July 17

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Minecraft and Patience

Several months ago, I started a project called Piano Teacher Learns to Play Minecraft. The first two videos are still on our YouTube channel.

It will eventually be a longer series.

But two weeks into it, I had to take a break. For two reasons.

One, the game is seriously addicting, for adults as well as children.

And two, adult responsibilities had to come first. (One of the side effects of growing up.).

But this past week, I had COVID. So, I decided to spend some isolation time revisiting the game. And once again, I was reminded how difficult this game is.

The point of the game is to gather materials for armor, weapons, and your home. You find these by adventuring, exploring, and digging.

If you want better materials, you have to fight monsters deep underground with no guarantee you'll even find what you're looking for.

And if you want to beat the game, you need to have collected the best armor, weapons, and items to fight the game's nastiest monsters.

And (this is my favorite), if you die, you lose all your stuff!

That's right. If you spend two hours finding enough diamonds to build a diamond suit of armor, then you die, there's no getting those two hours of your life back.

Plus, this is a huge world that operates in real time.

Meaning, you can spend 40 minutes walking in one direction (they say you could walk for two years before you find the edge of the Minecraft world).

And then, if you decide you want to head back home because your backpack's full, it will take at least 40 minutes to walk all the way back.

For me, that's about as much fun as playing Virtual Stuck Behind a School Bus.

It's a different kind of gameplay that I'm not used to. One that requires a lot of strategizing. And one that requires infinite patience.

But the interesting bit that's occurred to me is, kids can easily spend hours a day with this.

The addictive quality I believe comes from the mining aspect of the game; a phenomenon called "variable reward." Basically, every time you dig, it's like spinning the slot machine. The brain gets excited wondering if "this will be the one" when breaking blocks for materials.

This aside, I think Minecraft demonstrates that children have patience. In huge quantities.

The million dollar question is, how do we take this well of patience and apply it to something like...learning to play the piano?

Surely, if students are capable of spending two hours a day with Minecraft, they can spend 15 minutes a day with piano.

And surely, it's not just the pixels and gambling-like qualities of the game that make all the difference.

The exciting thing is, we know it's there. The question is out how to help kids tap into it and apply it to things that matter in the real world.

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About Jonathan Roberts

I am the founder and director of the South Shore Piano School, and I have been teaching the piano for nearly 20 years. My work centers around bringing music to the lives of kids, parents, and adults in an enriching, meaningful way. At the South Shore Piano School, my incredible colleagues and I accomplish this through skill-based teaching, community, and an innovative, people-first business model. You can read more about me here.


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