Four Steps to Better Learning – Step 2: Intention/Attention
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This is the second letter in the series about better learning.  Today’s topic is Practicing with Intention/Attention.  Dr. Suzuki wrote in Nurtured by Love, “Our improvement in ability depends on action and the direction of our attention to doing things.”  Adding to last week’s formula we can write:  P = E X I where P is progress, E is the effort expended and I is the intention/attention directed towards the task.  

Every teacher has students whose practice is regular and of an acceptable duration but they develop musical ability slowly at best.   Are these students incapable of gaining ability?  NO!  One possibility for the slow progress may be due to a lack of intentional practice.  The physical effort is present, but the mental effort, the intention and determination is not.  Dr. Suzuki said, “If your head and fingers don’t work in cooperation, your practice is no good.” To practice intentionally means that the student must think specifically about what they are doing.  They must focus their minds on perfecting details.  They must concentrate to complete actions correctly.  They must listen critically to the sounds.  Minds must be fixated on the task at hand in the same way the sun can be focused on paper using a magnifying glass until the paper burns.  Such practice is hard work, and is a skill that must be developed.

Every teacher also has students whose intentions are the best, but these students lack the action necessary to gain ability.  Dr. Suzuki wrote, “The development of ability can’t be [done solely] by more thinking or theorizing, but must be accomplished by action and practice.”  For any intention to become a reality, energy must be expended.  One gains ability by repetition, which enables the muscles and nerves to completely learn the motion.  Often, one can only move muscles in new ways at a painfully slow pace.  Moving them faster than the speed at which they can accomplish the task is a waste of time, and is done by students who never had a burning desire to learn the skill in the first place, no matter what they said verbally, or by someone who doesn’t yet understand the realities of ability development.

William A. Foster, WWII marine who received a purple heart said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”  Students who practice by these words, flourish.

                                                                                         ©  2011 Susan A. Sommerville
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