Andrew Cohen Brain Science MusicTheoryApp

Brain Science -

How can you use Brain Science to learn music anywhere,
even if you don't have an instrument?

Our learning scientists have been working to break key Music Theory concepts into their fundamental building blocks, and organize them in a pattern that is customized to the student’s brain’s pace of learning.

More efficient studying means that students will have more time to focus on their instruments.

Watch Glory St. Germain and Andrew Cohen CEO of Brainscape (Ultimate Music Theory Flashcard's App Partner),
share how Brainscape’s web & mobile app has helped thousands of learners literally double their speed of Music Theory skills advancement. 

Ultimate Music Theory App - Over 7000 Flashcards

Andrew Cohen FBL Interview

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Andrew Cohen is the founder & CEO of Brainscape, a web & mobile education platform that helps people learn more efficiently using an adaptive learning algorithm.

Brainscape originated as a personal project that Andrew used to help him study foreign languages, and it has since grown into a product used by millions of students for hundreds of diverse subjects.

Andrew previously worked as an Instructional Designer for the World Bank and the United Nations and has consulted for several Wall St. corporate training initiatives. He holds an MA in Education Technology from Columbia University.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Andrew Cohen is Glory St. Germain's Special Guest on the Ultimate Music Interview Series.

Glory: Brain science. What? What's brain science? What is that and how can you use brain science to learn music anywhere, even if you don't have an instrument? Well, I hope you've got a cup of coffee, because you're about to find out. Brain science. That's a great word. My name is Glory St. Germain from Ultimate Music Theory, and my very special guest today is Andrew Cohen, the founder and CEO of Brainscape, a web-based mobile platform that is optimizing the learning process for millions of students and professionals. And welcome, Andrew.

Andrew: Good to be here. How are you doing, Glory?

Glory: I'm excellent. Now, Andrew, I understand that Brainscape originated actually as a personal project for you, right? In helping you study foreign languages. What were some of the challenges? Because there's a lot of music educators on here, and we are always trying to learn faster and we always have challenges in learning, so what were some of the challenges for you that you experienced as a student in trying to "remember" all those details, and learning, and studying for exams?

Andrew: Well, I wish I had Brainscape when I was a student. It actually started when I was working in the World Bank in Panama in 2006 on a controversial anti-corruption project with the government, and I had to get really good at Spanish. I was being interviewed on TV for these controversial corruption issues, and pausing and staring at the screen to conjugate verbs in my head or remember a word. So I created a giant Excel spreadsheet with all the words and phrases and things that I needed to learn, and knowing Excel programming at the time, I created a macro, kind of a program to quiz me in a pattern that just felt right for me, where the hard words came up more often, the easy words less so, and the pattern just worked so well for me that several of my friends started asking, "Can I have your spreadsheet?" For learning either Spanish or English. "I'll put in my own concepts."
And then this spreadsheet went viral at the University of Panama over email for people using it for biology and public administration classes, so it was enough to motivate me to go get my Master's degree in education technology and cognitive science, and I started experiencing both the challenges of academia and really bringing these concepts to life, but then also the challenges of running a startup, which is a whole new skillset that I've been exposed to over the last decade.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Glory: Yeah. That's fantastic, and thank goodness that you had that challenge because you're actually saving us a lot of frustration. If you're a music teacher and you joined us, or an educator, a musician, or you're just interested in brain science, maybe just type in our chat box, 'brain science', and we'll know you're with us today, enjoying a cup of coffee, and chatting with Andrew and I. I know that we've got a lot of music teachers, and students, and educators, including our Ultimate Music Theory Certified Teachers listening today, and I think we're all a little curious, Andrew, about your definition of brain science. Could you just elaborate a little on that?

Andrew: Sure. Brain science being a very broad topic. The part that Brainscape really focuses on is cognitive science or learning sciences, and particularly the principles of metacognition, active recall, and space repetition. So what that means in English, metacognition is thinking about your own thinking and in our case, reflecting on, how well do I really know this concept? So in Brainscape, whenever you see an answer to a flashcard, you're asked on a scale of one through five, "How well did you know this?"
So we're trusting the user, you don't have to pick from multiple choice or matching, which actually is just recognition, it's not as good of a study tactic, so you're actively recalling it by just thinking of the answer and flipping the card, and then you rated your confidence. So that's metacognition. It deepens memory trace, number one, by forcing you to really think about your learning, but then we use that information to determine the optimal interval of spacing. When you should see that concept next. And it turns out that we can have all the mnemonic devices in the world, all the other memorization techniques that we might learn in elementary school, but the interval of time between the repetition is the single most important factor in how well you're going to remember a piece of information.
So what Brainscape does is we break all the concepts down into their atomic building blocks, and in a foreign language, it might be vocab or verb conjugation, if you're learning bartending, it might be cocktail recipes or facts about wine, but in music's case, learning an instrument, yes, it's a really broad concept, but there are so many individual atomic things that, to be a great musician, you really need to know. You need to know your key signatures and recognize them immediately by visual. You need to maybe recognize an interval by your ear, so there could be a flashcard where the cue is just, "Bah, bah." And we ask you, "What interval was that?" And so many other little bite-sized pieces that, together, if you are seeing them in a pattern that spaces out each repetition in the interval that you need, you're optimizing your personal learning stream. And that's really the concepts that Brainscape uses together from cognitive science to help you learn faster.

