Whole Brain Teaching


Evidence based teaching is a ‘buzz word’ in the field’s of health, science, and education. It simply refers to using the best available evidence (grounded in research) to drive decision-making. Hundreds of studies in the fields of pedagogy, education, and applied behavioral psychology support the belief that in order to increase performance in a task, the whole brain must be activated. The ‘whole brain’ is simply a catch-all phrase for engaging multiple learning centers such as linguistic, aural, physical, spacial, emotional, expressive, mathematical (logical) and creative. After repeatedly engaging these multiple areas of the brain, the information is stored in the brain’s long-term memory. Long-term memory storage enables the brain to recall information seamlessly (such as your birthday). Furthermore, the brain will begin to form stronger connections in areas that were previously weak. Lets hypothesize how the ‘whole brain’ can be activated in a 30-minute private piano lesson with our fictional student Sue.

Sue is a 6-year-old student who comes in for her first lesson with no piano experience. After orienting Sue to the basics of music notation, the teacher wants to begin to teach Sue note reading on the treble clef staff. He begins by selecting three large bright yellow flash cards beginning with middle C. He places the card on the piano, points to the note, tells her the name of the note and shows her where to find the note on the piano. Once she can recognize the note and play it without looking at her hand, he adds the other two successive notes, D and E. He then points to each note asking the student to play the note while verbalizing the note at the same time, varying the order as she gets more familiar with the notes (linguistic, aural, physical and expressive). Next, he moves to the white board where he draws out 20 random notes all consisting of C’s, D’s or E’s and asks her to quickly label each one. He also switches it up by drawing random successions of letters and asking her to draw the corresponding note on the staff (expressive, spacial, linguistic, logical).  He then asks her to stand across the room where she cant see the piano and instructs her to carefully listen to him play each of the 3 notes. They then assign a movement to each note such as a clap for C, a stomp for D and a snap for E (physical, aural, creative, expressive).  At the end of these exercises he assesses her mastery of these 3 notes by asking her to sight read a piece from the lesson book only comprising of the 3 notes covered (physical, aural, expressive, logical, expressive). Finally, the teacher will end each lesson with a review and a discussion of how the student feels with the new material (emotional, expressive, linguistic), and they will devise a home practice plan for the week to reinforce the material.

When Sue comes back in for her next lesson, how well do you think she will be able to identify these 3 notes? Chances are, she will have mastered them! This is because her teacher engaged multiple areas of learning, and reinforced the concepts several times forcing long-term memory storage. All in a 10-minute time span. Once Sue mastered C, D, E, her teacher will add 3 new notes. The benefits of moving something into long-term memory is that it is then easily accessible and its capacity it seemingly unlimited. The long-term result of this style of teaching is quicker and more effective mastery of the instrument, leading to higher levels of enjoyment once the student is able to play the type of music they love most. This approach is vastly different from the tradition approach how I and many other musicians learn note reading. Note reading is generally taught by simply looking at the notes on a page while fumbling on the piano and trying to memorize them. I have had students come to me that have been playing piano for YEARS and still cannot recognize middle C- likely the first note they ever learned! Once I begin activating multiple learning centers, giving them specific exercises of this nature to practice at home, and engaging parents or friends in their learning process, their mastery of the content skyrockets!