Metacognition is a concept that belongs to cognitive psychology. It is closely related to the so-called Executive Functions, a concept coming in turn from neuropsychology, understood as the set of cognitive activities that favor carrying out a coherent plan aimed at achieving a specific goal. Among them are the capacities for formulating goals, planning, and carrying out plans effectively, which are essential for independent, creative, and socially constructive behavior.
Executive Functions are those skills involved in the generation, supervision, regulation, execution and readjustment of appropriate behaviors to achieve complex objectives. Now, Executive Functions that possess conscious, intentional and deliberate control, directed by goals, are usually called Metacognition
Metacognition essentially means cognition about cognition. It refers to second-order cognition: thoughts about thoughts, knowledge about knowledge or reflections about actions. It implies both people's awareness and control, not only of their cognitive processes, but of their emotions and motivations as well.
Metacognition refers to the ability to reflect on our own thought processes and the way we learn. Thanks to metacognitive skills, we can know and regulate our basic mental processes involved in our cognition. This capacity, -a higher order of thinking-, is characterized by a high level of consciousness and voluntary control, since it allows the management of other simpler cognitive processes. Knowledge about our own cognition implies that we are aware of how our way of learning works and understand why the results of an activity have been positive or negative.
Thus, Metacognition's function is the control or regulation of an individual's processes such as planning, monitoring and evaluation, which she uses in solving problems and executing tasks. With practice, metacognition can be taught and developed by individuals during the learning process. Though, direct instruction in metacognition may not be beneficial because when strategies of problem solving are imposed rather than generated by the students themselves, their performance may be impaired. Teachers must continually encourage students to monitor and evaluate their problem-solving initiatives.
Musicians require considerable metacognitive skills in order to be able to recognize the nature and requirements of the particular task; identify particular difficulties; have knowledge of a range of strategies for dealing with these problems; know which strategy is appropriate for tackling each task; monitor progress towards the goal and, if progress is unsatisfactory, acknowledge this and draw on alternative strategies; evaluate learning outcomes in performance contexts and take action if necessary to improve performance in the future.
Music teachers should be therefore encouraged to recognize the importance of reacting perceptively to performance errors by analyzing why they might occur and trying to understand what the students are thinking about. Asking pupils to reflect on what they are doing, how they are doing it, and to consider alternative approaches to performing mightt improve musical instruction.
Some strategies to enhance Metacognition are: encouraging the students to 'think aloud'; focusing their attention on understanding the way they think and the problems they have to solve; asking not only for the results, but also for the procedure of thought and the strategy followed; teaching strategies in order to overcome difficulties; placing each subject among its relevant ones and find connections among them; encouraging the students to generate questions before, during and after the elaboration of a subject; helping them to perceive entities, connections, relations, similarities and differences; enabling them to become aware of their criteria for assessment; modeling (teachers think aloud, so that the students can follow the demonstrated thinking processes, during planning and problem solving situations).
In the long run, all these strategies tend to develop self-awareness, self control and self-regulation in students. The mastering of metacognitive skills allow them to self-manage and control their learning processes, improve their efficiency and optimize them.
They become independent learners: they learn how to learn. They are able to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning processes, and because of this, it is possible for them to achieve effective and Self-Regulated learning, which is the degree to which students are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants in their own learning processes.
It has been observed that expert musicians extensively use metacognition strategies in preparing their performance. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that the application of knowledge of one's own cognitive and affective processes and the regulation of them (metacognitive skills) are highly influenced by internal and external factors such as personal goals, motivations, self-appraisal and beliefs, as well as social and cultural context. The role of the environment is crucial.
Nowadays it is well known that there is an interaction between the genetically inherited and the environment. The family situation and the environment of individuals might explain the level of excellence achieved by them. In other words: the opportunities for success present in the context closest to them, including financial, social, and intellectual resources and the parents' willing to provide educational advantages, work, and connections, as well as to transfer their own skills and interests to their children.
The genetic information that we inherit from our parents establishes a condition in us but does not truly determine our abilities to make progress in specific domains. This progress, and even the possibility of reaching levels of excellence, are subject to external and internal factors. Among the latter are personality traits, cognitive ability, motivation and hard sustained work.
Therefore, genius does not depend on genes but on a constellation of factors that are hereditary but not genetic. Affective, cognitive and psychological processes involved in creativity are the result of a combination of genetics and environment, where the support of parents and their role as providers of both optimal education and creative orientation is fundamental.
