The Scientific Approach

This book was written with the best scientific approach that I could muster, using what I learned during my 31-year career as a scientist. I was involved with not only fundamental research (I have been granted six patents) but also materials science (mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering, electronics, optics, acoustics, metals, semiconductors, insulators), industrial problem solving (failure mechanisms, reliability, manufacturing), and scientific reporting (I have published over 100 peer-reviewed articles in most of the major scientific journals). Even after obtaining my Doctorate in Physics from Cornell University, my employers had to spend over a million dollars to advance my education during my career. Looking back, all this scientific training was indispensable for writing this book. This need for understanding the scientific method suggests that most pianists would have a difficult time if they tried to duplicate my efforts. I further explain below that the results of scientific efforts are useful to everybody, not only to scientists. Therefore, the fact that this book was written by a scientist means that everybody should be able to understand it more easily than if it was written by a non-scientist. One objective of this section is to explain that message.

Learning: piano, algebra, sculpture, golf, physics, biology, quantum mechanics, carpentry, cosmology, medicine, politics, economics, etc., -- what do these things have in common? They are all scientific disciplines and therefore share a large number of basic principles in common. In the following sections, I will explain many of the important principles of the scientific method and show how they are needed in order to produce a useful product, such as a piano learning manual. These requirements for a piano manual are no different from the requirements for writing an advanced textbook on quantum mechanics; the requirements are similar although the contents are worlds apart. I will begin with the definition of the scientific method, because it is so frequently misunderstood by the general public. Then I will describe the contributions of the scientific method to the writing of this book. In the process, I point out where piano teaching has historically been scientific or unscientific. In the last several hundred hears, we have had enormous successes in applying the scientific method to almost every important discipline; isn't it about time we did the same with piano learning/teaching?

This section was written mainly to outline the scientific method in the hopes of helping others to apply it to piano teaching. Another objective is to explain why it took a scientist like me to come up with such a book. Why couldn't musicians with no scientific training write better books on learning piano? After all, they are the foremost experts in the field! I will give some of the answers below.

I suspect that as you read the following, you will find concepts that are different from your idea of science. Science is fundamentally not math, physics or equations. It is about human interactions that empower other humans (see below). I have seen many "scientists" who do not understand what science is and therefore failed in their own vocation (got fired). Just as practicing 8 hours a day doesn’t necessarily make you an accomplished pianist, passing all the physics and chemistry exams doesn’t make you a scientist; you must accomplish something with that knowledge. I have been particularly impressed by many piano technicians who have a practical understanding of physics although they have no degree in science. These technicians need to be scientific because the piano is so deeply rooted in physics. Thus math, physics, etc., do not define science (a common misunderstanding); those fields were simply found to be useful to scientists because they empower in an absolutely predictable way. What I hope to show you below is an insider's view of how science is conducted.

Can someone totally untrained in science read the following and instantly start using the scientific approach? Most probably not. There is no easy recipe except to study science. You will see that the requirements and complexities of the scientific method will present insurmountable obstacles to most people. This is clearly one explanation why this book is so unique. But at least you will have some idea of what some of the useful suggestions are, if you want to follow the scientific approach.

Before we embark on defining science, let’s examine a common example of how people misunderstand science because this will help to establish why we need a definition. You might hear a piano or dance teacher say that s/he described an emotion or feeling, or the flight of a bird or the motion of a cat, and her/is students instantly got the idea of how to play or dance, in a way that the teacher couldn’t possibly accomplish by describing the motion of bones, muscles, arms, etc. The teacher then claims that the artist’s approach is better than the scientific approach. What this teacher doesn’t realize is that s/he probably used a very good scientific method. By drawing on an analogy or describing the end product of the music, you can often transfer a lot more information than by describing each component of the motion in detail. It is like going from narrow band to broadband transmission, and is a valid scientific approach; it has little to do with the distinction between science and art. This type of misunderstanding often arises because people think that science is black or white – that something is either scientific or not; most things in real life are more or less scientific, a matter of degree. What makes these teaching methods more scientific or not depends on how good they are in transmitting the necessary information. In this respect, many famous artists who are good teachers are masters of this type of science. Another frequent misunderstanding is that science is too difficult for artists. This really boggles the mind. The mental processes that artists go through in producing the highest levels of music or other arts are at least as complex as those of scientists contemplating the origin of the universe. There may be some validity to the argument that people are born with different talents in art or science; however, I do not subscribe to that view – for the vast majority of people, they can be artists or scientists depending on their exposure to each field, especially in early childhood. Thus most people who are good musicians have the capability to be great scientists. Finally, if you studied art all your life, you won’t have much time to study science, so how can you combine the two? My understanding is that art and science are complementary; art helps scientists and vice versa. Artists who avoid science are only hurting themselves, and scientists who avoid art tend to be less successful scientists. The thing that most impressed me about my college days was the large number of my fellow science students who were musicians.