Ian Leslie in MoreIntelligentLife:

Thinking%20ND12Jack White, the former frontman of the White Stripes and an influential figure among fellow musicians, likes to make things difficult for himself. He uses cheap guitars that won’t stay in shape or in tune. When performing, he positions his instruments in a way that is deliberately inconvenient, so that switching from guitar to organ mid-song involves a mad dash across the stage. Why? Because he’s on the run from what he describes as a disease that preys on every artist: “ease of use”. When making music gets too easy, says White, it becomes harder to make it sing. It’s an odd thought. Why would anyone make their work more difficult than it already is? Yet we know that difficulty can pay unexpected dividends. In 1966, soon after the Beatles had finished work on “Rubber Soul”, Paul McCartney looked into the possibility of going to America to record their next album. The equipment in American studios was more advanced than anything in Britain, which had led the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones, to make their latest album, “Aftermath”, in Los Angeles. McCartney found that EMI’s contractual clauses made it prohibitively expensive to follow suit, and the Beatles had to make do with the primitive technology of Abbey Road. Lucky for us. Over the next two years they made their most groundbreaking work, turning the recording studio into a magical instrument of its own. Precisely because they were working with old-fashioned machines, George Martin and his team of engineers were forced to apply every ounce of their ingenuity to solve the problems posed to them by Lennon and McCartney. Songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “A Day in the Life” featured revolutionary aural effects that dazzled and mystified Martin’s American counterparts.

…Our brains respond better to difficulty than we imagine. In schools, teachers and pupils alike often assume that if a concept has been easy to learn, then the lesson has been successful. But numerous studies have now found that when classroom material is made harder to absorb, pupils retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level. Robert Bjork, of the University of California, coined the phrase “desirable difficulties” to describe the counter-intuitive notion that learning should be made harder by, for instance, spacing sessions further apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learnt last time. Psychologists at Princeton found that students remembered reading material better when it was printed in an ugly font.

More here.