Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. As musicians and music educators, we regularly extol the virtues of music training in imparting not just musical skills, but universal life skills like problem solving, discipline, creativity. These skills are consistently sought after by businesses for their employees. They’re always listed by schools as top educational outcome goals. I read a book this past August that takes a deep dive into why music is such an effective vehicle. Arguably the best vehicle for instilling these universal life skills, and the book also presents a very practical roadmap for how we can fully harness music capabilities in cultivating these transferable universal life skills. The book was published in 2020. As I said, I read it this past August and absolutely loved it right around this time. Those of you who listen to the podcast know that I cut back on podcast production for the rest of the year while I was working two jobs. Once I wrapped up my teaching and was diving back into regular podcast production mode again the beginning of this month, the first person I contacted was the author of this book to see if he would come on the show, and I have him with me here today. Dr. Dylan Savage is the author of The Transposed Musician: Teaching Universal Skills to Improve Performance and Benefit Life. Dylan is Professor of Piano at University of North Carolina in Charlotte. He’s a Bosendorfer Concert Artist and a Capstone Records recording artist. His work has been featured in television spots on NBC and PBS affiliates. Welcome to enhance life with music, Dylan.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:02:01] Well, thank you so much, Mindy. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you today, and I’m so looking forward to discussing some of these thoughts and ideas with you.
Mindy Peterson: [00:02:14] Well, I’m looking forward to it too, and it was so fascinating in our conversation right before I hit record. For those listeners who are in the Twin Cities area, Dylan Savage’s great grandfather is the person that the city of Savage was named for. So that was so fascinating, and I’m looking forward to digging more into that history after our conversation. So I love that Minneapolis connection, Dylan. Yes. Well, Dylan, as I said, I loved your book the holistic life application of skills that are learned through music as a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It’s right up my alley. I’m a passionate believer in it. One thing that struck me in your book, as you point out that even though universal skills are inherent in the study of music, we as music educators can make a lot of assumptions about how students are transferring these skills learned in music to other areas of life. Talk to us about your thoughts on how automatic this transference of skills is or isn’t, and I’m guessing that may lead us into a little bit of the back story of how you came to write this book.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:03:24] Yes. Well, in my experience, and that’s now some 25 years of teaching at the university level, I have found that the transference aspect of taking a skill on using it in another arena or a different discipline is not automatic and it’s often not conscious. I know that we all use universal skills every one of us at some level, but the question in my mind has always been and I could see it in my students, is that these skills were at low levels. They weren’t developed consciously. And so that really was, as I said at the start of my thinking on all of this. But I have asked my students often after we, let’s say we’ll go through a deep dive into the problem solving system that I have, you know, identifying a problem and then creating some kind of plan of action. And then I’ve asked them, I said, Have you ever thought perhaps of using this in some part of your life outside of music? And almost 98 percent of the time, maybe an occasional student will say yes, but the wide majority say no. They hadn’t. They hadn’t ever given it any thought. So that, as I said, is is eye-opening. And of course, it’s just my students. It’s quite a few over these many years. But anyway, so it occurred to me and I can say that from myself. When I was younger, I wasn’t thinking this way at all.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:56] Interesting. Well, I think about that concept of. The curse of knowledge, and it’s a concept that I think has been around for a long time, but I think it was popularized by Chip and Dan Heath and their book Made to Stick, which I loved that book too. But the curse of knowledge is if we know something, we just assume other people know that too. And I think as music educators, the connection is so clear to us that the patience and the self-control that students are learning in their music lessons is transferring to other skills and the performance skills that they’re learning for. Their upcoming recital is transferring to the performance that they have of presenting their book report to their class or their athletic performance. That’s coming up. And so we make these assumptions because it’s so clear to us, and I love that you’re pointing out that the students aren’t necessarily making that connection. So how did this sort of bring you to write the book and sort of, I guess, first incorporate it into your teaching and then write the book?