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15 Percent Mistakes

I am always looking for efficiency in learning piano or any skill. It has given me a buzz all my life and now I am in my 60's, even more so. Learning something new is a natural high!

Adult students particularly love shortcuts to learning so, when I saw this article in Newsweek, I had to share. With regards to learning piano, it strikes a lovely balance between learning songs that are too easy and learning songs that are too hard.

Here are some excerpts from the article in Newsweek 11/5/19 Health Section:

Scientists have calculated what they say is the percentage of times we need to fail in order to most efficiently learn something new.

In what researchers have dubbed the Eighty Five Percent Rule, failing 15 percent of the time and succeeding the remainder is the optimum way to gain new skills and information. Otherwise if the challenge is too easy we don't learn. Too hard, and we're likely to be put off and give up.

To arrive at this percentage, the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature Communications taught computers simple tasks, like telling the difference between patterns or reading and sorting handwritten numbers.

They found the machines learned fastest when they got the task wrong 15 percent of the time, and succeeded 85 percent.

And by looking at existing research on learning in humans and animals, like monkeys, they found this ratio also appeared to give the best results when it comes to learning.

Wilson explained this approach could be used in what is known as perceptual learning, where we hone our knowledge over time. He used the example of a radiologist learning to tell between an x-ray which shows a tumour and one which doesn't.

"You get better at figuring out there's a tumor in an image over time, and you need experience and you need examples to get better," he said.

"I can imagine giving easy examples and giving difficult examples and giving intermediate examples," Wilson said.

"If I give really easy examples, you get 100 percent right all the time and there's nothing left to learn. If I give really hard examples, you'll be 50 percent correct and still not learning anything new, whereas if I give you something in between, you can be at this sweet spot where you are getting the most information from each particular example."

Wilson said: "The hope is we can expand this work and start to talk about more complicated forms of learning."

Speaking to Newsweek, Wilson stressed: "Definitely do not take away that 85 percent is some magic number we should be aiming at all the time. That only applies in the very limited settings we considered. A more useful takeaway is that perfection isn't great for learning—we need to make some mistakes in order to learn and if what you're doing isn't challenging, then you're probably not learning as well as you could."

My takeaway from this is how beautifully this applies to learning with lead sheets. Go through a new song and find all the easy chords. You will most likely have some chords left over that aren't easy. Write the letter names in for those chords and see if they make up about 15% of the chords. If they are, this piece is great for you! If 50% of the chords need to be written in maybe you and your teacher could make some hard chords easier. If 100% of the chords are easy see if you and your teacher can make 15% of them a bit juicier. Add some 7ths or 9ths depending on where you are on your learning curve. Remember, any V chord can be turned into a 7th chord (teachers, you know what I mean :-) Stretch just a bit.

When you learn with lead sheets you can create a piece of music that is just the right inspiration for you!

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