Happy Birthday Bach! (Free Sheet Music & What is Desirable Difficulty?)

Today is the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (though there is some confusion about the date). To celebrate, I have arranged Bach’s Arioso for intermediate piano. Bach’s Arioso has a bittersweet quality that makes it the perfect piece for the season. I have posted an intermediate piano arrangement of Arioso on my website:

Print ARIOSO

For more advanced pianists here is the original sheet music in A-flat:

I read a wonderful book by Brené Brown called Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. I have learned so much from Brown’s book about the nature of emotions and how, when and why we experience them.

As soon as I read Chapter 4: Places We Go When it’s Beyond Us, I wanted to share what I learned with you. Brown speaks about Effortful Learning, something I discussed in my blog post entitled The Best Ways to Practice Using the Latest Brain Research:

Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. [Repetitive] learning that [seems] easy is like writing in sand, here today, gone tomorrow – Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown expands on the concept of effortful learning:

Comfortable learning rarely lead(s) to deep learning…. I used to have a sign in my office…that said, “If you’re comfortable, then I’m not teaching well.” There’s a zone of optimal confusion, there’s desirable difficulty. – Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart.

Robert A. Bjork and Elizabeth L. Bjork coined the term Desirable Difficulty in 1994 when writing about how to enhance learning, and the data is even stronger today: In order to learn deeply and to remember what we have learned, we need to space out our practice so that each time we practice we have forgotten some of what we have learned, and in relearning a concept or skill, we understand and remember it more deeply. “Learners should interpret errors as opportunities for enhanced learning.” (1)

I love these terms “optimal confusion” and “desirable difficulty.” While we teachers are working with students we are constantly observing whether the student is receiving an appropriate balance of challenge with fun, confusion with understanding. Brown asserts that too much confusion can lead to frustration, which can cause the learner to disengage, feel bored, or quit an activity. But as it relates to piano lessons and home practice, if you are not feeling challenged when learning something new, you are not moving forward in your studies as much as you could be. So the next time you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at your piano, think of it as a good thing! Take some deep breaths and recite your mantra: This is desirable difficulty; This is optimal confusion. Maybe take a short exercise break, have a snack or a drink, then get back to your bench, and keep playing.

I hope your April is filled with beautiful music, and the resplendent gifts of spring.

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul, Songs of the Seasons, and The Music Remedy, Sheet Music Collections to Restore and Revitalize.

(1) Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (2020). Desirable difficulties in theory and practice. Journal of
Applied research in Memory and Cognition, 9 (4), 475-479.

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