Research on excellent performance and expertise have shown that important characteristics associated with superior expert performance are acquired through experience and that the effect of practice on performance is certainly significant.
In order to achieve an exceptional level of performance in a given field, it is necessary to follow for a long time certain guidelines of action that will lead to the acquisition of specific skills and knowledge, resulting in the attainment of a level of excellence. The maximal level of performance is not attained automatically as function of extended experience or as a mechanical consequence of engaging in the assigned training tasks, but it can be increased as a result of deliberate efforts to improve. In other words, the mere experience and practice does not lead necessarily to excellence. Experts obtain their high performance through the way they practice. It is a deliberate effort to become an expert.
Deliberate practice presents performers with tasks that are initially outside their current realm of reliable performance, yet can be mastered within hours of practice by concentrating on critical aspects and by gradually refining performance through repetition. Between practice sessions, experts and future experts get feedback and reflect on their own performance, which guides the approach to subsequent practice. Practice activities are characterized by breaking down required skills into smaller parts and practicing these parts repeatedly in a state of absolute concentration and awareness.
Deliberate practice consists in highly structured activities designed with the main purpose of achieving and improving certain skills and/or to overcome weaknesses. These activities are framed within a broader learning plan whose objective is to maximize the degree of performance improvement. Through deliberate efforts it is possible to achieve expertise level of performance in a wide range of domains, like music and chess.
The fundamental components of deliberate practice are:
a) The design of tasks with a well-defined goal, that should be repeatedly performed by the subjects. These tasks should take into account the preexisting knowledge of the learners, so that they can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction. They must consider long, medium and short term goals and have a progressive character in terms of complexity.
b) Monitoring and evaluation of the learning methods used by the subjects are fundamental, since the use of inadequate strategies leads to insufficient or ineffective improvements. For effective learning the subjects need to monitor their processes and performance to determine necessary adjustments and corrections. Individuals who monitor and evaluate their methods and then modify the activities that are not optimal for the achievement of improvements, thus perfecting their learning methods, find evident improvements. It is important to note that before reflective monitoring and analysis of behavior and self-regulated learning in a domain can occur, the individuals have to have acquired appropriate knowledge and domain-specific mental representations.
c) Informative feedback provided by the teacher is significantly positive, since an external and expert opinion, both on the performance of an individual and on the effectiveness of the practice methods used by him, allows to improve the performance and to perfect the practice routines. In the absence of adequate feedback, efficient learning is impossible and improvement is minimal even for highly motivated subjects. With sufficient experience and acquired knowledge, an individual will be able to provide himself with adequate feedback, as he will be able to evaluate both his performance as a musician and the effectiveness of her/his practice activities.
When all these conditions are met, practice (with appropriate monitoring and feedback) changes the character of cognitive operations in a manner that (a) improves the speed of the operations, (b) improves the smoothness of the operations, and (c) reduces the cognitive demands of the operations, thus releasing cognitive resources for other (often higher) functions (e.g., planning, self-monitoring).
The role of the teacher is crucial, given that not all individuals have the same capacity to effectively monitor and evaluate their own learning methodologies or develop equally effective practice strategies. Moreover, in disciplines such as music, it is necessary to have accumulated enough experience in order to be able to carry out such activities. Subsequently, a competent teacher is appropriate, since thanks to her greater experience, she is able to guide the individual through the learning process and provide appropriate and constructive feedback, accelerating their learning processes and ensuring effective learning (maximizing improvement). A teacher properly organizes the information and designs training tasks to be performed by the individual. Gives explicit instructions on the most appropriate method to use when practicing certain concepts. Additionally, she monitors these methods in order to identify possible shortcomings and eventually modify those activities that are less optimal for new, more effective strategies. She diagnoses the performance of the individual and identifies both his progress and those aspects that need to be improved (feedback). According to that, she decides when transitions to more complex tasks are appropriate.
In addition to the items described above, one of the most important skills a music teacher can teach her students is how to practice deliberately, allowing them to gradually take control over the learning of their skills and be able to learn in an independent way (self-teaching), designing their own practice activities and producing continued improvement.
As we can see, certain characteristic elements of Metacognition and Deliberate Practice intersect. Analysis, monitoring, evaluation and feedback are concepts common to both spheres. All effective practice uses metacognitive processes. Consequently, individuals who have high metacognitive abilities are more effective in structuring their practice and achieving successful outcomes.
