The First Element of Skill Acquisition

Every teacher of voice needs to read Theodore Dimon’s book “The Elements of Skill”.  I can’t recommend it highly enough to teachers anxious to learn about the acquisition of the skills for singing.

On the first element of skill acquisition, Dimon writes:

“The problem of learning skills, I discovered, has two components that are basically being ignored. First, when we learn a skill, the idea that we must try to perfect our actions is so basic that few would question it. But the skills consist of a number of complex elements, and asking a child to simply perform actions, and then coaxing and cajoling him into doing them better, hardly does justice to the complex reality of what is involved in skilled activity. Swinging a baseball bat, hitting a tennis ball, playing a piece of music on the piano – these skills are actually composed of a number of elements, each of which can be isolated and worked on to ensure success. The first component of learning a skill, then, is to break it down into manageable parts.

Along with the inability to break skills down goes the problem of trying to hard, which prevents the child from discovering the various elements that make up a skill. Few people, when learning something new, want to stop and think about what they are doing, to experiment, to play with different approaches. We want to improve quickly, and we fail to realize that learning a new skill demands, first and foremost, the ability to stop trying to be right and the courage to try something we’ve never done before. Often it is the act of not trying, of stopping and thinking, that is the key to learning. The key to doing something is to stop doing it as you have always done it.”

Dimon, Theodore. The Elements of Skill: A Conscious Approach to Learning. North Atlantic Books, 2003.