The brain processes everything we experience and all we do. People who are skilled in any field usually have acquired habits and practices that facilitate their competence.
For example, musicians rehearse because the repetitive act of playing the music over and over quite literally writes information on the brain. As the musician rehearses, the mind evaluates the quality of the performance. If the musician is dissatisfied, she may stop to rehearse the section again. Commonly, musicians will rehearse a few troublesome bars or even a few notes until they master them. As this occurs, the brain records and stores the information. Once the musician arrives at a satisfactory level of performance, she may repeat the section many times to establish the pattern more firmly in the brain, which literally is creating connections that will facilitate the ease of performance and the likelihood of its success.
We see this in virtually every field of endeavor. When a basketball player mimics the motion of his free throw, perhaps several time, before he takes it, he is reinforcing the patterns of motion he has learned, which are stored in his organic brain. Generally, we trust experienced surgeons more than inexperienced surgeons. Teachers gain an assurance after sufficient time in the classroom. Each of two equally experienced chefs usually will out-cook the other in their respective specialty cuisines. A dairy farmer who fails to milk the cows at an established time will find that he has unhappy and unproductive cows.
Thus, habits and practices are no mere arbitrary devices. They reflect how our brains function to facilitate our development. Good habits and practices constitute an indispensable part of the order that is essential to achieving competence and excellence.
- Jeffrey M. Stibel, Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet (Harvard Business Press, 2009).
- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010).
Technical and Analytical Readings
Habits and theory of mind:
- Howard Margolis, Paradigms and Barriers: How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs (University of Chicago Press, 1993).
- Howard Margolis, Patterns, Thinking, and Cognition: A Theory of Judgment (University of Chicago Press, 1988).
- Bob Fecho, Teaching for the Students: Habits of Heart, Mind, and Practice in the Engaged Classroom (Teachers College Press, 2011).
- Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2012): “a serious look at the science of habit formation and change” for the lay reader.
- Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (Crown Publishers, 2015): Rubin “describes herself as a ‘street scientist’ whose aim is ‘to see what’s in plain sight.’ For her examples, Rubin doesn’t stray far beyond the neighborhood. Her guinea pigs are . . . her husband, Jamie; her daughters, Eliza and Eleanor; her diabetic sister, Elizabeth; and a few unnamed friends.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In music, an etude is a study. Most etudes are composed for students to acquaint them with the rigors of their instrument. However, a few composers have left behind etudes, mostly for solo piano, that far exceed the quality of works for student performance. To be sure, they offer the performer opportunities to master the intricacies and challenges of the chosen instrument but quite beyond that, they offer the listener many rewards as well. Among the finest works in this genre are Chopin’s etudes. Frédéric Chopin wrote two sets of twelve Études, or studies, for solo piano, plus a smaller set of three “Nouvelles Études.”
Other Études (studies):
- Liszt, 12 Transcendental Études (1851)
- Debussy, Douze Études – watch and listen to Uchida explain and play them
- Rachmaninoff, 8 Études-Tableaux ("Study Pictures"), Op. 33 (1911)
- Rachmaninoff, 9 Études-Tableaux ("Study Pictures"), Op. 39 (1917)
- Villa-Lobos, 12 Estudios - 12 Études (Douze études) (1929; rev. 1948/53)
- Kapustin, Eight Concert Études, Op. 40
- Alexander ScriabinOp. 2; Op. 8Op. 42; Op. 65
- Sauret, 24 Études-Caprices, Op. 64: Nos. 1-7; Nos. 8-13; Nos. 14-19; Nos. 20-24.
French composer Charles-Valentin (1813-1888) wrote etude cycles in three ways.
- 12 Études dans tous les tons majeurs (12 Etudes in all the major keys, Op. 35 (1848)
- 12 Études dans tous les tons mineurs (12 Etudes in all the minor keys), Op. 39 (1857)
- 12 Études d'orgue ou piano à pédalier pour les pieds seulement (12 Etudes for organ or pedal piano for the feet only) (1866)
- Jan Garbarek, Rainer Brüninghaus, Everhard Weber and Marilyn Mazur, “Rites”
- Nadine Gordiner, No Time Like the Present: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012): “At the novel’s center are Steve and Jabulile, who fell in love and married when their interracial union was illegal. Now, with a democratic government in place — apartheid in South Africa ended officially in the early 1990s — they have given up their outlaw status to assume their longed-for roles as respectable, even honored, members of an integrated society.”