Video games, and the mentality of those who excel at gaming, are under scrutiny from academics looking for helpful pointers. Video games foster learning, whilst keeping the player motivated, and have been touted as a good example to follow. To my mind however, video games still focus on rather well defined targets in boss battles and leveling up etc., and so the temptation to draw an analogy to traditional letter grades (A-F) still persists.
I would like to offer another fringe group who demonstrate a style of learning we should seek to emulate: musicians.
As artists, the targets musicians seek are not well defined. Instead, the vast majority of playing is aimless, unguided, and purely undertaken for the fun of it. Self-satisfaction is always paramount. Richard Feynman called it the ‘pleasure of finding things out’ and it is something artists do well, academics poorly. The musician’s journey involves much blind fumbling, and one must use one’s ears as guides (a challenge for visually oriented mammals like us). But that is half of the fun. Naturally in such a system, mistakes are not punished. Especially in an artist’s formative years, mistakes are actually the most powerful tool for learning, opening up new lines of thought or revealing hidden perspectives.
Further, good musicians seamlessly blend all four of the traditional learning styles such that learning is guaranteed!
1) Auditory; obviously
2) Linguistic; most teachers will tell you to sing what you want to play before even picking up an instrument, and instrumentalists spend most of their time trying to sound like vocalists.
3) Spatial; music theory contains bars, staffs, and what’s known as the ‘circle of fifths’, and music notation creates elaborate artworks that wouldn’t look out of place at a modern abstracts exhibit. Each written line a black and white masterpiece:
4) Kinesthetic; have you seen James Brown?
Finally, music is a collaborative art form. Working with others towards a common goal is the bedrock of any band or orchestra. Symphony requires the uncensored sharing of ideas, unwavering commitment to the cause, and impeccable communication skills. Such traits are all highly coveted in academia, but rarely worked upon.
I see a lot of promise in the style and emphasis that characterizes a musician’s education. It’s not perfect, however. There are still tedious scales, metronome practice, and Bono from U2. But mark my words, if we sow such musical seeds in higher education, we shall reap virtuosos.