A New Verse in Music (and Other) Education: Grab Quick Wins Early | Zach Evans | TEDxOshkosh

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Translator: Ryan Hildebrandt
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I bet you one million dollars
that you could learn piano or, really, any skill in life. Let me see a show of hands. How many of you guys,
at some point in your life, have wanted to learn piano
or some other musical instrument? Alright, almost everybody, right? And yet I still hear the comment so often of people saying, “Zach, you don’t understand.
I could never learn music,” “See, Zach, you don’t understand.
My brain just doesn’t work that way. I don’t have a knack for music,” or “Zach, you don’t understand. I never took lessons as a kid,
and I missed my window, and now it’s too late for me.” “Zach, you don’t understand.
I could never learn.” But I do understand because I’ve taught
hundreds of students piano, and many who I’ve taught
said those exact same comments. What I do understand is if you couldn’t learn piano
or some other skill in life, it’s likely you were simply taught
in the wrong sequence. And so whenever I hear
these comments from people, I proceed to teach them
eight simple notes on piano. That’s it, eight notes. I call it my secret sauce piano pattern, and this one pattern has completely redefined the way
I look at teaching and learning not just piano but, really,
any skill in life. And it’s saved
my music career three times. But first things first:
let me show you the pattern. It’s my favorite part of the presentation. So for all my music theory nerds
out there, like me, this is a simple
9th chord arpeggio pattern. But don’t worry if you
don’t understand music theory; you don’t have to know music theory
to be able to use the pattern. Alright, so like I said,
eight simple notes. (Piano) One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Because it’s only eight notes long,
you can learn it in two to three days, and you could spend the rest of the week speeding it up so it sounds something like this. (Gentle piano music) But the big benefit
to this specific series of eight notes is because of the music theory behind it, we can literally
take this exact same pattern, I can take my hand, I can lift it up, and I could literally plop it down
on any white note on the entire keyboard and play the exact same pattern, and it’s always going to sound good. So I could play it up here. (High-pitched notes) Or I could play the
exact same pattern here. (Low-pitched notes) Or here. Here. (Gentle piano music) It’s not that you’ve
just learned eight notes. You haven’t just learned eight notes; I tricked you. You’ve actually learned
a ton of different patterns up and down the entire piano keyboard. What’s even cooler
about this specific pattern, my favorite part, is that this pattern
is what’s called “scalable,” which means once you learn
this one pattern, you can literally scale it. In other words, you can copy and paste
the exact same pattern underneath the melody of almost any song in almost any genre, and it’s always going to make
the song sound good. Let me show you what I mean. You could take the song
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” use the secret sauce pattern, (Gentle piano music) and it’s going to sound like this. (Gentle music: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) (Audience) Wow. Thank you. (Applause) But it doesn’t have to be that song –
you can literally take any song. We could take “Joy to the World,” same pattern. Sounds like this. (Music: “Joy to the World”) You could take “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” right, the most boring song
in human history, on piano, (Laughter) and if you add in
the secret sauce pattern, it’s going to sound cool. So for this one, first I’ll show you the traditional way
to learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” You’ve probably heard it before,
sounds something like this. (Stiff music: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) Not exactly tearing up
anybody in the audience, I hope. (Laughter) But if you take the exact same song,
add the secret sauce pattern, now it’s going to sound like this. (Flowing music: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) And like I said, because
of the properties of this pattern, right, because I can play it anywhere
because it makes everything sound cool, not only is it motivating
and inspiring to learn, but it’s literally saved
my music career three times. Now, the first time,
I’m a sophomore in college. My professor comes up to me, he’s like, “Zach, I heard from your friends
that you play piano. Is this true?” Now, the truth was, at this point,
I’d been learning piano for two years off of YouTube, watching YouTube tutorials. So I said, “Yeah, of course I play piano.” He said, “Great.” (Laughter) Exactly. He said, “Great. My church in Fond du Lac
is looking for a piano player. The gig pays 50 bucks a week. Are you in?” And all my little college brain
in that moment could think of was how many ramen noodles
I could buy for 50 bucks a week. (Laughter) By the way, the math is 172 packages,
if you’re curious. (Laughter) And so now I was excited. I get to play piano, do what I love,
and actually make money off of it. How cool is that? But my excitement quickly turned to fear because my professor sent me
the music I was supposed to learn. It was all in sheet music form. Now remember, I was learning off YouTube. So I literally did not know
how to read sheet music. So I start freaking out. You know, I’m like, “I’ll be sitting down
at the piano at church. Everybody’s going to be looking at me. It’s going to be embarrassing. I hope they forgive me.” But then I realized, “Zach,
you got the secret sauce pattern. This thing works on everything.” And I literally played
the entire church service using one left-hand pattern
underneath songs like “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today.” (Gentle music: “Christ the Lord
Has Risen Today”) (Laughter) (Applause) And then I played
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” (Gentle music: “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”) And I literally played
the entire church service using one left-hand pattern. And I remember I was kind of scared
because I was like, “What if they figure out
I’m using the same thing on everything? And people came up to me
after church, and they said, “Zach, we loved the way you played. We loved your original renditions
of all the songs.” (Laughter) It was great, it was great. At that moment, believe it or not,
that moment in church is the moment that gave me
the confidence and the motivation to switch my major from math,
at the time, which I hated, and switch my major to music,
which I was passionate about. But that’s when I hit a brick wall
because I didn’t realize all the other music majors
had 13 years of piano experience. They started off in kindergarten. They played for 13 years
through their senior year of high school, and now they’re a music major. And I was coming in, like, “Hey guys, two years off of YouTube.
