Foundational Ideas of FiddleQuest

Music, teaching and flow

Most of the music I play is with children and adults who are learning. Even though the music is often easy, even repetitive, I don’t get bored. Not because the music is so much fun, but because I love the challenge of teaching.

I can teach for 6 hours straight and become so immersed in the experience that I’m unaware of the clock. It is not like this everyday, but I get it enough to know I’m in the right job.

Immersion can be experienced in so many ways. We can immerse ourselves in a book, a television show, nature, conversation, playing music. The state of immersion describes forgetting our surroundings and having our attention totally engaged.

Psychologists have described a state called ‘flow’ that is more satisfying than rewards or incentives.

The experience of ‘flow’ describes being immersed in a challenging activity. But we have all experienced challenges that were anything but satisfying!

The components of flow are 1) having skills that are closely matched to meet the challenge and 2) getting immediate feedback of how you are doing.

Some teaching days, I have a string of lessons that feel as if no one is progressing or even having fun. I question my skills and methodology and fitness for the job.

Other days, students come in with stories of practicing and family jams and excitement about the piece they are going to complete today. I help them sort out a problematic phrase and teach them a new skill. That is the day I feel flow.

Kids naturally immerse themselves in activities like drawing and legos. They gravitate towards activities that challenge, but not overwhelm, them.

In music, what teachers assign students (or parents expect of their children) is very arbitrary. We get to determine how challenging their experience will be. Even if our 10-year-old student doesn’t describe practicing as a ‘flow’ experience, if they feel challenged, successful and get feedback on their success, that can be enough to keep them engaged and learning.

(You can read more about flow in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.)