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As part of my retraining the brain I’m trying to get back into music in a number of ways.  One thing that I’m trying is to train my ear so that I can identify intervals, which is something I never did well at even when spending much more time with a musical instrument than I do these days.  It seems like in some ways that ability is more fundamentally ‘musical’ than building technique on a particular instrument, but perhaps that’s just some weird personal bias on my part.

So I bought a copy of EarMaster® Pro – yes that’s EarMaster®, not Keymaster and I can’t tell if the people that wrote this software are fans of 1980s comedy/sci-fi movies, but I hope so.

Where was I?  Oh yes, there are a number of things that have struck me as interesting about the experience of attempting to train my middle aged brain to do yet another thing that I failed at in my teens.  And I’ve got a couple of them in the queue that haven’t quite fully formed.

But here’s the craziest of the bunch.  You’ve probably seen Rorschach Tests at some point or another – the ink blots that are supposed to let a psychologist dig deep into your subconscious?   Well, I’d like to propose an alternative.  One of the suggestions when learning to identify intervals is to take a song you know that starts (or the chorus starts) with the interval you’re trying to learn.  The folks at  EarMaster supply a chart of suggestions that is useful as a reference point.  Here is the set that I landed on.

Interval Ascending Descending
Minor 2nd Pink Panther Joy to the World
Major 2nd Happy Birthday Three Blind Mice
Minor 3rd Greensleeves Frosty the Snowman
Major 3rd Oh, when the Saints Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Perfect 4th Amazing Grace I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
Dim 5th Maria Black Sabbath
Perfect 5th Star Wars Feelings
Minor 6th She’s a Woman(my love don’t) Love Story
Major 6th My Bonnie Lies over… Nobody Knows  (the trouble)
Minor 7th Star Trek (TOS) American in Paris
Major 7th Take on Me I love you – Cole Porter
Octave (I am) An Innocent Man Willow Weep for Me

Now that has to say something about my personality.  If nothing else the fact that both Star Wars and Star Trek (TOS) themes are in there while not startling if you know me certainly have to reinforce my Science Fiction Geek complex.  And I’m happy to report that not a single video game theme ended up in my list, so I guess there is some good.  And the only TV shows were Frosty and Start Trek.  But Feelings?  Really?  What the heck?

What songs do you know well enough to use for references? What does that say about your personality?

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On the face of this it is probably one of the weirder ideas that I’ve had recently (and the bar is pretty high).  But please bear with me, if I can get this across I think it sheds some light on some of the body consciousness aspects of yoga and exercise in general that I’ve been trying to get a handle on.  And by some strange coincidence I was recently listening to a man that managed The Grateful Dead for twenty-five years talk about that  experience – and his refrain was (paraphrased) – It was the weirdest thing, but weird can be good.  So hopefully this is some good weird.

I’ve been reading this book about debugging, which purports to be a generalized book about how to debug problems of both design and implementation in technical systems as well as more generally.  I’ll post more about it if it holds up to its promise.  In any case it got me thinking about applying my own pretty highly refined but also very specialized diagnostics experience to the domain of learning and refining yoga poses.

And then, coincidently, I ended up in a very crowded Bikram yoga class over Memorial Day Weekend and was in a position where I could not always see myself in the mirror and even when I could there was a seam in the mirror that was distracting.   Which got me to thinking about how I use the mirror when learning to exercise.  Now this isn’t particularly profound in and of itself, but it is a way to see if I’m standing straight and how limbs are aligned with respect to my body and the room around me.   But in Bikram studios in particular you generally have a mirror in front of you but not to your sides or behind you, and the class is run in a way that discourages one from moving around to, for instance, see a side angle of one’s self in a particular pose.

Now switch back to the high tech world. I’ve spent the majority of my professional career writing programs that are generally classified as diagnostic tools, and a good chunk of that time on a kind of program that is actually called a debugger (I still get a kick out of that term).   Debuggers (and other diagnostics tools) generally allow a programmer to look at some part of the internal state of a program while it is running or records that state and lets you look at it later.  Thank you any non-techies who have actually stuck with me this far, I appreciate your patience. At this point I hope everyone can see that there is a pretty obvious parallel between a mirror (or for that matter a video camera) when debugging a physical skill and a debugger (or profiler) when debugging a program.

The thing that makes the parallel interesting to me though is that there are some (for myself) well internalized caveats with using a debugger or other diagnostic tools to find a bug in a program that translate over to the use of debugging tools like mirrors and video cameras when learning a physical skill.

First and foremost is that while these tools (in both domains) are incredibly useful, getting too dependent on them may restrict your ability to actually master the skill.  In the case of programming, being able to catch an error in the debugger and blindly fix it is not a substitute for actually understanding how your code works, as this is an excellent way to introduce regressions.  In the case of yoga (or Kung Fu or Dance), depending on a mirror to help with a pose may interfere with thinking deeply enough about how your body is working because you’re depending on the surface level understanding that is, literally, right in front of you.  So you might, for instance, get yourself into a situation where you can’t figure out if you are standing up straight, as I noted in my post on overlearning.   I believe this is why the very traditional Kung Fu school that I studied at for many years had a dearth of mirrors.

Then there is the issue that if you’ve become dependent on a particular tool to diagnose issues with your program, you will inevitably run into a situation where the tool won’t help.  Whether that’s because it’s not available on the machine where the bug is reproduced or any of a dozen other reasons, there is some variation of Murphy’s law that states that this will happen when your job is on the line.  And of course I lead with why this is true for yoga – even in a very standardized Bikram environment there will be times when you just can’t see yourself well in the mirror, should that be a reason for your practice to suffer?