Summarizing, expert performers are introduced in their domains at an early age and are engaged essentially full time from childhood and adolescence until late adulthood. Parental support plays an important role in the early stages of learning. Individuals reach an expert level after years of maximal efforts to improve performance through an optimal distribution of deliberate practice. A highly sustained dose of motivation and perseverance over the years is required. This kind of practice focuses on tasks beyond the current level of competence and comfort. The fastest way to improve in general is to work on weak points. Structured practice based on clear instructions gives better results than unstructured practice. Effective practicing strategies include planification, fragmentation, repetition, monitoring, evaluation, and feedback (among others). Superior performance implies the acquisition of complex integrated systems of representations for the execution, monitoring, planning, and analyses of performance. Educators should therefore create training opportunities for deliberate practice, appropriate for a given individual at a given level of skill development. Helping students to develop metacognitive skills will lead to greater self-regulation, learning-process control, effectiveness in practice, self-coaching and continued improvement.
The history of Chess can be traced back nearly 1500 years, although its earliest origins are uncertain. It was probably originated in India, before the 6th century BC. The game is said to have been invented by a Brahman named Sissa at the court of the Indian Rajah Balhait, where it was called Chaturanga. Alexander the Great's conquest of India brought the game west to Persia. It moved east from India along overland trade routes into the orient and west from Persia into Arabia, where Chatrang -as the game was later called- then spread across northern Africa and into Europe when the Moors invaded Spain. Ajedrez (as it was known by the Spanish) spread quickly through Europe and had spread even earlier north from Persia into Russia, so that before the discovery of the Americas, Chess had a firm and established following on three continents as a supreme fascination, an aesthetic beauty enjoyed by both noblemen and peasants. In Europe, chess evolved into roughly its current form in the 15th century.
The first great chess players in the West emerged in Italy and Spain, during the Renaissance. "Romantic Chess" was the predominant chess playing style from the late 15th century to the 1880s. Chess games of this period emphasized more on quick, tactical maneuvers rather than long-term strategic planning. Some exponents of this style were: RuyLópez de Segura (1530-1580), Gioachino Greco (1600-1634), François-André Philidor (1726-1795, who was also an outstanding composer of operas), Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840, considered to be perhaps the strongest player in the world from 1820 until his death in 1840), Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835), Adolf Anderssen (1818-1879), Paul Morphy (1837-1884), Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888), Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908), among others.
The romantic era is generally considered to have ended with the 1873 Vienna tournament where Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) popularized a positional style of playing, demonstrating the superiority of this approach over the previous one. Steinitz became the first official chess champion in 1886 (until 1894), by defeating Johannes Zukertort, in a match in which two opposite schools of playing were confronted: the romantic and the positional.
This new approach to the game turned out to be the basis of modern chess, also known as the classical school, which would last until the 1930s. In addition to Steinitz, other exponents of this style of play were: Louis Paulsen (1833-1891), Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934), Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941, world champion between 1894–1921), Frank Marshall (1877-1944) and Jose Raul Capablanca (1888-1942, wolrd champion between 1921-1927).
After the classical school of Chess, Hypermodernism began to become popular. The Hypermodern School was founded by Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935), Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956), Richard Réti (1889-1929), Gyula Breyer (1893-1921), and Ernst Grünfeld (1893-1962) in the 1920s. Hypermodernists rejected the idea of occupying the center of the board, as something important. Instead, they emphasized on controlling the center by attacking it with pieces, especially from the periphery of the board.
The 20th century saw great advances in chess theory, impulsed fundamentally by the Soviet Chess School, being Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) one of its main exponents. In the year 1972 the northamerican Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (1943-2008) beat Boris Spassky, world champion at the time. This match, played in the middle of the cold war, came to be known as the Match of the Century, finishing with almost 25 years of soviet hegemony. From those years onwards, progress in all aspects of the game and opening theory in particular were more significant than ever before. A long list of books were written, thanks to which the theoretical knowledge of the game was radically developed.
Additionally, the series of world championship matches between the 1972 Fischer-Spassky and the 1984 Kasparov-Karpov encounter, changed the overall picture of chess openings almost beyond recognition. This process accelerated during the years. In 1997, a computer first beat a chess world champion in the famous Deep Blue vs. Garry Kasparov match, entering the era of computer domination in chess. Since then, computer analysis has contributed to much of the development in chess theory and has become an important part of preparation in professional human chess. Later developments in the 21st century made the use of computer analysis far surpassing the ability of any human player accessible to the public, culminating today with devices that use artificial intelligence to play chess, for example Leela Chess Zero.