What do you think?” (Laughter) And at first I thought it was a curse. I thought, “Think how good I’d be
if I had 13 years of piano experience.” But later on I realized it was a blessing because in those two years
that I was teaching myself piano, right? I was going on YouTube
and looking up tutorials. I was on Google typing in
“efficient piano practice strategies.” Right? I was even on these
underground, nerdy piano forums, where I’d be like, “Hey, does anybody have the fingering
for the B flat harmonic minor scale?” People from all over the world
would message me with how they solved
their specific problem on piano, and I would try stuff,
and I would just figure it out. So now I like to say I got lucky because I really lucked
into this perfect-storm situation, where in one hand I had Dr. Eli Kalman,
a world-renowned piano teacher, teaching me the fundamental,
traditional way to learn piano, but on the other hand, I still had this kind of rogue,
rag-tag, tried-and-figured-out approach that I’d learned off of YouTube. And when you combine
these two ways to learn, it leads to an extremely fast
and extremely powerful form of learning. It’s how I developed
my method for learning, and later on, teaching piano. It’s how I graduated as one
of the top students in the music program. And this leads me to the second time that the secret sauce pattern
changed my music career. That’s when I moved
to Nashville, Tennessee, and I started teaching piano lessons. And very early on,
I developed a reputation as someone who could
help you learn faster, someone who could
really 80/20 rule your practicing, narrowing down what’s efficient
and what’s working, and help get you there faster. But I had one big problem. My big problem was adult students. And not for the reason, by the way,
that everybody always says. Not because adults’ brains learn slower or “Kids’ brains are like sponges, and adults’ brains
can’t soak up information.” None of that was true. In fact, my adults that actually practiced
learned faster than my kids – right? – because I didn’t have to make
everything into a fun game for them. They would just practice,
and I could just tell them what to do. (Laughter) But the problem was I could not get
90% of my adult students to just sit down at the piano
and actually practice. So as I was going through my notes
and trying to figure out why some people have become consistent practicers
and lifelong learners and other’s don’t, I’m going through my notes,
and a pattern starts to emerge. I start to figure out something
that I now call the launch point. Now, the launch point is a point about 90 days,
three months, into learning, and if I can get an adult student
to practice consistently for 90 days, something starts to click,
and they hit this launch point because once something starts to click
and they start getting these results, they start feeling more motivated. Once they feel motivated,
they practice more. Once they practice, they get more results. Once they get results,
they get more motivation, and it leads to this upward,
positive, motivational loop. But if I can’t get somebody
to this 90-day launch point, oftentimes they quit piano
and never take music lessons again. So at this point it became my goal –
my mission, really – to get as many of these adult students
to this 90-day launch point as humanly possible. And I tried a lot of different
motivational strategies. I tried doing practice charts. I tried giving people
discounts on lessons. I tried being the annoying texting person, like, “Hey, did you practice today? Maybe sit down at the old piano,
start practicing.” And yet nothing was working. I’m scratching my head and thinking, “How can I get these people to practice?” So I start thinking back: “Okay, Zach, how’d you get
yourself to practice back when you were just some dude
learning off YouTube?” And that’s when it hit me. It was the secret sauce pattern all along. Because once I could play
the secret sauce pattern, I could play songs
I was passionate about. I could play for my friends,
my family and church. They’d say, “Wow, you can play piano!” That’s what got me motivated. That’s what got me excited to practice. Now, the traditional way
of teaching piano or, really, any skill in life is what do you learn first? You learn the boring
but important fundamentals, right? And then months, maybe even years, later, now you get to learn the fun stuff. But I thought, “Okay, what if we
flip that equation on its head a bit? What if we teach
a bit of the fun stuff first? Get people excited, get them motivated, and then we can go back and we can teach
the boring but important fundamentals. So I started teaching
