone else. "If the coach has just recently mastered the very concepts that they themselves are teaching, the more likely it is that they will empathize with the learner, and the quality of the interaction will be optimal." Dean Gwyn Richards, '80

Mistakes are just information. "It is important to make mistakes because it means you are learning. Sometimes the kids want to quit when it is hard or they aren't perfect. Making mistakes (and correcting them) is just a part of the process." Brenda Brenner

Use Humor. Brenda Brenner has a "stinky shoe" exercise that cracks the kids up every time. She takes off her shoe and hangs it on the scroll of the violin to make it harder for them to keep it at an appropriate angle. When she removes the shoe, suddenly it is easier.

Connect with the student. Master's student Mercedes Lysaker, BM'14, says it is important to meet students at their level - where they are that day, at that minute, no matter what else is happening to you.

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