of all ages and professions are finding that they are accelerating
their rate of learning to such an extent that within the space of
a few short weeks they have acquired skills and strategies for playing
musical instruments that by "normal" means, would have
Their secret? A unique music program based on years of research
and teaching how the human system works.
Stephanie Burns, 33, the originator of the program, has spent most
of her adult life investigating how people can learn faster. She
has now developed a formula that, applied to a music program, is
so successful that courses fill up as soon as a new date is announced.
Currently 150 students are in classes with Stephanie every week.
Stephanie Burns grew up in a small coastal town in southern Connecticut
in America. Her love of music and the desire to perform started
very young. "I remember attending a drum and bugle corps competition
when I was five", she said." This is a very popular form
of music in the United States, I loved it and was absolutely inspired
by the precision of the craft. The sound of the brass and percussion
has stayed with me to this day. My parents tell me I marched all
the way home and wouldn't let up on wanting to play the trumpet".
Persistence won out and under the next Christmas tree was a heavily
dented second-hand trumpet.
"It was so big and I was so small, I had to rest the bell
of the horn on the back of the chair to keep it upright while I
played - at least for as long as I was allowed to play in the house.
Eventually I was given the use of the family car for practise."
Stephanie continued to study and play the trumpet and by the time
she was 11 she was also playing French horn and guitar. At school
she was able to further perfect her musical talents in the school
At 18, with a desire to further her education, yet without the
resources for university, Stephanie cast about for alternatives.
The US Army, she discovered, was providing excellent opportunities
for young people and she saw a chance to learn skills in areas she
loved - maths and computers - and to start a career. By the end
of the next year she had graduated top of her class and was offered
a teaching job.
Enhancing learning techniques
After leaving the Army at age 21 to join private industry as a top
computer engineer, Stephanie was to continually look at ways to
enhance the learning technique.
"I quickly organised a company to provide computer literacy
and operations training and it took off like a rocket," she
explained. "I had found a means to test all the new learning
strategies with what seemed to be an unlimited number of willing
Within the first year the company was providing classes in 22 US
cities, for up to 4000 people per week. "The company sold outcomes,
not training, and that was the difference that made the difference",
she said. She was giving people a whole new experience in a learning
environment . Business people were stunned by the possibilities
of using the teaching methods she had developed in all sorts of
areas of training, so training trainers and curriculum designers
became a big part of the next steps her business had to take.
During this time Stephanie's name became associated with many of
America's top companies - from ABC and CBS television networks to
Ted Turner, Mattel Toys and the Bank of America. The list is long
and impressive, "I'm still learning from the experience I had
during those early years, there was far more going on than I could
process at the time."
New age school
In the summer of 1982 Stephanie was invited to become an instructor
at an innovative business school called "Burklyn" and,
following that, to teach at a new age residential camp for teenagers
called "Supercamp". It was this latter connection that
brought her to Australia.
For the next five years she continued to develop more and more
into educational research on the brain and learning. She let go
of the business so she could be free to go with the action in learning
"I had taken on only a very few special projects geared to
further my understanding of how individuals learn and how to accelerate
the process with new learning strategies. It's a process of discovering
the underlying principles at work.
One project Stephanie chose was to work with Larry Wilson's group
in Santa Fe developing a laser disc program called 'Learning to
Learn' (Larry is the author of the 'The One Minute Sales Person'.)
This allowed Stephanie time to document and further test the material
on learning she had been teaching at Supercamp and other environments
and it brought her in direct contact with those who were considered
the best and brightest in the cognitive science area.
"It was a hotbed of excitement in Santa Fe, especially under
Larry's influence," she said. It was while she was in Santa
Fe that Stephanie got the inspiration to see if the learning strategies
could be applied to a complex behavioural skill.
"Everyone was still testing this work with skills that had
a small number of chunks, I wanted to know if I could take a skill
that under normal methods took years to learn, and make improvements.
My first choice was to go back to music. It had all the right elements.
You had to think in new ways, learn heaps of new information, train
your body to move in ways that it had never moved before, and most importantly, I knew there would
be many people who would benefit if I could make it work.
"I started ripping apart the skill of playing classical piano
with June deToth, one of the most highly respected pianists living
in Sante Fe. The results were simply amazing, I covered so many
years of material so quickly that before I knew it I was getting
attached to the idea that I could actually beat the odds and become
a musician within a few short years with these methods. They were
working even better with a more complex task."
