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#1084208 - 12/13/07 02:03 PM Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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monstermunch Offline
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Hi,

Background: I've been learning piano for about a year. I worked by myself for a few months, had a teacher for a couple of months, then went back to working by myself as I really didn't feel I needed week-by-week guidance on what to practice as it seemed fairly obvious what to improve on.

Anyway, I read lots of conflicting piano learning advice in forums/articles. For instance:

Teach yourself versus get a teacher.
Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
It's OK to look at your hands while playing versus it's not.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces.
Hanon's exercises are useful versus they're harmful.
etc.

I'm from a very strong science background. The general idea about science is that you provide objective (e.g. can be measure accurately by anyone and not just going by what you say) evidence that a certain statement is true. For instance, you would expect a double-blind placebo controlled randomised study to show that one headache pill works better than another. This is typical for medical studies as the brain (research and patients!) is very good at distorting reality (e.g. people think sugar pills work if they don't know they're sugar pills, the research might unconsciously pick the healthier patients to be in the non-placebo group etc). Basically, when one person says "X is the best method of Y" and someone else says "No, Z is better than X", we propose an experiment to settle the matter, we find out what the better method is and then move on.

However, with piano, I really get the impression that there is no good evidence for pretty much any teaching method over another. I've read countless bold claims about which method is better than another with no evidence. I've read plenty of claims such as "I'm a teacher and I use this method and get good result", but this kind of evidence would not be accepted in a medical community as there are too many uncontrolled factors for this to be a valid test of a method.

I even find this with, for instance, asking which pianos are better or if uprights are better digitalis. Unless a double blind (e.g. you have no idea what piano is playing, how much is costs, its maker) test is conducted several times, you cannot accurately say which piano sounds better. I can't find any test such as these conducted anywhere.

I just want to learn piano and make the best use of my time but feel there really is no agreement about the best teaching method because there is no evidence. Does anyone else feel the same way about this? Am I wrong? Is there any piano methods that actually have objective evidence that show they work (e.g. two large groups of studies are taught different methods and their performances is compared)?

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#1084209 - 12/13/07 02:21 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Monica K. Offline

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monstermunch, as a psych professor and firm believer in the experimental method, I share your perceptions and frustration. I'm not aware of any good evidence out there comparing piano teaching methods.

[somewhat off-topic rant] The sad thing is that there is no good evidence out there for just about ANY educational curriculum, even basic math and writing approaches. My daughter's school switched to a certain well-known math curriculum that I had concerns about. Their website posted plenty of anecdotal testimony about its effectiveness (letters from principals saying that test scores went up after they adopted it and the like), but nothing solid. I actually emailed the company that produced the curriculum and asked them if they had any randomized tests of its effectiveness. They wrote back saying no, but then added defensively that there were no randomized tests of ANY math curriculum, period. And if researchers aren't studying basic educational programs with any rigor, they sure aren't going to bother looking at piano pedagogy. This kind of thing, incidentally, no doubt explains the new math and "whole language" fiascos of the 1960s. [end rant]

Maybe we should talk some doctoral student in piano pedagogy to do such a test as their dissertation. laugh But that's probably what it would take. I don't see much incentive for the creators of piano methods/courses to do the right experiments themselves. Unless the public starts demanding such evidence (and they won't, as most people are happy with anecdotal evidence), they only have something to lose by subjecting their methods to a rigorous empirical test.


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica
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#1084210 - 12/13/07 02:24 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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You are discounting or eliminating talent and personal preferences.

I agree the brain/humans can create "truths" based on beliefs or post-hoc results.

The main issue I see that would not allow for a "purely scientific" study is everyone learns at different speeds and with different skill levels. So, if you and I were in study groups, and I am a raw beginner, and you are a "professional student" (that is a well trained learner), then you will have a better result then I, and could lead to thinking your lesson plan was better.

So, IMHO, such a comparision is not valad once you add any other person. It is way too subjective on a personal level as to be worthless to another wanting to use the information to make a decision. I can tell you what sounds good to me, what practice helped/hurt me, and why I like this over that, but none of that info will assist anyone in making their own decisions.

Sorry.


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
#1084211 - 12/13/07 02:28 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Monica K. Offline

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Quote
Originally posted by gmm1:
The main issue I see that would not allow for a "purely scientific" study is everyone learns at different speeds and with different skill levels. So, if you and I were in study groups, and I am a raw beginner, and you are a "professional student" (that is a well trained learner), then you will have a better result then I, and could lead to thinking your lesson plan was better.
[cannot suppress temptation to launch into lecture mode] gmm1, that's the beauty of experimental design. You are absolutely correct that there are individual differences and that these variations in ability, motivation, etc. can affect the outcome. That's exactly why a randomized study is so important. You take a large sample (to rule out the kind of flukes you're talking about) and then randomly assign them to different teaching methodologies. Because you randomly determine who gets what approach, you can feel confident that the groups on average are identical at the start of the study, even if individuals *within* the groups vary with respect to ability etc. That way, if at the end of the study you find that students taking one approach do better on average than those taking a different approach, you can conclude with confidence that it was the teaching approach that caused the difference. [/end lecture]


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
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#1084212 - 12/13/07 02:32 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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The obvious problem with any such study would be how to measure success? There are as many 'techniques' as pianists. Also, the 'art' of performance would have to be the first to go.