Glory: Yeah. I think that's amazing. I'm kind of curious what solutions did you discover when you started developing the Brainscape platform? Obviously you knew that it wasn't just about learning languages, but as you've shared, and obviously we're going to continue to share our story on how we partnered with Brainscape because we love you guys, what was the deciding factor when you went, "You know what? I'm going to create this Brainscape platform so that others can use this brain science."?

Andrew: Well, it was really when I was in Panama when that Excel spreadsheet went viral. I knew I really wanted to pursue this, at least in an academic sense, but when I was graduating from my Master's program at Columbia, I made the concept of Brainscape the focus of my thesis of my Master's project, and we did an experiment with focused groups of students where half of them had to learn their 50 top national birds using regular paper flashcards, and then 50 of them ... I'm sorry, half the students used Brainscape the prototype to learn their 50 national birds, and then took a post test after 30 minutes of studying.

Glory: Wow.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Andrew: And it turned out that the people who used Brainscape performed more than twice as well on the post test than those who used paper flashcards. In fact, the very best score of the people who used paper flashcards was worse than the worst score of the people that used the Brainscape prototype. So we thought, "Man, if this is the benefits of learning accrued in just 30 minutes, imagine if you're learning hundreds or thousands of concepts spread over many weeks or months." It accrued exponential benefits of learning efficiency that were just insane. So that was enough for me to jump off the cliff. I was working in consulting on Wall Street at the time as well and E-learning, but it was justification enough for me to start begging, and borrowing, and stealing from friends and family, and getting angel investors, and hiring good software developers to start bringing it to life.

Glory: Yeah. It's an amazing, amazing platform. And I know you're a metrics driven guy, and you enjoy the cognitive science. I wanted to mention that you can learn more about Brainscape at, and I want to share that when I first came across the Brainscape education platform, I was absolutely blown away with the Brainscape system and how it helps people learn more efficiently. And one of the things I think that I was so in love with was that it was an opportunity for music students and teachers to share their passion of learning, so now we could actually do it through the mobile device, because oftentimes, you want to study, you're sitting in the car, you're waiting for something, how can you keep learning? So we actually partnered with Brainscape to develop the Ultimate Music Theory flashcard subjects to learn the language of music theory, and as you said, Andrew, you can now develop your ear training, your sight reading skills, you can study anywhere, even if you don't have an instrument, and you can actually get all the details for that at
I wanted to share a little bit, and hopefully you can see, one of the things that we were passionate about was providing education, and based on the subjects, and of course they move through as the Ultimate Music Theory program progresses. So for example, if you're doing the basic rudiments workbook, you can actually pull up the Brainscape Ultimate Music Theory Flashcards App on your phone. I've got it ready for you here. You can see all of your subjects, and I'm in basic, so I'm going to tap on basic, and then I'm going to study intervals because we actually have 7000 flashcards, including audio, and you simply start studying. So there we have it. We can actually hear the interval, and as Andrew said, you simply tap and then you self-assess your answer.
And I think one of the things in creating these, Andrew, is that we really saw massive success in our own students. And speaking of success of musicians, Andrew, I'm going to throw you a little curve ball because I understand that you've made the occasional attempt to play the piano, and I want to know how that's going?

Andrew: Oh, thank you. It's actually guitar.

Glory: Oh, guitar. Okay, sorry. Guitar.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Andrew: Yeah, but the principles of learning and practicing are obviously the same. The space repetition of, okay great, I know how to play an A chord and an E chord, but if I don't practice them, when they're fresh and they're new, if I don't practice them within a couple days, I'm probably going to forget. So early on, you need to practice the transitions from A to C as often as you can, and maybe you can afford to go a week, or three weeks, or then three months before really practicing that, or then you don't even really need to because it's so internalized.

Glory: Yes.