A new offer
During this time she was presented with an offer to come to Australia
to be head educator at a seven-day residential camp for teenagers
called 'Discovery', working with a team of people from Hawaii for
whom she had great respect. The offer was accepted. "That one
trip started the synthesis of all my work."
In addition of her work with the teenagers she was asked to present
a weekend program for adults, incorporating some basic learning
skills to give people a taste of what was possible. It was (and
still is) called 'Learning to Learn.'
Stephanie's reputation spread and she has gone on to become something
of a legend. At 'Discovery' the teenagers adored her and on the
Learning to Learn weekends the adults were not only stunned by the
breadth of her knowledge but by their own abilities, at the end
of the program, to break through what they had previously perceived
to be insurmountable barriers to learning.
And everyone wanted more. After a period, her commitment to Discovery
complete, Stephanie was free to explore new levels. And so Learning
to Learn Music was launched.
One of the first students was a senior medical practitioner who
teaches at university teaching hospitals in the field of psychological
medicine. The doctor (whose name cannot be mentioned for ethical
reasons) had first experienced Stephanie's work throughout the Learning
to Learn weekend and subsequently, as a result of acquiring a skill
in speed reading, was able to clear his desk for the first time
in 20 years.
Like many adults he had played piano and recorder sporadically
for his own amusement but not with any degree of success. He decided
to take on the music program and learnt more in weeks than he'd
previously learned in years. "She is such a brilliant and gifted
teacher and her methods are so innovative and helpful that I have
been able to learn the guitar with a considerable range of techniques,"
Doug Thornell, a Check Captain with Ansett Airlines who is now
doing the advanced music course with Stephanie, said, " One
of the things it did for me was to take a lot of the mystery out
of music, particularly the theory. In the past, if I saw music written
in a key that had a lot of sharps and flats I didn't want to know
about it. The course gave me the confidence to easily handle it
it made me realise that music doesn't have to be difficult
at all. It can be straightforward and a lot of fun."
He continued " Now I am doing a lot of different chord structures
which I would never have done before. That's what the course does
- it gives you the feeling: 'Yeah, I can do that again!"
Explaining the technique used by Stephanie in the class her assistant
Adam Wade said "Stephanie sees every skill on the guitar as
a behaviour, and a number of behaviours can be played in three hours
of each lesson. They are played in such a way that the students
become confident in that time. Then, they go home practise some
more and their confidence increases.
"Because of her teaching background and her knowledge of accelerated
learning techniques. Stephanie is able to make it easier for everyone
to learn because they are so focused. What she does too, is make
sure she gets to each person in the class. One of her biggest skills
is to see how everyone is getting on and helping them while still
working from in the front of the room."
Adam said that people who come to the class unable to play the
guitar, in six months know all the bar chords up and down the neck,'
can sight read in the open and second position, know all the chords,
can play competently complicated rhythm patterns and are able to
work out a song from tapes and records and play it. Such a skill,
he says would take a student in a normal class six to ten years to
Of her time in Australia Stephanie said, " I came to see this
country and its communities were offering me a chance to bring all
my work together, and take it to some level of completion so others
could use it, so I could go on to explore at new levels. I moved
here to be close to the people who seemed most motivated to make
a difference with the work I was doing.
"Today I am doing all the things I love to do. I am on stage
teaching music four nights a week. I have over 150 music students
each week who continually inspire me. I am studying with two great
guitar teachers who never let me forget what it's like to be a student.
And on the weekends on with the Learning to Learn seminar. I'm working
with individuals who range from young students who want more choices
to succeed at school, to adults who want more strategies to succeed
It's very easy to succeed when you are surrounded by so many for
whom life is about learning."
And what of the future? In the next year Stephanie's LTL program
will continue to be conducted in the major cities. And the Learning
to Learn Music program will be conducted live one more time in Melbourne,
and for the first time, live in Sydney in July. The LTL Music program
now available on video is growing by leaps and bounds and is being
added to as students complete the course and want to go on to higher
levels of training. There's even a hint of a trainers' program to
teach others her methods. This could start in the second half of
the year in Sydney.
And further down the road: "Obviously I want to stabilise
what I'm doing now. I want to change the way music is taught and
how teaching is done in general. That means more teaching of trainers
and writing. Personally, the one trick I want to add to the list
is performing with music. I think I could be tempted to trade it
all for one night at the Melbourne Concert Hall, a night to pay
tribute to all of the people who have made the quality of my life
Whatever her decision for the future, Stephanie Burns has already
made a major contribution to the lives of hundreds of teenagers
and adults in this country, the long term effects which is incalculable.