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:06:02] Well, that all started taking place slowly about 25 years ago when I started my university teaching career, and it soon occurred to me that first students weren’t able to practice very well or they weren’t practicing efficiently, so they were putting in the time they were putting in effort. But what they were getting out of their practice was not very much. And the product wasn’t that good, either. It would be spotty. So that got me thinking about obviously, what are they doing and what aren’t they doing? And then, you know, I started thinking about my goodness they actually need training and exactly how to apply something like problem solving. And then once I started thinking about that skill, then more and more opened up along with problem solving. You need the patience to problem solve and then you need the creativity to do it well. For example, once you find a problem, how do you go about solving it? And there’s creativity involved in that. And there’s also many, many other skills, the idea of focus. So if you’re not focusing well or you don’t have the attention span, perhaps to to hang in there for, you know, lengths of time when you’re really focused on something. So all of these started to come into focus for me as areas where we have assumed students will develop these skills in a particular discipline, and certainly they do to some degree. And I say that up front, we all use them every day when we turn a knob to a door and it doesn’t open well, we turn it in the other direction. I mean, that is a very simple way of problem solving. Then we may turn it harder in each direction and try it multiple times. Then we may tug on the knob. Well, that’s all the process. But at some point, the problem solving has to go further and much deeper, and it has to be practiced on a daily basis. So that really was the genesis of the thinking for all of this.
Mindy Peterson: [00:08:11] So it really started. It sounds like with just observing this issue with practice, yes, students need to understand better what practice is and how to do it effectively. And once you really broke it down for the students into these different components of how to practice the skills that are needed, then you kind of took it that next step and said, Yeah, how can you apply this to other areas of your life to how can you apply this to something you’re working on at school or a problem at home or a problem on the job?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:08:45] Absolutely, yes. And you know, that came even a little bit later. The first aspect of all of this thinking was really to benefit the students performance levels. And I will say up front, for teachers, this does a tremendous job in elevating your students time spent in the practice room as far as elevating their performance, why aren’t they? Well, I always come to the studio and then I can’t play this passage, and there’s sort of mystified, well, the problem is that they’re under a little more pressure. They feel a little nervous and it falls apart. Ok, well then what’s the next step? Well, we have to look at how they memorize and frankly, they just use rote learning. Oh, now we have to think about learning the piece from a theoretical standpoint. What is the opening interval and the opening key of the piece that you’re playing and can then? Can you automate it so you see how all of these skills start to open up and the depth to which one can take them? So that, as I said, that was the start. But the later we took, it was years later that I started thinking, My goodness, these students are certainly going to benefit from these skills in all aspects of their. And so then I started talking about that and just very simple ways, just bringing it up, for example, and having the students start to think about it. So that was the genesis of that. And then I realized that as a teacher, I’m spreading my sort of the my sphere of influence is widening dramatically.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:18] Mm hmm. Well, and when you started talking about paying attention to what interval is opening this song or automating there, you get into some of that cross training that you talk about so much on a broader level in your book. I mean, ideation and intervals, that’s more. It’s still within the realm of music, but it’s music theory and it’s our awareness absolutely broad that cross training even more to apply some of these skills outside of the music room. Tell us just real quick what the eight skills are that you address in the book.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:10:55] Yes, these are problem solving. Focus. Patience, critical thinking. Communication. Collaboration. Improvisation and creativity.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:13] Mm hmm. And as we mentioned earlier, those are top goals of schools for their educational process. Those are top list of characteristics employers are looking for in their employees and coming back to that concept of cross training, I just want to read a quote from your book that talks about those benefits of cross training. You say in the book This idea of symbiosis is a recurring principle in each of these chapters, and each chapter tackles one of those skills. It is the act of transferring a universal skill from a music application to a non-music application and back again to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Each application helps to further benefit and inform the other. I have called this process the cross training circle. Talk to us a little bit more about the benefits the cross training circle benefits of this transposed musician approach,
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:12:14] In a nutshell. When you use a particular skill in multiple arenas, let’s say you take it. You’ve been thinking about communication in music and what you’re going to say. But my goodness, if you were to take that out and stand in front of an audience to speak, there are new dimensions and that kind of communication that are slightly different, obviously, than if you were communicating at a piano and just playing. And so when I’m speaking, I’m I’m thinking about so many aspects of how I’m speaking, you know, how I’m using my pauses, how I’m elevating my voice and exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. And then I start thinking about it and you say, you know, when I play and I have thought about this for a long time when I was younger, all I would do when I would come out to play is think about playing the piece beautifully and correctly. If I got to a loud section, I was to play loud, you know, and if I were to slow down, I was to slow down. But I never thought, and this is the dimension that I’m talking. These are the increased dimensions that using a skill in multiple arenas can give you. I never thought, Well, what do I want my audience to feel when I come to this part of this piece of music? I never thought that what emotion do I want to sort of transmit? And then once I started thinking that way, my ability to express the piano deepened and certainly became much better.
