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Musician. Triathlete. Almost.
Musician. Triathlete. Almost.

Like an elephant riding a bicycle...

Bishmanby BishmanApr 22nd 2012
Like an elephant riding a bicycle...
Elephants never forget anything. Especially skills like riding a bike or using their massive ears to fly.

In teaching the piano, I've noticed adult re-learners who claim not to have been very proficient as a child have been able to make fantastic progress and retrace their steps in a very short period of time, compared with an adult starting from the very beginning. Why is this?

Can we put it down to the added years of mental maturity? Or is it that their body did the hardest work as a child, training facility of the fingers and mind, and are now able to remember it and pick up where they left off? I've noticed that I have taken to triathlon quite quickly. It could be that I have thrown myself into it but I want to speculate about this a little bit.

I was never a proficient swimmer, though I spent alot of time in the water as I went "swimming" with my family every sunday (read messing around with floats). I have found this the hardest discipline. I did learn to ride a bike well and although I wasn't a particularly quick runner I was very athletic kid and played football morning, noon and night. When I was older, in early to mid teens, I used to go with a friend for a fairly workout every saturday where we would bike the 5 miles to the leisure centre, go for the fun swim (with floats) and then spend an hour/hour and a half in the gym doing weights. This lasted probably less than a year and I then stopped consciously going out to exercise or play sport for at least 7 years through the whole of college and university, as I focused on music, socialising and beer drinking, literally gawking at the thought of exercise or sport. I even stopped watching it on tele. How likely is it that all this earlier activity contributed to my ability to pick up these sports now that I am older? I feel as though I have achieved more than I should have in the 7 months I've been swim/bike/running and attribute it to this. Maybe I'm deluded because I suppose we should expect to make the most progress in the early stages; however, I've noticed a kind of curve to learning.

It seems that as you start something new it takes quite a long time spend practising to make significant improvements at a skill; a lot of time spent practising does not bring massive improvements (this is especially true if you play the violin). Once you have acquired the base skills improvements come along a lot quicker - i.e. time spent doing focused practise directly correlates to significant increase in performance. The final phase is similar to the first in that it takes a far longer time spent practising to bring about large improvement, though obviously for different reasons. The life cycle of a performer's ability kind of looks like the famous inverted U graph (but which is not famous enough for google to give me a picture of... grr..).

It seems like most people quit playing an instrument before they are really settled into this middle section (people who reach the middle section tend to carry on because it seems like it's only really here that you actually start to enjoy the process). Having done the earlier work is enough to be able to pick up the process later in life, obviously not from the same place but from at least somewhere on the chart.

I'd love to hear any thoughts other people have about this, through anything you've noticed yourself or if there is some research that I should know about.
p.s. Why are there so many pictures of elephants riding bicycles on the internet?? I'm seriously considering getting tassles for my road bike. Go faster tassles.
TriRachby member: TriRach, Apr 27th 2012 17:04
Enjoyed reading your post (and very much liked the elephant on the bicycle also). I'm not an expert at all I'm just interested in what you wrote because I've heard before that people who have have been fit in the past will be able to increase their fitness quicker than those who were previously mainly sedentary. Not sure if this is because of muscle memory or because of some heightened physiological response compared with previous non-exercisers. I've also heard that when going from mainly sedentary to exercising you can see quite good results before it starts to slow down and eventually you have to start chasing those seconds.

I wonder also if the discipline that you've been applying to your music has also helped you with your sports training. I've not been musical in the past but recently had a couple of singing lessons for fun and listening to the tutor I swear he could have been talking about triathlon training the language struck me as so similar!
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