Learning Tips from the Jolly Librarian: You’ve Got to Be Willing to Unlearn

Last night, my piano teacher was giving us our homework, which involved practice. But she also pointed out that practice wasn’t enough: “Despite what you may have heard, practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So if you practice wrong . . .”

I could only nod my head in sad agreement. In the year that I have been teaching myself, I have picked up all sorts of bad habits. My fingers, instead of staying on the keys, fly up in the air as if they’re trying to escape. I can read notes, but I have no sense of counting the beats. So the songs I know are more like some sort of mad improvisations. (I kind of like them, but my teacher stresses that I will never be able to play with anyone if I can’t count the notes. It will not be improv, but cacophony

So I am now spending as much time unlearning old bad habits as I do trying to pick up new skills. One night, I did nothing but put my fingers on the right keys and play notes without moving my hands. It was not fun but necessary. Now I’m working on my counting. This is much harder. Basically, I can count or I can read the notes; I can’t do both at the same time. But I keep working on it. Because it’s the only way I’m going to learn the play the piano.

This is true for any subject. You have to check for the bad habits you’ve learned earlier and get rid of them. It could be a word that you always spell wrong. It could be the order of operations in math that you always forget. It could those pesky MLA citations that get you into trouble. If you’re doing them wrong, then take the time to unlearn. It will be a pain, but less of a pain than always doing it wrong. And once you get those barriers out of the way, you will find the path a little easier.

So this week, unlearn with me!

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