Currently Magnus Carlsen is the world champion. Other GMs are Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Levon Aronian.
There are also known the cases of outstanding musicians who played chess. Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Prokofiev. Chess players Vasily Smyslov and Mark Taimanov were connected as well with music: Smyslov was world champion (1957-1958) and a semi-professional baritone. Taimanov was a prominent pianist.
By its very nature, chess presents an ever-changing set of problems. Except for the very beginning of the game -where it's possible to memorize the strongest lines, when playing traditional chess- each move creates a new problematic situation, which is why players must know how to take decisions. In this problem-solving process, cognitive and metacognitive dimensions are articulated in the chess player. That is why chess can be considered as a real laboratory for decision making, in which each move implies tactical and strategic decisions. Because it is a closed system with clear and determined rules, it is an ideal way to study decision-making and problem-solving.
A game of Chess, like a musical piece, contains different phases or sections. The opening is the phase of the game where the battle lines are drawn and each player tries to lead the game into the terrains in which she is better prepared to play against his opponent. Different openings lead to certain types of play; they define a kind of theme, using a musical language. The pawns establish a solid perimeter, meanwhile the rest of the pieces get off the back rank, taking attacking or defensive squares. The resulting position defines certain circumstances, in which some pieces might acquire more value than others, depending on their location on the board.
The following phase is the middle-game, in which the players design their attack and defense strategies based on the position of their forces. This is the most creative moment of the game. It's the phase of confrontation and clash of strategic ideas.
In this confrontation a series of exchange of pieces usually takes place, after which the game, if played correctly by both sides, reaches its final phase (end-game). This last phase is characterized by the fact that only a small number of pieces remains on the board, which is why concrete and precise calculation is necessary at the moment of deciding each move, leaving imagination and creativity aside.
In their attempt to get better, chess players persistently seek to improve the accuracy of their moves. Chess experts players analyze not only their own games, but also those played by top players, in order to find (and learn from) possible errors, to improve the moves that were made, identify key moments, understand the dynamic aspects of a position and find possible deficiencies in the reasoning carried out. Sometimes they even share and compare their ideas with coaches, colleagues and other chess masters who explicitly taught them about chess and introduced them to its literature.
Consistency, flexibility and the ability to adapt are key elements in chess. In order to determine what kind of moves to look at, chess players must have a plan or at least some general idea about what they are trying to accomplish. Consistently following a plan is crucial to success in chess. However, at the same time the situation on the chess board is constantly changing. In a changed situation, continuing with the same plan can deteriorate our position and can lead to losing the game. We have to be able to change our plan, or even admit mistakes and change our path. This is flexibility.
On the other hand, the direction of the game changes after each move, because the players try to carry out their plan. This demands flexibility in their decision making and the ability to adapt themselves to new positions that arise. The notions of discrimination and prioritization of their own plans, ideas and moves are crucial.
So chess is an activity in which a series of metacognitive processes are set in motion. Mental processes such as critical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem-solving, strategic planning, analysis and evaluation are implemented by chess players in the course of a game. Regular chess practice promotes the development of metacognitive skills in individuals, being able to reflect on their our thought processes and the way they learn, as well as understanding and regulating the basic mental processes involved in their cognition. This is crucial because having this knowledge implies an awareness on why the results of an activity, procedure and/or practice routine might result positive or negative.
Metacognition is a central component of Deliberate Practice in music and musical performance, therefore, implementing it will benefit the effectiveness of practice methods in musicians, leading to obtain observable improvement in performance.
As stated in the first section of these writings, metacognitive skills develop with practice and can be taught and learned. However, the effectiveness of direct instruction in metacognition might be diminished if problem-solving strategies are imposed rather than generated by individuals themselves. On the contrary, their effectiveness increases when individuals experience the need to generate their own problem-solving strategies, developing and carrying them out, until they become unconscious. For this reason, chess might serve as a platform for the practice of metacognition. The metacognitive processes that are set in motion when we play chess (such as critical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem-solving, strategic planning, analysis and evaluation), can be acquired as skills, and subsequently applied in a beneficial way in music (and surely in other areas of our lives).
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