How We are Wired and Why it Matters When Learning Music — or anything for that matter

Scales  Aren’t Just a Fish Thing

Igniting sleeping brains

by Carol JC Anderson

A concept connecting how we learn

and our how our brains process information with the study of music,


The complex wiring of the brain

Image result for pictures of the brain wiring

One of the first things I do when I am asked to work with someone is to give them a piece of paper.

I ask – “how would you tell me to get to your house”?

They have to use the pen and paper.. no additional instructions – no questions.

In one minute the tale is told.

I have all I need to know.

If they begin to write the directions ….

go to the end of the street and turn right,

I know this person needs to only know what they need for the moment and no more.

If they draw a map,

then they need to know where the lessons are headed.

What’s the point?

How they get there isn’t the problem,

they’ll figure that out along the way.

They simply want to know the intended destination.

These are the students with whom you need to play

‘the truck’ when teaching..

(if you don’t know what I mean…click the picture)


(Those who wrote the instructions)

The ….’go to the end of the lane’….students

need you to play the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ investigator.

With flashlight in hand, walk them down the gravel road to show them that it is safe out there beyond the end of the lane.

Walk with them…model what is expected.

Simplify the instructions.

They need a safety net.

They aren’t more or less intelligent….just wired differently.

And good for them….

they basically run the world

(and the classrooms and libraries)

The map people, change the world.

I would teach the map (big picture) student

totally differently than the

sequential – ‘go to the end of the lane’ – student

  • The global learner likes to learn fast.
  • They get chunks of a picture and put it together automatically once the chunks are completed.
  • They probably couldn’t tell you how they came to their conclusions, but they usually are accurate and connected to the complete picture.

They get it!

I’d even go out on a limb here and say that these students will be very passionate with everything.

They will be the one who improvises with ease and appears to have the greater talent.

Unfortunately, they will also be the student who ‘gets bored’ and gives their parents a very difficult time about practicing, or anything structured.

If they are good at it, they will throw manipulative tantrums that label each grey hair on their parent’s head with their name.

They will try to quit at each challenge point

or say, let’s play cello today, or can we play games?


They are fast. They don’t want to slow down.

Somehow they can play it, ………..almost magically

but….wait one second…

not so fast ‘Sparky’.

This manic brain action is only short lived.

Along with this amazing gift of seeing the big picture

comes a fatal flaw that if not addressed early will steal all the joy of learning quickly.

Patience to take care of the little things – the details – is nearly totally missing.

To complete a project from start to finish requires structure and that is something the global thinker lacks,,….at least in the traditional way.

They are often sloppy – lacking detail and technique. Their goal is to get through the job and finish it and go onto the next new adventure.

They are fun to teach because they really teach themselves.  They want to play. They want to gather and learn. Their natural laziness is transformed into a manic state of ‘becoming’.

This is why it is so critical that the connection between the teacher, parent and student is developed and cherished. The wrong teacher/student match can create a student who looks for the ‘reward’ in a rush somewhere else. I could list a few world leaders with this type of learning personality.  And, unfortunately, we would probably find a majority of this type of thinker in jail.  If there isn’t a strong leader to help guide this student, they will find their ‘rush’   in the wrong places.

Not to scare you, but this one is a challenge and a pleasure at the same time.

 This is directed to teaching musical instruments

but the concepts can be used to teach just about anything.

How to teach the student

or parent who drew the map

Draws Maps – Big Picture


  • When preparing to teach a new song, play the entire piece for them with no explanation.
  • Break the piece into large chunks with a beginning and end to each section.
  • Give workbook pages of the entire ‘chunk’ to color in order to slow them down a bit.
  • Have them play-along with the music, slowing it down so they can keep up.
  • These students need closure. They need completion – often.
  • They multi-task.
  • I doubt they care about praise.
  • They like to see something completed – fast
  • If you are one step ahead of them in the way you inform yet deprive the information and present it in chunks, they will overcome their innate weakness of not being polished simply for the ‘reward’ of accomplishment.




