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Similarities: Music, language learning

Learning German and learning to play the guitar share some interesting similarities, particularly in terms of the learning process and the skills involved.

Why is this useful?

If we are looking for real life outcomes – in music or in langauge – it is important to know how to learn or how to practice. How to learn for outcomes is not common knowledge. It can feel counterintuitive. By looking at learning process across two fields, we could try have a better understanding of the learning or praciticing process.

I have been using similar methods that I used to learn and teach music effectively to learn German (B2 Certificate + real life)  and help others learn German. Here are some similarities and useful learning considerations.

Here are a few parallels:

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Clarity before speed

Learning guitar or German, train for clarity before speed.

Music:
Before fast-paced playing or playing in time, know the notes, know their connections, the finger techniques involved.
I advise my students to not use the metronome initially, encouraging them to focus on the phrases and how they sound, without strict timing. Atempo exploration.

Just as in guitar practice, in German learning too, a deliberate and unhurried approach brings surer and lasting progress.

German:

Before trying to speak fast or try learning more sentences, learn the subtle nuances of each word, vowel, and consonant – correct enough for a native speaker to understand.

If I try to speed up my speech or playing, without ensuring proper pronunciation or finger movements, I will just be fast – without meaning.

Some guidelines to make the discomfort of learning new easier:

– Play a variation that is close to our skill level – not overwhelming, but challenging.

– Focus on each detail, and allow the muscles to learn each movement gradually. Rushing without clarity only introduces tension and confusion, hindering both performance and memory recall.

– In the case of German: Start by understanding the precise pronunciation of a few most used words and sentences, before going for gamified quantity.

Fundamentals and Best practices:

Guitar: In guitar learning, the journey typically begins with understanding the guitar’s anatomy and mastering fundamental skills like playing individual notes, basic chords, and simple strumming or picking techniques.

However, in my approach, I prioritize deeper learning using competencies and subskills. For example, a beginners student, while learning what matters to the student, focuses on essential practices such as wrist positioning, thumb usage, fretboard angle, and optimal stroke techniques. 

We aim to activate musical feedback loops early on by introducing recognizable songs or melodies, laying the foundation for deliberate practice. 

When it comes to chord transitions, instead of just memorizing shapes, we emphasize optimized transitions by mastering the most effective finger movements. This method ensures better mastery in real life chord playing situations, removing delay and disconnect between the changes.

German: Usually, language learning begins with repetition of the alphabets, basic vocabulary, and simple sentence structures.

To sort it in our favor, to tailor the learning experience to the student’s needs, we begin with practical applications such as spelling out their names in German.
We also learn the German version of the question: please spell your name. This skill proves invaluable in phone conversations or office settings, especially for individuals with non-European names.
Basic numbers are also covered, focusing on essential information like dates of birth, phone number, street number etc.

While learning what can be used practically from day 01, pronunciation and formality forms receive dedicated attention. We explore vowels, consonants, and pronunciation nuances through various words, reinforcing proper articulation. We also give importance to the forms to be used in offices and formal situations.

Additionally, we introduce template sentences that can be adapted to express preferences and needs across different contexts, enhancing practical communication skills.

Deliberate Practice

Guitar: In practice sessions, time is often squandered on mindless routines, aimless syllabus coverage, and rehearsing without an intent to improve.

A more effective approach involves collecting your mistakes and actively working to refine them incrementally.

Rather than mindlessly repeating what you already know, direct your focus towards problem areas, treating them like the parts in  object-oriented programming or finishing parts of a complex system separately to assemble into a bigger whole. Engaging in this process needs a feedback loop and often guidance from a learning expert. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

German: Similarly, in German language learning, prioritize pronunciation. Refine pronunciation of words you already learnt, to match native speakers’ standards rather than simply accumulating more words and sentences. Emphasize practical usage of the language over acquiring approximate sounds and meanings. Learn useful material while also mastering template sentences that can be adapted and applied across various contexts.

In short be deliberate with your syllabus, and be deliberate in using your practice time by focusing on what doesn’t work, changing it to the minimum required levels.

Some thoughts about the similarities

Both music and language learning involve cognitive processes such as memory, pattern recognition, and auditory discrimination.
The feedback loops built to correct the sounds are important in both cases.

The structured practice techniques used in music can be applied to language learning, and vice versa.

Language learning is something most of us can relate to. Many of us learned English as a second language.

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