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'The Unbaked Cake' - Part. 2 - Learning in Flow

Updated: Jun 16

The fundamental principle of a flow-state approach to learning is to allow our capacity to understand and our ability to manipulate material to grow at their own pace.

We can choose what to work on, but we cannot control the rate at which our brain builds the sufficient neural structures to accomplish these tasks 'without thinking', 'with mastery', 'easily', or 'in Flow'.

Our approach must treat concepts as layered complex structures. The more foundational support we can build, the more layers, the longer we spend laying these foundations, and the more times we can repeat the processes involved, the stronger our structures will be and the more independence and flexibility they will have when engaging with other structures.

A Two-Stage Process

Flow-state learning is characterised by a two-stage process, practicing and testing.

Stage 1 : 'Painfully' slow

When we are engaging with material that is new, we play it as slowly as we need to in order to get it right, taking pauses whenever and for as long as we need to, allowing our conscious brain to relax rather than strive.

We try to go at a speed such that we never make a mistake, we force ourselves to go painfully slow, breathing consistently, and focusing on the tactile sensations.

Stage 2 : Testing the Cake

At any point in our learning process, we can choose to test our command of the material by imposing some kind of further difficulty - in music this is most often a challenge of playing it in time / a tempo, without thinking, or in a particular rhythm.

These Tests cannot fail, as their purpose is to show us where we need to re-apply Stage 1 in our practice. Testing ourselves elicits mistakes, those mistakes tell us what to practice.

Testing is a crucial part of growth in Flow State learning, but it must be embraced as a reflective tool by which we can engage with our own learning. With the desire to learn and the confidence to make mistakes, testing repsresents agency, an opportunity to reflect, and will reward us with specific information on how well our complex structures are supported.

In the parable of the Unbaked Cake, the Student misses the point of testing the Cake. In this context, the absurdity of the contradiction is obvious, and yet this is how testing in Music Education is often presented and perceived.

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