How to teach the student or parent

who wrote the directions

  • When preparing to teach a new song, talk about the background of the song, the composer, the structure.
  • Break the piece into an outline form with the student. Let them listen to the repeated parts.
  • Give workbook and assign only what they can do in a week – too much information drowns them.
  • Be sure to have explicit written instructions for what they are to do.  Assign a certain number of times for them to listen to the song. (sometimes I tell them to just listen to the part of the song they are learning 10 times.)
  • These students sometimes have the competitive edge to them.
  • They don’t like to multi-task. Mono-focused is the word of the day here.
  • They like praise. Lots of encouragement – certainly not in a proud way. It is just part of the motivation they need.
  • This learning personality is slow and steady. And yes, they usually win the race. Why? because they don’t overdo it…..Ever……The global student is the ‘mouthful and can’t chew it all’ kid.   The sequential student is the ‘one coin in the offering plate at a time’ kid.

To ensure acceptance when doing what is required in life – the sequential or ‘go to the end of the lane’ student will ‘learn’ to do things both ways and cover our bases.

The sequential student needs direction.  Certainly not to say that they become dependent people. This is all just part of the beauty of who these learners are.

If you send them to the store with a shopping list and although they need milk it isn’t on the list, they will add ‘milk’ to the list so they can cross it off.

They like order.  Today’s minimalistic mentality is their ‘cup of tea’.

In the end, the sequential learner won’t have the whole idea of the ‘big picture’ as clearly as the global student, but they are the teachers among us. They are the musicians who make it to the seats in large orchestras.

They are perfectly wired to learn in our educational system.

The sequential kids are often overlooked because they appear to have it all together.

They get good grades, hardly study,  only try one thing at a time and aren’t in need of a rush.

Then it hits. Mr. Roger’s way of ‘one thing at a time’ no longer is tolerated by society. They are required to do more.

Slow and steady means late nights.

These students will practice. They might not have passion in their style without you as a mentor and role model, but they practice. They would easily fall into the adult idea of ‘status quo’ if not taught early enough how to establish long term goals.

These students are often technically accurate. Meticulous about the notes and phrasing. It is your job to bring them further and help them to

  • ‘sing in the rain’
  • ‘dance in the sun’
  • ‘take it easy’
  • ‘fill life’s plate and allow the food to become a little mixed.’

Of course, not everyone who wants to be told what to do next only after they have reached the initial destination will identify with every quality written here. But, I have to tell you, they would if it weren’t for the people who have been in their lives. Good mentors… parents who gave them more attention – teachers who didn’t settle for what appeared to be good.



As a teacher or parent,

refuse good,

don’t settle for better,

demand the best

for your students.

Make the world a better place

one little finger at a time!




Don’t miss the

Christmas Master Class

Igniting our

Sleeping Brains


Let’s take a quick look at how differently we are all wired.

I have written music books that are color coded and music theory card games to help make complex concepts understandable.

Please check them out.


Teaching Tools including color-coded notes for all the Suzuki literature through Book 4 plus lots gypsy, fiddle and canons. Play-along music and music theory card games to maintain interest.

Gum Drop Note Sheet Music

Circles are the color the note is moving toward.  Subtly the student is learning complex music theory without knowing it.  When they play the music theory games, it stamps the ideas and embeds them into their thinking.  Try them.

Remember:  a note that is sharp or flat is notated with a circle the color of the note it is moving toward.  Just a little help while we are learning.



The Brain and how we process information

Tools to teach

Violin Sheet Music – Paperbacks

Book One

Big Book of Gum Drop Notes

Tools to teach

Violin Sheet Music – Paperbacks

Pretwinkle books

   tutorial videos on computer and iPhone/iPad

and music theory games

digital books









Book One

Big Book of Gum Drop Notes



Violin  Book


Big Book of Gum Drop Notes


Violin  Book three

Big Book of Gum Drop Notes


Violin Great Extra


Big Book of Gum Drop Notes





Bass Clef Piano or Cello Note Locator (Sight-reading Music)



The ’10 Minute Music Theory Card Games’ ™ is a year long series of card games intended to be played at the end of each lesson.  This slowly builds understanding from the simplest concept until it is intrinsically understood. Students want to come to lessons because they are motivated and excited about learning.  Their progress is solid and steady.  They understand intervals and otherwise difficult music theory concepts by playing games until they are at lightning speed.  All games include ‘clue cards‘ with all the answers ‘nurture don’t test’.

‘The Magnificent Fingerboard ™’  is the basis for reference.  Students become familiar with the notes and the patterns. Combined with listening to the music, the understanding of the notes and their relationship to the notes around them, is a great musical foundation.

Ten Minute Music Theory

Card Games Series



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