Mike designed Rhythm Knowledge as a behavioral change system to help himself learn to be a better player and teacher. He based it in cognitive science, software engineering and natural laws. He tested it on himself, his students and anyone willing try out learning something they previously did not know.
If you want the short version of what R. K. is, then understand it as an outline of how people and environments work per natural laws. Then, what to do by using a method that withstands 100% of the tests facing it.
Although these books are mainly written for drummers, the thinking can be applied to any musical instrument, hand-eye coordination activity, sports skill development, personal change, or academic discipline. One thing to know is what the books are not. They are not collections of Mike’s the weekly drum lessons that he would assign. The proper way to use R. K. is to construct one’s own exercises specific to their interests. However, the 5 main systems in Volume II are in and of themselves, full of enough things to do that if done, one would be able to play most anything leaving only the pursuit of mental and physical speed, coordination and combinations of the the elements of the 5 systems.
Both books structure information into shapes. These shapes that organize drumming also work on organizing just about anything.
Using a shape oriented approach to organization, Mike tutored college students in non music classes and helped aspiring drummers. It took years, but Mike ended up finishing in the top 1 to 3 percent of the National O.C.E. (teacher evaluations student response ratings) for three consecutive years at the end of time teaching at the Berklee College of Music. In other words, Mike related to his students and helped them to help themselves improve massively.
The entire point of Mike’s learning system is for himself and others to become that thing that Aquinas referred to as “a potentiality.”
Mike’s approach was to simply to find any way possible to attain his calling on the drums. He knew that he skills were limiting his ability to fully express how he felt as a musician and as a person. His books are not just information. The systems are arranged how they are in order to create purpose and for users to apply their imaginations.
Where are ‘we’ in our bodies if we are still ‘us’ when we lose an arm, get our heart replaced, or even have parts of the brain removed?
As musicians, which is only a part of what we each are, we each have individual callings. Not everybody needs to attain all of the possible human attributes, or all of the possible skills needed to express every musical expression, or play every position on a sports team. We all do work a certain way as human beings however, and that is crucial information to rely on.
Mike used a “Scientific method” approach to validating his finds on how to practice something by constantly testing it on his entire student base over years of teaching. Ultimately, his systems worked 100% of the time for 100% of those that followed the directions correctly.
Eventually, Mike was able to perfect his teaching skills to include showing students how to figure out complex things in general by drawing simple pictures on a giant dry erase board. Some students were able to enter the professional realm, some got gigs with artists more popular than who Mike had worked with and some pursued non-drumming interests. Most of them got better at a skill in years less time than Mike took. Most of them also wrote Mike about their use of the system per his request so he could document the validity and correctness of the systems.
The Universe works how it works.
Volume I (A great Marcus Aurelius quote is, “Of each thing ask, What is it in and of itself? What is its substance and material?”
Our bodies all work the same.
Volume I presents a two page overview to examine human attributes, how the mechanics of various aspects of different enviroments work and how they all relate.
Most importantly, Volume I outlines how a person inputs, stores and recalls information via a very specific use of the five senses. For without retaining the information a person is trying to learn, what is the point of practicing, or trying to learn anything? Think back about a class you took that you did not like, or want to be in, or a practice that you thought was boring. How much information did you retain, really know and successfully use? We all get bored when we are not actually retaining information because we do not care enough. We would care more if we understood how what we’re supposed to be working on fits into the bigger picture and is affecting us, or not.
Volume I shows how to gain meaning from what one is attempting to improve by learning how it fits into a real picture of everything that needs to be learned. How can a team get on the same page if nobody makes the page? How can an individual have an inspired purpose if they don’t really know where what they’re doing fits into the whole scheme of things? Even the smallest role in a play should be carried out with a full effort.
To make all this easier, there are techniques that can allow us to picture plays, or rhythmic, or melodic patterns while we process what is in front of us and while we improvise a situation. The mind can layer images and audio in a way. Our minds and brains are powerful. It is empoweing to really start to believe in yourself and in a system. The mind can change a heart and visa versa. The whole point is to improve.
We’re defined by what we do and not what we look like, especially when our looks are covered.
It is more than just possible for a musician to play a perfect string of shows and for a professional sports team to be unbeatable in a season barring health issues, or momentarily losing their focussed attention. Of course this is improbable, but it technically is not impossible. Not losing a game is possible when all the players are on the same page, buy into the system with belief (even if it is not perfect,) keep the vision of plays in their minds, recognize the plays and are capable of physically reacting and executing their tasks. After all, they’re already in the group of the best in the world at something. They already have enough talent. They usually have enough physical skill at their position. If not, they would not have made it into the top group of people alive that do what they do. How they use and change what they are and do becomes most important. Focussing is hard enough, but there are techniques that make it so much easier. If nothing else, believing you can play a perfect series of shows or games might just yield the best possible outcomes more of the time.
At times, nothing can beat being physically superior and more naturally talented AND in possession of immense skill. Still, there are so many variables that make any person, or team beatable on any day because of simple disconnect between the vision of plays and possibilities in the mind to the signal sending process of reacting.
No matter what we do, it can be organized and learned in ways that are better than others.
This, is Rhythm Knowledge Volume I in essence. It presents ‘hope’ in concrete terms.
Volume II contains five systems to train a human person’s pattern recognition skills from the inside out and not the outside in. For example, attraction gets us to notice things. After attraction has done its job, the real work starts with creating, maintaining and growing the relationship. It could be with a person, an instrument, or in getting better at a kind of music, or skill set.
The bottom line is that one does not best learn to play an instrument simply by trying to mimic the music they’re attracted to, but to learn what it takes to play it from the inner mind, through the brain, the body and out to the instrument (last.) Most musicians learn the other way around by trying to just play music, or primarily rehash what they already know while jamming mostly.
A musician cannot be “musical” with something that they cannot play. A person that cannot execute a physical move cannot do so because they do not know what it feels like. They don’t know which thoughts and muscles are supposed to do what and when they’re supposed to do it. A person will never know what something feels like until they go through the steps necessary in developing the mind and body via a certain way to wire it up.
Volume II begins with wiring the human mind’s vision and audio layering capabilities from seeing images while using the voice to keep track of the base rhythm, or feel in a musical expression. It then wires up, or physically connects the voice with the four limbs (two hands and two feet,) then uses a binary based system to train on the odd numbered groupings from 1-19 notes, then it mixes up all odd and even groups from 1-20 notes and finally, it lists all permutations of every binary (1 & 0) possibility that occurs in the basic groups of 1-8 notes.
The categorization of things is not as easy as it may seem. Mike’s system applied to sports would be like categorizing a team’s playbook by listing every possible permutation of five differents types of plays by nature. This makes more plays easier to memorize by the nature of the play and not the type of play. And then, the physical work of feeling all the combinations is a lifetime away.
Check out Mike’s “The Grid” DVD where he outlines every possible thing that ever was played, ever is played and ever could be played - on just one page! His point is to get everyone on the same page by making the page. He has outlined different sports this way and shared it with a few students. He related to them in this way.
Oppositely, too many influential musicians misdirect would-be musicians by telling them that “it’s all about the feel” and to “just feel it.” Well, nobody can feel what they cannot feel, so this is a clearly wrong thing to say to someone who needs concrete information about what to see, hear AND feel and isn’t completely void of the use of their arms and legs. Students are told to just “go practice.” This can be so dangerous when the students starts repeating a faulty technique and makes it even harder to break later on.
In the end, our wills determine all things. Will can create electrochemically charged connections from nothing but will. Will can change with perspective. What we learn can profoundly change our choices and actions. If you looked at the brain activity, first we’d see nothing, then we’d see light.