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:55] And that’s utilizing not only communication, but critical thinking. Absolutely. Those skills that you mentioned earlier and you mentioned so many times in the book, and I think it’s it’s worth pointing out that there is this dual purpose of this transposed musician approach. As you mentioned, it dramatically improves musical performance, but it’s also more thoroughly preparing the student for life no matter where music takes them. And as you mentioned it, it’s expanding the reach and the sphere of influence of the teacher, which is very fulfilling to a teacher as well.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:14:38] Yes, it certainly was to me, and I came from the the European Conservatory tradition of music training. I went to Oberlin. I went to Indiana University. And they’re the focus. I mean, it was wonderful training, but it was very, very, very focused on proficiency becoming a better, more proficient player. And all the other aspects of being a musician in the world were, for the most part, not talked about or not sort of connected to the study. And this is happening more. Of course, but generally, you know, it wasn’t ever mentioned. And I see this is where we, especially as music educators in higher ED, can make the experience of learning, I think, a much broader palette. What do I mean by this? Well, we all have to become music entrepreneurs. And for the most part, musicians have been entrepreneurs for their life. Right? You have you play a gig and then it’s done. It’s not a full time job. You have to go look for other work. You have to hustle, you have to make yourself known. All of the stuff takes place, every single
Mindy Peterson: [00:15:54] Collect payment to
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:15:56] And you have to collect. You have to be a business person, which is, for many of us, seems quite antithetical to what we do. But the point is that these universal skills are part and parcel of becoming a great entrepreneur. You have to have patience because you’ll fail a lot. You have to problem solve because that is the nature of it. You have to be creative because you are also doing something that is hopefully going to be new and different.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:23] Yeah. So we’re taking that measure of success from strictly proficiency and really expanding this and saying, you know what, a lot of you aren’t going into full time musical careers. If you do, this is going to help. This approach is going to help you in so many ways. It’s going to help you in entrepreneurship. It’s going to help you in your business skills, it’s going to help you in your communication skills. And you know what, if you go into a different field, it’s going to make you a better doctor or a better scientist, a better lawyer, a better teacher, even if you’re not in the music room.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:17:00] Yes, very much so. And what I actually am suggesting is that teachers can take this music teachers as far as they wish. They can just, for example, bring it up a little bit in a lesson. It just say, think about how you might use this in an application outside of music. Or they could go much further, depending on the students say they have a student who’s a wonderful musician, but who has their sights set on a different career. What? Well, then the lessons, especially after the skills are learned and applied in music, they can spend more time in the lesson, learning how to apply them outside and how they might apply, for example, to the science of chemistry. And the teacher will learn along the way, you know how to sort of help. They could create some kind of connection between the student and maybe their teacher in high school. The student could actually do a talk on problem solving and help other students in a math class, for example. So all of this is as it is, shall we say, fodder for thought and application.