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#1084213 - 12/13/07 02:33 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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monstermunch Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Monica K.:
Maybe we should talk some doctoral student in piano pedagogy to do such a test as their dissertation. laugh But that's probably what it would take. I don't see much incentive for the creators of piano methods/courses to do the right experiments themselves. Unless the public starts demanding such evidence (and they won't, as most people are happy with anecdotal evidence), they only have something to lose by subjecting their methods to a rigorous empirical test.
I agree that teaching methods in other domains have lack of evidence but look at a couple of the conflicting statements I had above:

"Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces."

The issue I have it is very easy to test claims like these compared to a claim about how to teach a whole University course. It would be very easy for someone to get, say, two groups of 10 students and make one group practice with hands together and the other hands apart. Limit them both to 2 hours practice a week for a month, then get some experts to rate their performances in a double-blind test at the end. Then we could put the bed the discussion on which method is better forever.

#1084214 - 12/13/07 02:36 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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I agree Monica. I'm saying 5 different studies set up exactly the same way with huge groups in each could produce 5 different results.

I am not a "scientific" kinda guy, but more of a statistical kinda guy, and I know how to make any set of data say what I want. Anytime the same test give different results (or results that I get to interpet), then I say you cannot trust those results to tell you anything except the results.

I guess we disagree that such a study can be done on something as subjective as learning the piano.


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
#1084215 - 12/13/07 02:38 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by gmm1:
So, IMHO, such a comparision is not valad once you add any other person. It is way too subjective on a personal level as to be worthless to another wanting to use the information to make a decision. I can tell you what sounds good to me, what practice helped/hurt me, and why I like this over that, but none of that info will assist anyone in making their own decisions.
If you think no valid study can be done here how would you test the following:

Does paracetamol work better than a sugar pill for headaches?
Does wearing a bicycle helmet saves more lives than not wearing one?
Does eating too much red meat causes cancer?

It's exactly the same problem. Some people complain more about headaches than others, some people are better cyclists, some people are genetically more likely to get cancer. The fact is, science and conducting experiments gives us answers to the above questions. I don't see why piano is somehow special and can side-step experiment tests. I agree with everything Monica wrote.

#1084216 - 12/13/07 02:39 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote

"Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces."
Why are you not doing all of the above?


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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1084217 - 12/13/07 02:43 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
The obvious problem with any such study would be how to measure success? There are as many 'techniques' as pianists. Also, the 'art' of performance would have to be the first to go.
How do teachers measure success? You simply just get two large groups and get some teachers, pianists to rate the performances double-blind. The group that gets the best average score has the best teaching method. We can all argue about how to define art but the fact is it's very easy to measure if a song has been played corrected or wrong (i.e. does it sound the way it's meant to).

#1084218 - 12/13/07 02:46 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Monica K. Offline

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Quote
Originally posted by gmm1:
I'm saying 5 different studies set up exactly the same way with huge groups in each could produce 5 different results....

I guess we disagree that such a study can be done on something as subjective as learning the piano.
Five studies set up with large samples and conducted the same way should yield results with similar effect sizes, and the larger and more representative the samples, the more consistent the results will be. There are also techniques (e.g., meta-analysis) that allow you to statistically integrate the results from a set of studies to arrive at an overall conclusion about the validity of a hypothesis or treatment.

But, yes, we will agree to disagree on the possibility of scientifically studying something like piano teaching methods. wink I believe it can be done. But doing it right takes time and effort and usually money, which is why good research tends to be found mostly in fields like medicine where the stakes are so high.


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica
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#1084219 - 12/13/07 02:47 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Well, it appears I am in the minority. Not the first time... and I will not be suprised if I'm proven wrong (again).

I await the results of someone somewhere doing such a study that is accepted by the community as correct.


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
#1084220 - 12/13/07 02:48 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by gmm1:
[QB] I agree Monica. I'm saying 5 different studies set up exactly the same way with huge groups in each could produce 5 different results.
I find that highly unlikely if any of the methods under test were actually better than the other. If you measure whether a headache pill worked and each test you did gave completely different results, you would conclude that it just doesn't work. As long as one method actually does make students a little better/faster at learning, you'll be able to measure it.

