Never Too Old to Learn a New Art or Skill

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 41 (May 2000)

The following is a recent exchange with someone asking how he might, even at a mature age, find help in learning to sightread music. (The procedure in Winsights No. 14 is only for very young children.) The following can apply to learning any new skill or art, not only sightreading of music. First, the letter from an inquirer:

Win Wenger, hello.I came across your piece on brain development and perfect pitch while searching for help with sight reading. I play guitar, mandolin and banjo by ear, and the others in our ceilidh group say that I really ought to get to grips with the dots. More of which in a moment.

I also came across the following and thought it may interest you, although it may already be familiar. Headed “Music lessons may open the mind to math and science,” it’s at: Music Opens Mind [note: website no longer available].

At the age of 34, I spent three of the happiest years of my life reading, inter alia, cognitive psychology, philosophy and linguistics. Now that I’m a 61-year-old adolescent, I can still recall a little about brain theory and I’m still fascinated by the interaction of body, mind and spirit, not least in martial arts and music. Not too odd a mix:  both dependent on harmony — left/right brain, control of the body [mainly your own] and, of course, cooperation with others. “Context dependent” still echoes and applies to much of what we do.

Anyway, enough of biography. More to the point, do you have any advice on learning to sight-read music for the allegedly adult? Learn on vacation, maybe? It would be a great contribution to the comity of nations, learning to live together and the happiness of yours truly.

Help me, Win! When was the last time you made an old man happy?

Keep up the good work and sing out loud in praise of showing out our passion for life.

Any time you’re in Geneva, come and join in the ceilidh.

My reply to him was as follows, and is what you can use to master any new skill or art, with resources free on the web. (You can do still better with the further techniques published in my book Beyond Teaching and Learning.)

Here is that informative (I hope!) reply:

I’m going to try to put my answer in terms which can be found in specific referents on the Web. Much fuller answers, with a wide range of alternative techniques, can be found in my book Beyond Teaching and Learning, but here are things for free:

  1. Just a few years senior to you, I imagine that the number one issue has to be to come at the task of sight-reading while you are fresh and not tired.
  2. To further reinforce physical readiness to learn and practice sight-reading …
    • Study Winsights No. 28 and No. 29 on this website and get in several accumulated hours’ practice at Noise-Removal Breathing.
    • For 2 or 3 evenings in a row, get into what I call the “gravity position,” feet and legs supported over a chair or sofa, you flat on your back on the floor. For 5-10 minutes, practice Noise-Removal Breathing from there, relaxing as completely as possible, then going immediately to bed and sleep, which gives you the effects of 2-3 extra hours’ sleep. Up more than a minute or so before turning in after this procedure and the effect is lost for that round.
    • You might consider supplementing your diet with RNA/DNA (ribonucleic acid and desoxynucleic acid, the stuff of your genes and of your memory); and/or with folic acid, which helps your body manufacture its own DNA.
    • Before a learning and/or practice sight-reading session by whatever technique, “noise-removal breathe” up and away whatever “noise” might be between you and clear, successful sight-reading of music.
  3. With your physical support in place, here are two of the Einsteinian-type procedures freely published on the Web that can be used directly to aid the process of effective sight-reading:
    • Borrowed Genius,” over in Teaching & Learning Techniques on this website
    • Toolbuilder,” under CPS Techniques in this website. “Go” to a highly advanced, but human, civilization where even the slowest, clumsiest klutzes have become super prodigies at sight-reading music; go to the point in that experience which shows you how that comes to be, that everyone in that civilization is made so effective at that. Go through that experience and also come back with new techniques, suggested by that experience, which are super effective at training that skill.

These procedures are free on the Web and thus immediately available to you. I hope this is of some help.