I love how a well-regarded software developer uses learning a new instrumental composition, rather than building software, to illustrate their point.
I once had an instrument-specific instructor who liked to stress that the point of teaching was to train you to teach yourself. It was expected that I would be able to identify the hardest parts of a composition by analysis, prior to even touching my instrument, and tackle them on my own. Much like Joe, after tackling the hardest sections individually I was required to play the piece in it’s entirety, though I was also required to provide observational analysis on the performance to myself.
Once a week we would meet and I would play a piece I learned. Often, he’d proffer a piece of information unrelated to my actual performance but something which would nevertheless improve my understanding of what I was playing and how to improve my interpretation. My favorite example of this was with a piece by Bottesini (Elegy No. 1 in D).
After finishing what I thought was a good performance, he asked whether I knew that Bottesini actually wanted to be an opera composer. I was befuddled. Who cares about the ambitions of a composer long past? He then remarked that if you look at the piece, the juxtaposition of passages played in the upper and lower ranges almost seems like a duet between a male and female singer (see: ~2:40 in the video). This little fact changed my entire view of the piece. No longer was it simply a composition played on an instrument but rather an elegy for the love between two people, both parts playing out on a single instrument.
Sometimes the technically difficult parts are actually the easiest. Anyone can create software, good or bad. It’s the context that gives what you created power and the interpretation that gives it meaning. Go out and build whatever your going to build in whatever language or systems you want. Bottesini did. He couldn’t write an opera but he could sure play the bass like no other. He instead made the best opera he could using what was available and the result was an enduring piece in the classical repertoire.
the point of teaching was to train you to teach yourself
Hah. I’ve had this thought but with regard to therapy. Where it’s also true, except therapists generally don’t seem to know it. I guess it applies to a lot of things. :)
Thank you for the anecdote, it’s moving and relevant. And got me to read the article, which I’d probably have skipped otherwise.
I’m happy someone read it! While it doesn’t address everything in Joe’s post directly, I thought it might be a interesting companion piece for someone.
I agree that the idea of teaching yourself how to teach yourself seems to be almost universally applicable. I would really like to read any formalized studies on the topic. There seems to be many books, especially self-help text, that focus on specific aspects but I don’t think I’ve come across anything about the subject as a whole. Maybe auto-didacticism is a mystical art.
I have found the books that deal with the specific portions of teaching yourself to be very helpful, however. I’ve recently been re-reading The Inner Game of Tennis, which focuses on achieving a flow state by silencing negative criticism given to yourself by your self. It also makes a few references to Zen in the Art of Archery, which apparently is a seminal text on a similar subject. it’s on my to-read list.
The Inner Game of Tennis
Zen in the Art of Archery
If anyone has any similar recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
I recently read The Inner Game of Tennis as well and have found it helpful in my physical pursuits. Have you found any applications related to programming and learning? I struggle to apply his ideas to programming because I find my internal dialogue generally functions as the middleman between my unconscious and conscious when programming. Analytical tasks (at least in my brain) are mediated through a combination of visual and verbal thoughts. If anything, I often find something like Rubber Duck Debugging helps me simplify or understand complicated solutions.