In Transfer, Dr. Robert Duke discusses the transferable nature of learning. If a skill is mastered and only reproducible in one context, then we should not consider it learned. Only when a skill can be graphed to any and all situations is it truly mastered. Though a seemingly daunting task, Duke walks through the methods of teaching that encourage transfer in students. By distilling skills to their fundamental principles, teaching what is relevant to the contexts our students are in, and designing a wide variety of contexts in which to apply repeatedly the skill being developed, students will not only learn a single skill but learn how to apply it in all situations. In order to commit ourselves to this as teachers we must name transfer as the goal of instruction.
I’ve found transfer to be most difficult in my transition from ‘technique practice’ to ‘repertoire practice.’ Though I spend significant rehearsal time practicing playing scales, arpeggios, open string tones, etudes, and fingering exercises beautifully, as soon as I move on to apply them in repertoire those techniques are less accessible. They no longer sound or feel effortless and beautiful. It is for this reason that I enjoy teaching with the Suzuki Method. A repertoire based sequence, the Suzuki method uses a carefully laid out sequence of repertoire through which a teacher can teach technique. By learning technique through repertoire teaching is relevant to the context of the piece, can be explained as a principle rather than directly related to the repertoire, and then explored in all different contexts by applying the new technique to review repertoire.
This post is one in a series of concise reflections on Dr. Robert Duke’s Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction. Find the others here.