Mindy Peterson: [00:18:07] I love that, and I love how you’re pointing out the versatility of it and how it can. It’s an approach that can be adapted depending on the student, depending on the situation. Absolutely. This is a very, very practical book, which is one thing that I really love about it. It’s a very practical guide to applying these skills through the music lesson. And one approach that can be taken in this adaptable type of a way is to consider application of these life skills as sort of another piece of the well-rounded music education kind of like we often have technique, we have theory, maybe music history in addition to repertoire, and this could be just another component of that. And again, it can. It can vary depending on the student and the situation. There are some students that I have had who are taking theory exams, and so we spend quite a bit of time working through that exam prep workbook and working on things like our awareness and learning to recognize intervals and things like that. I have other students who really do not have any interest in doing that whatsoever. So while I still have them learn the basics of theory, we’re not spending as much time on it. And this is another one of those components that can be pulled in as needed and as appropriate for the student in the situation.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:19:37] Yes, that’s absolutely so true, and I totally applaud that if I can go back to the the essence of the book is this you have two people going to a job site. One has a truck full of very. Specialized tools to go to the construction site and another person shows up with a little handbag with a few little tools, maybe a hammer and a chisel, and a couple of other tools. None of those tools that the person has in the handbag are really suited to the job, but they could manage. I suppose you could hammer away at something and finally break something apart or pull something apart. Whereas in the other tool kit, you have highly specialized tools that do the job so quickly, so efficiently, so cleanly and effortlessly. That’s precisely what this book really is all about. It’s just taking the level of skill that anybody has and turning it into a life goal because you can refine every one of these things for all of life. And it makes life so interesting. And it creates this sense that you have no boundaries. You want to communicate better. Fine. You have the tool and the steps in this particular book to be able to develop them. And of course, each of the skills feed on one another in the sense or help one another. So you want to learn more about how to be a better communicator? Well, it will take focus, will take patience. We’ll take creativity. And there’s also this. I love having putting improvisation in here because I see that as sort of this general sort of all encompassing life is really about improvisation. We think we have control over life, but we really don’t in so many ways. So we have to look at
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:28] Showed us all that, didn’t it?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:21:30] Yes. So the idea of improvisation is what am I going to do with the situation that I’ve been served? I can fight it in Nash by teeth and pull my hair because that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Or I could look at it and say, You know what? This has so many more opportunities than what I had planned for. Oh, my goodness. And this kind of openness and this. So anyway, this is a big part of that as well. So as I said, when you think about how these play a role and every aspect of one life, from relationships to work, of course, to one’s discipline in every aspect, it makes things better and easier. And I think it opens up far more horizons for one. So I want to hearken back to a point you were making about this as being like a course like theory or oral skills or, you know, music history. I’ve already submitted this as a course proposal to my school, and it’s universal skills for artists and for all people in all the arts. And so I so far it’s going well. I’ll hear it later on the semester, but it’s going to be a course. And so I’m thrilled about that. But anyway, yes, this is think of what the challenges students have today and in some respects, the diminishing opportunities in some of the traditional paths that we, you know, we go into performance, then we think about goodness. We have to be on a concert hall or we have to be in an orchestra and how hard it is to create a living on those particular paths. But here’s the point there are so many other paths, and it’s just going to require these types of skills for you to find them and to flourish.
Mindy Peterson: [00:23:17] Mm-hmm. Well, talk to us a little bit about the practical roadmap layout of this book. Each of the chapters introduces a skill, as we mentioned, but then it also lays out steps for development and has recommended questions to ask. Students suggested reading Kind of talk to us a little bit about how you have that all laid out.