the secret sauce pattern early on to adult students. And it worked. Suddenly, adults would come
into lessons, they’d say, “Zach, I played the pattern
for my niece. She loved it.” The next question is the important part. They’d ask me, “But I don’t understand. Why do these series
of eight notes always work no matter where you play them
on the keyboard?” You know what they were asking me? They were asking me to teach them
the music theory behind the pattern, the boring fundamentals that I
used to have to force-feed to people, they were excited about it, and it made my job as a teacher
and their job as a student a hundred times easier. And this leads me to the third time that the secret sauce pattern
completely changed my music career. That’s when I thought,
“Secret sauce thing’s working. You know, I’d learned off of YouTube
way back in the day. Why couldn’t anybody learn off YouTube?” So I hopped over to Best Buy,
got one of those little flip cams – you know, this was before
the day of smartphones – put it up on the tripod
and recorded a video lesson detailing exactly how to do
the secret sauce pattern. I put it up on YouTube. I forgot about it for two to three months. And I remember I checked back later,
two to three months later, and I couldn’t believe it, because the video
had hundreds of thousands of views. I remember I thought it was a glitch. I’m like refreshing the page. I called my mom, like,
“Mom, check your computer. How many views does it say
on your screen? Really? 100,000?” What was more exciting to me
than the views was the comments I was getting because I was getting: “Zach, I learned this thing in two days.” “Zach, this motivated me
to play piano again.” “Can you upload more of these tutorials?” So I continued to upload more
and more of these videos to YouTube until nowadays I actually make a living
teaching piano on YouTube. And again, I feel like I fell
into this very lucky and unique situation where on one hand I had to learn how to teach and motivate people
in person, face-to-face, but then I also had to learn, How do we transition that teaching
into online video content and have it still work? As you probably already know, with the bigger the internet gets, the more technology we have, the more of teaching and learning is going
to be done online through video content. You’ve probably already
learned something off of YouTube, off of Google, off an online course, and as we move into this new age
of online learning, there’s a lot of lessons
that I learned along the way when I had to transfer my material. But the biggest lesson,
by far the biggest lesson, is that information
is no longer the issue. We’re still treating it like it is. Information used to be the bottleneck. You’d go to a class because what? You need the information from the teacher. We’d open up a book because you need
the information from the book. But nowadays, I mean, whether you want to learn
ballroom dancing, whether you want
to learn Spanish, piano, all the information you need
is right there at your fingertips on Google and Facebook
and YouTube and online courses and forums and blog posts. Information is no longer the issue. So what’s the issue now? Well, as you probably already know,
the issue is motivation. The issue is getting someone
to take out Spanish flash cards and actually start studying. The issue is getting somebody
to go to the gym. The issue is getting someone to sit down
at the piano and actually practice, and in this new age of learning, we need to start prioritizing
motivation over information. And the first step to doing that is to finding the secret sauce
in whatever you’re learning or whatever you’re teaching. Find something early on
in the learning process that’s easy enough for a beginner to learn but still cool and exciting enough
to get someone motivated, get them inspired, get them confident. And not just for piano. If you’re teaching somebody how to cook, don’t start off with
the fundamentals of cooking. Right? First find that recipe
that’s three ingredients, but when you pull it out of the oven, it looks like it came
from a five-star restaurant. One they can feed their friends and family who will say, “Woah. You cooked this? When did you learn to cook?
Can you teach me?” Get them excited. Give them the motivation first,
and then give them the information. Find the secret sauce
to whatever you’re learning or whatever you’re teaching. And by the way, once you do find the secret sauce, make sure you shoot me an email,
let me know what it is, and then I’ll send you my address, and I’ll be waiting
on my million-dollar check. Thank you guys very much. (Applause)

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