NCKP 2013 (6) – Holistic Learning by Immanuela Gruenberg

Wednesday – Holistic Learning: Integrating the Mind, Body, and Spirit of the Music you are Teaching or Learning, by Immanuela Gruenberg

We all are efficient in practice when there is a deadline looming. How can we be that efficient all the time?

Holistic learning means treating the mind, body, and spirit as interdependent even from the beginning.

Most Common Mistakes:

#1. Students learn from the bottom up – from the details first instead of the big picture. That means you don’t know where you are going. You must need to know the clear goal in order to make a specific plan.

#2. Learning by trial and error. This means making mistakes and correcting them. This means mistakes are engrained and results in inefficiently.

#3. Separating into ingredients. This means starting with notes, then artistry, technique, and last memory. This is a fragmented process and contrary to the compositional process.

How do we prevent these mistakes? Learning TOP-DOWN. Start with the goal – know what the building will be like before you lay the foundation. The DOWN is the means and the how. The goal and the “what” determine the means and how.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Then Immanuela passed around a dessert for attendees that she even checked through baggage!

What mistakes would be made approaching from bottom up?
Recipe analogy: Garbanzo beans, eggs, lemon, agave, almond extract. If we didn’t know we were making a dessert, we would have ended up with pancakes with a side of garbanzo beans!

“Our sense are designed to work together, so when they are combined in a learning environment, … The brain pays more attention and encodes the memory more robustly.” John Medina in his “Brain Rules” book.


Immanuela showed an musical example demonstrating how fingering depends greatly on the context of the piece – mood, lightness, delicacy, etc. A different example from Chopin showed 5-5-5-4 fingering for a descending line, for the right touch and feeling that Chopin wanted. These examples show pianistic/technical means for artistic ends.

Haydn Sonata #4 in G, Hob XVI/G1.
Rather than using 54321 fingering for descending 5 finger pattern, immanuaella suggested using 43212. It allows for slur to not carry over barline. And no worry about the heavy thumb on downbeat. This fingering works really well for young students to achieve the right articulation and sound. Another example is Mozart Sonata in Bb opening.

Fast Passages

Start by trying to play it fast even with wrong notes, so you know how it will feel in the end. Immanuela showed a video of a woman running. There is never more than one foot touching the ground. Walking never has both feet in the air, and with every step, both feet touch the group. How can you prepare for running with walking? Try watching a video of walking in fast motion – it is silly! To practice running, you must run fast. So, the solution is to practice fast in slow motion, versus practicing walking. Do this by using appropriate weight, gesture, etc.


Immanuela enjoys folk dancing. It is interesting to observe how dance instructors teach a new dance. They teach the steps over and over before playing the music so that by the time the music plays, the students have memorized the steps but don’t listen to or hear the music at all. And they dance seconds ahead of the music. This is proof is that the wrong approach to teaching can mess up something as intuitive as moving to the beat!

Memorize things as you go. Memorize it before muscle memory takes over so you have to learn and know it. It leads to more efficiency and security.

Our brains do not have a delete button. We must learn correctly the first time..

We need the big picture first. Always play for your students and ask them follow along (they must point when you stop -a fun game for young ones). They can listen to recordings, too.

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