Beginning at the End

March 03, 2007

This morning I attended a piano pedagogy workshop that focused on 20th and 21st century music and the techniques for teaching these pieces. Even though I don't play piano I find striking similarities between some of the body kinetics of proper posture and arm weight, and of energy flow from the hips to the hands that you find in martial arts with what your find in properly taught piano.

The single most interesting thought I got from the workshop today was the idea of starting with the ending, and working backwards. The difficulty in music is learning the notes at the same time as you are learning the rhythm at the same time you are learning the fingering or playing technique. To many things all at once and it becomes overwhelming. In martial arts we break complex (and even basic) techniques down into pieces so that the student can focus on one thing at a time. The maxim used is "you learn fast what you practice slow."

The idea of starting with the goal is not unique to piano pedagogy or martial arts instruction. It can be found again and again in all facets of life. The newest software development techniques, known commonly as extreme programming, center around the idea of a user story that describes the goal for the software or interface. The test-driven development technique starts with a test for each function in the module. Once those are in place you code until all the tests run successfully. Steve Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Successful People talks about imagining the goal first and working backward from there. Even going so far as to have you imagine your funeral and what people will say about you there.

So much of our lives are centered around moving forward, around starting with number 1 on the list and working down. Perhaps we should step back and take note of the power of starting at the ending and working backwards more.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.