Not Pulling Strings

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They say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. That’s a hard thing to do. As soon as we see a cover we form in our minds a picture of what the book is likely to be like.

From the outside Joseph O’Connor’s Not Pulling Strings looks to be quite a dry, academic description of his subject. The subtitle: ‘Application of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to Teaching and Learning Music’ merely confirms that this is what the book will be like.

If you thought this you would, like me, be very, very wrong.

Contained inside is a collection of some of the most pertinent and useful thoughts around practice that I have come across. There is admittedly some discussion of wider NLP issues but these are always done with care and made clear, straightforward and relevant for musicians.

As an example, there is a lot of content about left brain/right brain. That might be interesting in and of itself. What takes this book above others on the subject is the relevance for musicians. O’Connor explains how we can identify our own predilection and adapt our language and teaching styles to suit.

Memorisation and mental rehearsal is given extensive coverage. O’Connor is obviously and supporter of using the mind on it’s own without an instrument to aid our musical development. He goes on to discuss visualisation but interestingly does not put as much weight on this as others have done. Instead he comes down more on the side of thinking and awareness. This could just be a question of semantics but given the focus devoted previously in the book to language usage it probably isn’t. It does however serve as a reminder to other authors to be careful and clear in choice of language.

I was pleased to see lots of information specifically related to practice. Especially gratifying to read were the sections on overteaching, negative practice and, especially, permission to be wrong. O’Connor concurs with my own held beliefs that practice should be enjoyable and that fear of mistakes is detrimental to this.

Thoughts on student knowledge and understanding also shed some new light on the teaching process. Students like to please their teacher and so will ‘guess’ answers more often than they should. Sometimes they guess right and the teacher believes the student understands. O’Connor argues that guesses are of no value as they cover up true understanding – I’m inclined to agree.

Overall this is an excellent book, clearly written and directly applicable to the practice that you do everyday. It has definitely found it’s way into my top 10 books on practice and I would thoroughly recommend it to all musicians.

Not Pulling Strings: Application of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to Teaching and Learning Music by Joseph O’Connor, (1987, Kahn & Averill, ISBN: 978-0951215507) is available from:[amazon asin=0951215507&template=htp price]

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