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:23:39] Yes, I designed the book so that you could go to any chapter and not have to have read the chapter before. So if you have a student that needs a particular skill more than another, such as focus, you could go right to that chapter. And then each chapter is laid out exactly the same way, and the steps are this first, you read about the skill, importance, the context and definition, and then you learn how to apply the skill to music. And then after the student learns to do that, and it’s laid out also in step by step approaches with lots of examples, then I go to the transposition or the transposed part, which is sort of my little riff on taking it to another area, applying it in another area, and you would introduce the concept to the student. You would reintroduce some of the steps and then you would apply it to something outside of music. And I want to say that this teacher does not have to be an expert in any other field. You just merely mention the steps, and the student who might be having trouble in an algebra class can then use them there. And then finally, I do a recap, which is to revisit the. Bill and I have a suggested reading and references, so every chapter follows that exact same road map.
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:59] Yeah, and I like how you include theoretical situations or examples at the end of each chapter of this happening, because as a teacher, it really helps put it into context like, Oh yeah, I could, I could see that happening in a lesson that I have with one of my students. And so that’s really helpful, too. And I also want to just highlight what you mentioned a minute ago about that word transpose, and it’s in the title your book, the transposed musician and as you mentioned, just want to make sure listeners are understanding that that’s sort of the musical version of the word transferring, like transferring the skills?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:25:38] Yes. Yeah, it sort of, you know, when you hear a theme in one key, you reinvigorate it by changing the key or maybe the modality. And so that was sort of the idea behind the title.
Mindy Peterson: [00:25:50] Mm hmm. We’ve already touched on some of the benefits of this approach to teachers. Is there anything else that you want to point out about what you see as the benefits to teachers, to music schools, to music departments in utilizing this approach?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:26:06] I believe that it has, you know, many, many possibilities for use. One of them is a music advocacy. Why should we study music now that we have made universal skill training concrete? That makes it, I think, a much better argument than saying, well, you know, they’ll learn these skills along the way. You take a kid and throw them into the woods for a night. You know, they’re probably come out alive and maybe have figured out a few little survival skills. But wouldn’t you want to have that child go through really top notch survival training so that when they really do take that hike through a wilderness, if something did go wrong, they would really be prepared. And that’s really what I’m talking about here. So for advocacy, learning these skills in a concerted way, in a systematic way, comprehensive way really makes the case. I think more so now for higher ed, for, you know, decade, two decades. We’ve we in higher ed have been really concerned with what are we teaching our students? What are we leaving them with and what is the world they face? And as we’ve just discussed, a wider base of operational skills will make them much more versatile. And so for universities who are still very much in that sort of European conservatory approach, which I’m not advocating that we dismiss in any way, I want to only augment it. It’s absolutely necessary to turn out a top notch musician, but we need another dimension for this. And in giving these dimensions, students begin to see more opportunities, and when they see more opportunities for themselves, they may be more apt to consider taking a music education as opposed to saying, Well, you know what? I think I won’t go into music. I love music. It’ll always be a part of my life. So we, as educators, really have to have a relevance for our students, and I think this really can be one of the answers to to the question of relevance.
Mindy Peterson: [00:28:16] Hmm. Love that. Well, I could talk ad nauseum with you about this topic and about your book, but I will rein things in here. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical, ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music and dance to your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can share with us in closing today?
Dr. Dylan Savage: [00:28:40] Well, as to music in my life, I have learned why music is so important to me. It is a microcosm for my entire life. And by that, I mean, whenever I’m challenged by something, when I’m practicing, whatever it might be, it immediately now leads me into seeing how those same challenges exist absolutely everywhere in my entire life. So once again, the creativity in solving an issue at the piano is absolutely always omnipresent in my entire life, when I’m communicating a thought to a friend or trying to really communicate something that it’s really meaningful to me, maybe to a class, or maybe in some writing, I’m thinking about it not just as how to communicate. You know, a lovely phrase as a pianist, but I’m thinking about it in a much broader picture. So what? I am still developing, and I say this to all my students. I’m still a student just like you. I am continuing all of these skills and deepening them. So for me, music has really impregnated every aspect of my being. All of these skills, as I said, I put to use throughout every aspect of my day, and so that has what it’s come to mean to me, and I never thought it would be so all encompassing.
Transcribed by Sonix.ai