You Can Observe A Lot by Watching

I recently visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and encountered this sign as I entered the facility. “You can observe a lot by watching.” I was struck by the profound significance of this statement. As a music instructor, I spend a great deal of time listening and watching my students carefully to determine what techniques or musical suggestions would most improve their performance. As a teacher, (and everyone teaches whether they like it or not), am I training my students to have this important skill of watching intently and listening deeply?

What makes a good observer? One of our most valuable (and unfortunately) underused resources when it comes to learning is our EYES! But just watching something doesn’t mean we are observing well. Training a child to pay attention to the most important thing is truly a key factor. This can be developed by asking questions that lead to discovery. For example, if I want my violin student to notice a certain aspect of how they are holding the instrument, I might ask questions like: “What did you notice about your right hand when you played that passage?” If they haven’t noticed what I hoped they would, I’ll ask a more direct question: “What was happening with your thumb as you played?” This process can get more and more specific until they become aware of the exact thing they need to know. It trains them to continue focusing their attention until they see the most important thing!

When used in reverse, this method of questioning can actually prevent the development of good watching skills. When a child asks question after question and always gets the answer, they lose the opportunity to learn through sheer observation. In Flagstaff, we were able to visit many Hopi cultural points of interest. A famous Hopi saying (that I heard often as a child) is “Hopi people wait and see.” My dad would say this to me if I was asking a lot of questions about how to do something or what he was doing. When I heard this, it reminded me to stop talking, start listening and engage myself in learning everything I could from the situation with my own observation. Showing me how to do it provided a deeper learning experience than telling me how to do it. Watching someone do something and then trying to do it yourself, either at the same time or right after watching it, can be one of the quickest ways to learn a new skill. In the music world, our EARS are also trained to a high level of discernment.

Music students are expected to hear subtle differences in pitch, articulation, and musical nuance. Research has shown that people who study music are able to pick out the most important sounds in an very ambient environment much easier than those who haven’t. Imagine how important this life skill is in a noisy classroom or any other distracting location! I’m a firm believer in the humorous and incredibly true adage: There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth! We need to critically examine the quality of how we pay attention. Listening is nearly a lost art in our society. At a recent conference, we were asked to pair up and then listen to our partner talk about what made them tick for two minutes. After the two minutes was up, we had to repeat what we had just heard as close to “word for word” as we could. Interestingly, the replay generally took only one minute or so. Of course, it’s not possible to regurgitate someone’s exact verbiage in a normal conversation. However, the level of listening in this activity was SO heightened, you realized how little we really do pay attention to details.

As we attempt to improve the noticing skills of ourselves and our children, the questions we should explore are: How many details am I noticing through my observation? How deeply am I listening? If I increase my “noticing” skills, how much faster could I learn? Challenge yourself to talk less, listen more carefully, and watch more intently at school, at home, and in all your daily endeavors!Having a big sale, on-site celebrity, or other event? Be sure to announce it so everybody knows and gets excited about it.

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