Quote

I am not a "scientific" kinda guy, but more of a statistical kinda guy, and I know how to make any set of data say what I want. Anytime the same test give different results (or results that I get to interpet), then I say you cannot trust those results to tell you anything except the results.

I guess we disagree that such a study can be done on something as subjective as learning the piano.
It's as subjective as the examples I gave in a post above; a large controlled test gives you objective evidence. If a method is actually better, you can measure it. If you for some reason think all tests are just statistics that can be read any way you want because they're subjective, then you're essentially saying you don't believe in medical research (which we know is highly successful). How is piano different to measuring things whether headache pills work? Headaches are very subjective too.

#1084221 - 12/13/07 02:48 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
Quote

"Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces."
Why are you not doing all of the above?
Perhaps if I do all of them it's harmful to my technique. Perhaps it's better. I don't know because I haven't seen any evidence!

#1084222 - 12/13/07 02:49 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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piano playing is sort of like experiment (science or logical) to everyone, which i don't believe is just you except some people would think too much of it and some much less.

but either way, we experiment with going with a teacher or learning by ourselves, and i did both and now enjoy what my teacher can show me. i cannot say however all teachers are the same and all of us on learning the same, and therefore the learning piano results pretty much depend on each teacher and every individual learner. of course, such things with each person cannot be measured with much scientific evidences except the statistics that is draw from all or average piano player population. i think, it's best to put it as an individual experience that differs from one to another.

some people are more talented in music than others, and some are more analytical in learning than others, and some are more intuitive in learning than others, and some work long time to practice and some don't, etc. therefore, it's hard to make any valid comparision on speed of progress and level of skills.

to me, as i always believe, one can teach oneself to play, but a really good teacher would make one to progress much faster. i see both sides, with myself and with my teacher, and now i treasure the time with my teacher because he shows me what i lack or never see when i was learning by myself. but a bad teacher wouldn't help for sure.

it's a journey, a long and not that easy one, and thus, we just have to take one day at a time and achive one small goal at a time, rather than expect a big leap from the level we're now to an advanced/professional level (which many people may never reach in their life however).

#1084223 - 12/13/07 02:50 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Monstermunch,

I've had a similar journey, having returned to lessons one year ago. I went to weekly lessons and at the moment I am taking a break from them. In the time out I have tried PianoMagic, youTube videos, Improvising Blues Piano and many other on-line or book-methods. To be honest, I've learned a little bit from all of them and I have progressed a little bit each time. This week I discovered the Shawn Cheek method http://www.youtube.com/user/shawncheekeasy and have had great fun working through his method and tutorials. They are excellent and have allowed me to play songs that I struggled with for a long time. I may return to lessons soon but I feel that I have as far as I will ever go with lessons - although the journey on your own is a lonely one its sure is fun.


"If your only tool is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail!"

Piano: Roland FP-7
#1084224 - 12/13/07 02:55 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Monica K. Offline

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Quote
Originally posted by monstermunch:
I agree that teaching methods in other domains have lack of evidence but look at a couple of the conflicting statements I had above:

"Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces."

The issue I have it is very easy to test claims like these compared to a claim about how to teach a whole University course. It would be very easy for someone to get, say, two groups of 10 students and make one group practice with hands together and the other hands apart. Limit them both to 2 hours practice a week for a month, then get some experts to rate their performances in a double-blind test at the end. Then we could put the bed the discussion on which method is better forever.
I agree absolutely... this is the kind of study that needs to be done. But this is where the reward structure of academia rears its ugly head. Is this kind of research valued in schools of music? Would it help professors get tenure? I don't really know, but my understanding of the promotion process in music programs is that kind of research isn't what gets music professors tenure.


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica
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#1084225 - 12/13/07 02:55 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by monstermunch:
Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
[b]
Quote

"Play hands together slowly then speed up versus practise hands apart.
Play above your skill level to improve versus playing lower level pieces."
Why are you not doing all of the above?
Perhaps if I do all of them it's harmful to my technique. Perhaps it's better. I don't know because I haven't seen any evidence! [/b]
How could you possibly think any of these techniques harmful? That's weird science to me. With that attitude, I'd be afraid to get out of bed in the morning until I've seen evidence it's safe to do so.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1084226 - 12/13/07 02:56 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by signa: i cannot say however all teachers are the same and all of us on learning the same, and therefore the learning piano results pretty much depend on each teacher and every individual learner. of course, such things with each person cannot be measured with much scientific evidences except the statistics that is draw from all or average piano player population. i think, it's best to put it as an individual experience that differs from one to another.
Why is testing piano teaching methods untestable with experiments? Imagine a large test found that practising hands-together, for example, made 90% of people learn 50% faster than hands-apart. I don't see how you couldn't conduct a test to measure something like that.

