by Sidney S. Stark
Last week a young musician sent me a link to an article she’d saved from the New York Times. The article my friend sent can be read here in its entirety if you’re interested. It’s called The Young and the Perceptive, and was written by Joseph T. Hallinan for the Op Ed section. You’ll find it engaging if you click on the link. But if you don’t, I can tell you the main theme of the article is about pattern recognition in music. Mr. Hallinan describes an incident with famous piano teacher Boris Goldovsky when a young student was the only person to recognize an error in some sheet music by Brahms that had eluded the composer, his publisher and every single experienced pianist who’d played the piece.
After running tests to prove this point, Goldovsky determined that the more experienced pianists “rely on their recognition of familiar patterns and on their ability to organize the music into those
patterns and dependable cues.” He concluded that “pattern recognition is a hallmark of expertise in any number of fields; it is what allows experts to do quickly what amateurs do slowly.” I witnessed just such a revelation myself one summer when I attended a master class for chamber musicians where the maestro corrected a mistake he’d heard them all play only to find that it was indeed marked improperly on the music and the young musicians had simply read what was in front of them. So I know this phenomenon is true.