So where does that land me?  Well, I’m not entirely certain.  But I think that for now I will take it as validation that at least some parts of my brain that have perhaps been overdeveloped in one domain can actually be useful in new domains.  Because what I’m really trying to do here is optimize my ability to learn in general, so it seems that some kind of cross domain transfer is an essential part of the process.

I just finished re-reading This is your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.  It’s a general overview on how the brain processes music and includes a number of deep dives into things like his theory about the evolutionary basis of music, how one becomes an expert musicians and how music interacts with our brains.

I first read this in 2007 when I was hip deep in frustration at work and remember the biggest take-away being the wistful sense that I’d like to start playing an instrument again.  But perhaps it was an early seed for my reboot project. The brain is a strange an mysterious place and I certainly can’t be responsible for understanding my motivations 100% of the time.  Sorry, but it’s true.

In any case, on a re-read I realize that this was the book where I first encountered the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to expert status hypothesis that I had most tightly associated with Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers.  And this figure keeps cropping up.  Not just in the two books I’ve already mentioned but also in Moonwalking with Einstein that I mentioned in my Okay Plateau post.  And a friend who I swear I didn’t prompt brought the 10,000 hours to expert subject up at lunch last week.  While eating Pho. So I decided to go hunting up the source.  It looks like all of the references that I’ve cited lead back to K. Anders Ericsson and his work. (I wonder what the “K.” stands for?)   So now I probably have some heavier reading to do.

But in the meantime let me attempt to drag myself screaming back to my original point.  The point that I almost completely lost sight of in the process of looking up dates and following sources.  Which is, how in the heck am I going to find 10,000 hours for each of the several things I’m tackling this year?  Oh wait, I guess that’s physically impossible.  Huh. The rough math is that it takes about 40 hours a week for 5 years (40*50*5) to get to 10,000 hours, or 10 hours a week for 20 years…

Which is the point where I have to forcefully remind myself that I’m not actually trying to attain expert level for most of these things.  If I can hold a reasonable conversation with a Spanish speaker I will count that as good.  If I can enjoy my own piano playing that’s great (I’m actually almost there for this one). If I can have fun with tap dancing and maybe pull in a bit of improvisation that would be really cool. I don’t have to be good enough for other people to enjoy watching me dance much less make a living at it.

So I’m all right with my breadth first learning for now.  But I think there is some hope that there are generalized learning skills that I can hone over the course of the next year or so that will make me more effective in whatever I do next.  I’m certainly going to dig into the “deliberate practice” part of Ericcson’s work, because perhaps 1000 hours of deliberate practice is what I need to get where I want to go with a particular skill, rather than 10,000.

If nothing else, forcing myself to write on a regular basis has got to be useful, right?

I  purchased an Amazon Local deal for two level one earworms courses even before I was certain that I was going to embark on this reboot adventure.  I have already grabbed the Spanish course as my first choice, and listened through it.  It seems at minimum to be a fun way to add some vocabulary and phrases, but since I’m going scatter shot at this by trying a bunch of different things I can’t tell how well this would stand on its own.  So it seems like it would be fun to give a run at a ‘third’ language using this technique.  Probably after I have some traction on Spanish.

In any case, I have to redeem the second coupon by the end of the month and can’t decide which language to choose as my ‘third’ language.

Since t I didn’t do justice to my full list of options for a second language in my last post, I thought I’d take this opportunity to do a quick run through of why those options landed there and then post a poll of the available earworm languages as a poll to get your opinion.   If I get in a minimum number of votes (say 10), I’ll abide by reader’s choice on this and use my coupon for that language lesson.

Here’s the list that I originally used:

  • Spanish: I believe I covered this sufficiently in my last post
  • Mandarin Chinese: One of the most spoken languages in the word and highly represented as a native tongue by people around me.  It’s probably the most useful language for me professionally.  And finally, I tend to the big challenge and given the FSI take on difficulty of languages for a native English speaker to acquire, Mandarin Chinese would certainly be a challenge.
  • Japanese:  The multiple writing systems in Japanese seem like they would be a blast to wrap my head around.  CodeView, The product that I spent the early part of my career working on was translated first into Japanese.
  • French:  I have two years of high school French, perhaps that would give me a head start.  Whilst I feel like I’ve retained nothing from those early lessons, it turns out that when I turn down my filter to search for a Spanish work, sometimes a French once pops out.
  • Latin:  Well, if I’m going to learn any of the Romance languages, maybe I should just start with the root of them all.  Although if I start going that direction, I’ll probably end up trying to learn Proto-Indo-European, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to get there too quickly (it might make a good 20th language to learn, right after I get a doctorate in linguistics in some alternate universe).
  • Gaelic:  You have seen Highlander, right?
  • Ancient Icelandic: I took a syntax course in college that covered Chomsky’s Universal Grammar and the professor frequently held up Ancient Icelandic as the sole known exception to whatever generalization he was trying to make of grammar rules.  My favorite linguistics professor of recent times, however, has stated on a number of occasions that this particular theory has fallen out of favor, so I guess I’ll pass on learning Ancient Icelandic.

And here’s the poll:

And yes, there is not complete overlap between the two sets, feel free to choose any of the earworm options.   I can understand why they don’t have Ancient Icelandic, but come on, no Latin?