Phase transitions

September 8th, 2012

A number of years ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of water freezing into ice.

It was an article inspired by a book called Chance and Chaos by David Ruelle.

According to Professor Ruelle, there is no scientific theory which can explain why water freezes at 0° C. If you lower the temperature of water, theoretically, it should slowly get ‘more and more viscous’ until it solidifies into ice.

But of course we know better, no such process occurs in nature. The phase transition from water to ice is sudden and instantaneous.

One minute you have water, the next, ice.

I’ve found that this sudden change of state is not so unique to water.

In fact, it occurs in almost all areas of life.

For instance, learning doesn’t occur in the smooth and progressive fashion as those learning experts will have you believe.

It occurs in sudden and unexpected ways.

You’ll be working on a problem, plodding on and on, day after day, seemingly without making any headway, and then suddenly one day, something happens and you instantly know the answer to your problem.

If it’s a guitar technique, you know exactly what to do to achieve the effect you want. One minute you didn’t know how to do it, the next, you do.

It’s what they call a breakthrough moment.

The question is; how do you experience these breakthrough moments?

In my earlier article, I mentioned practicing.

Practicing is the key to learning and understanding. By experiencing something over and over, you begin to gain familiarity with it, and eventually you get to know it so well, you know exactly what to do to arrive at the results you want.

But there’re other ways to arrive at the breakthrough.

For example, I’m a firm believer in the power of special insights.

These are those seemingly insignificant bits of information that eventually turn out to be a major part of the puzzle that makes the breakthrough possible.

Many years ago, I was deadlocked on the rest-stroke.

No matter what I did, how much I practiced, I was unable to get the smooth effortless rest-stroke I could hear in the good players.

Then one day, I happened to read Aaron Shearer’s method book. (The earlier version published by Belwin Mills, not the later Mel Bay version.)

In the book, Shearer mentioned that rest-stroke scales must be played lightly.

And instantly, I knew what I needed to do.

I realized that in my anxiety and over eagerness to learn the technique, I had been applying too much force in my rest strokes and making them too heavy. (Classic case of trying too hard.)

One word, and it made a breakthrough possible for me.

That’s what I mean by powerful insights.

As I reflect on my own teaching approach, I realize that much of my teaching philosophy has been guided by the same principle – to provide the conditions and special insights for those breakthrough moments to occur.

That approach lies at the heart of my recent series of tremolo lessons.

And it’s also the main driving force behind the AOV.


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