Everyone learning piano is different ways and giving out contradictory advice is not a good thing. Some people will be learning in ways that is not efficient. Yes, everyone is different, but researchers measure this kind of thing all the time with real people (e.g. different skill levels, ages) and I don't see how piano is different.

#1084227 - 12/13/07 03:14 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
How could you possibly think any of these techniques harmful? That's weird science to me. With that attitude, I'd be afraid to get out of bed in the morning until I've seen evidence it's safe to do so. [/QB]
I've read conflicting advice that some of those methods are bad and some are good. It's good science to be skeptical if there is no evidence. Would you not be interested to know if one method was significantly better than another?

#1084228 - 12/13/07 03:17 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Better in what way? Again, what are you measuring?


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1084229 - 12/13/07 03:29 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Quote
Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
Better in what way? Again, what are you measuring?
You're measuring how some piano experts (who we assume know what good piano playing sounds like) rate the performances of students who have studied with different methods. This is the same way you would rate e.g. dance, diving, gymnast etc. competitions. There will be some disagreement at the top end about which performance was better, but it's generally very obvious when a performance had mistakes or was wrong.

#1084230 - 12/13/07 03:36 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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You throw the word 'measure' around like it's going out of style. I get the distinct impression you don't know what it means.


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1084231 - 12/13/07 03:54 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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Originally posted by keyboardklutz:
You throw the word 'measure' around like it's going out of style. I get the distinct impression you don't know what it means.
If you would describe the disagreement you have with my usage of the word "measure", instead of talking down to me, I can attempt to address the concern.

By "measure a performance" here, I mean to take the average rating out of 10 given by several piano experts after they have listened to that performance (without knowing which method the student studied with). How am I using the word measure inappropriately?

#1084232 - 12/13/07 03:56 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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As info, I did a search on "scientific study" to refresh my understanding, and came up with this quote from one of the sites:

"3) Common Perception: All human beings perceive nature and events in fundamentally the same way. We can interpret data uniformly. Value systems like those in art, music, and religion do not assume common perception. Since these value systems are subjective, not objective, science cannot be used to draw conclusions about them. "

Interesting. I'm sure other sites can say something different, but interesting, none the less....


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
#1084233 - 12/13/07 04:01 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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an 'average rating out of ten' is a measurement. So, again what are you measuring? So far you're only measuring a measuring.


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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1084234 - 12/13/07 04:05 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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oops


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
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#1084235 - 12/13/07 04:05 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,156
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012
Monica K.  Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,156
Lexington, Kentucky
gmm1, I think that your quote is talking about judgments of quality of art and music, e.g., could we design a study to test the hypothesis that Beethoven is a "better" composer than Einaudi? :p Probably not.

But if what we're looking at is quality of piano playing, that *is* quantifiable. Judges at competitions do it all the time.


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#1084236 - 12/13/07 04:09 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
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monstermunch Offline
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monstermunch  Offline
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Posts: 63
Quote
Originally posted by gmm1:
"3) Common Perception: All human beings perceive nature and events in fundamentally the same way. We can interpret data uniformly. Value systems like those in art, music, and religion do not assume common perception. Since these value systems are subjective, not objective, science cannot be used to draw conclusions about them. "

Interesting. I'm sure other sites can say something different, but interesting, none the less.... [/QB]
I'm not sure what it is about religion you would want to or could measure. Art, in terms of "make a song/sculpture/painting that expresses your feelings about winter", is very hard to measure whether it is "good" or not because it's hugely subjective. However, I think it is very easy to answer the question "did the student play Moonlight Sonata to a reasonable standard". That's what people do on music exams all the time. There is a huge agreement with everyone whether a song sounded similar to the original. For instance, it is very easy for a machine (i.e. objectively) to measure:

* were the right notes played in the right order.
* were certain notes louder/quieter when they should have been.
* was the song played at the right speed (it gets a bit fuzzier here when parts get faster/slower, but it's simple to measure if the song is being played e.g. 30% too slow).

There's lots of software that does this already. Anyway, you can just use human experts to rate performances just like is done in exams (which I assume you agree is an acceptable way to measure student ability?). Basically, if someone is saying that it is impossible to measure whether a piano performance was good because everyone's perception is different, I strongly disagree that you can't tell a bad, medium or good performance apart based on the above list for a _known_ song. It's a different matter if you ask a student to write their own song, but we're testing the ability of a student to learn a known song here in a set time using a specific method.

#1084237 - 12/13/07 04:12 PM Re: Teaching methods and lack of evidence  
Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,674
gmm1 Offline
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gmm1  Offline
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Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,674
Spokane WA
If the material itself is not measurable, how can you measure against it?

You are dealing with an idiot, Monica, so have patience.

The quote came from here:

http://envirosci.net/111/science.htm

I understand what you are saying. Judges indeed do it all the time. And, the results are just opinions of the judges on that day. I would not call their results scientific by any measurement.


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
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