Andrew: So what I actually did is I created a Brainscape deck of flashcards for myself of all the exercises that I wanted to do, and I would sit there with the flashcards next to me while I played. So the thing would come up and it would say, "All right, now practice the minor pentatonic scale in position one, up and down." And I would rate my confidence, how well do I feel like I was able to do that with my eyes closed, how fast? I give myself a two. So it would ask me more often to do that exercise, whereas if it was going from the A to the C chord and I internalized that years ago, yeah, that's a five. Don't bother with that again for a year or maybe ever.

Glory: Right.

Andrew: So whatever you're studying, whether it's the theory part or even the musical instrument part itself, Brainscape is just such a flexible tool. And as Glory, you kind of eluded to earlier, not only do we have a marketplace of all this content, from foreign languages, to medical school prep, to music theory, but you can also create your own content-

Glory: Right.

Andrew: For yourself, for your students. You can collaborate. Create it in a web browser, you access it on mobile. It's just one big collaborative ecosystem for any content in the world delivered in a way that is optimized for your brain's fastest retention.

Glory: Yeah. And I think one of the things I loved about it too is that you can use it on your phone, you can use it on your computer, whether you're PC or Mac, so being web-based, you have access to it in many different areas. Plus, it also syncs. So if you're studying on your phone and then you come over to your computer, it's still going to give you those same results so you can kind of continue going. And I think at Brainscape, the learning scientists have actually broken down all of the key music theory concepts, and as you said, they are the fundamental building blocks, and organized them so that it's customized to the student's brain pace of learning, and I found too, when I'm using the Brainscape app with my students and they're doing whatever subject they're on, basic or intermediate rudiment and doing intervals, whatever, ear training, that they actually love to do the self-assessment. For them, it's really fun to say, on a scale of one to five, I think that was a two. Or, I think that was a three. And of course the color changes around the flashcard, so they start to understand exactly how the Brainscape platform works.
And I think what we really want to share, and I've got ... we're welcome to comments and things, I've got a couple of comments here, I should pop up just to say hi to people who have joined us today. Brain science. Thanks, Larissa. One of the things that we wanted to provide for teachers, and Andrew and I have been chatting about this, is that oftentimes we have a full studio of music students, so you can go to and get all of the details there, but if you're interested in doing a project with your school, can you elaborate a little more, Andrew, on how we're going to help teachers coordinate that within their studios?

Andrew: Sure. If you have a group of students, whether it's five students or 500 students, and you want to give all of them access to Brainscape, and not only that, but you want to be able to see on a dashboard, how much are each of my students studying? Am I getting my money's worth? Are they struggling in a certain area? You can even drill down and see what area they're having the most trouble with. You can email me directly, Glory can post my address or email Glory, and we'll make sure to connect you with the right people to make that happen. Students, not only do they enjoy learning better, they like the technology, but really, they like being trusted by a software to assess themselves.
There's a million games out there where you pick the right answer, and maybe you picked option C and you were lucky, and it says good job and you earn some points or whatever, but are you really using this to manage your learning, reflect on how well you know something? And that's just such an important mental skill to develop, especially for some of the younger students. Really learning how to be honest with yourself, like, "Do I know this? Do I feel like I'm knocking this out of the park?" And if I am, then I don't need to study, but if I'm not, I need to be honest with myself and know that I need to do the hard work to practice the thing that sucks and is uncomfortable, but I'm still a one or a two, and until I feel better, I shouldn't proceed. It's a mastery-based learning where you're always at the cusp of your skill level.

Glory: Yeah. Absolutely. And if you're watching live or if you're watching the replay, you can simply add in the chat box, 'studio license', and then we'll send you all of the information direct to Andrew or myself so that you can get all the information that you need. So you can just put in the chat, 'studio license', and we'll make sure to follow up with you. I'm wondering, you created this masterpiece, Andrew, in Brainscape. Where do you go from here? What's next for you?

Andrew: So if you were to search the Brainscape marketplace right now, you see a giant index of just about every subject in the English language, and you can drill down. There's firefighting certifications, there's nursing, there's everything. The majority, though, it's user-generated. Whatever users create, it's in the marketplace unless you upgrade and make it private, and there's a lot of it that's good, there's a lot of it that's crappy, and you don't necessarily know, "Can I trust this?" Maybe the person has a bio. And we have also 40 premium subject areas, and we're expanding upon them, one of which being Ultimate Music Theory. We do this with partnerships, and we are revving up our engine for partnerships in content development, so a greater and greater percentage of all that content that you find out there has the one flagship, this is the most trustworthy nursing exam subject area because we partnered with these experts or with this publishing company.
So our long-term vision is to have trustworthy premium content that is optimized for the best learning from every subject on the planet in every country and every language, and we're one tenth of a percent of the way there right now.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

Glory: Wow, and I think in this day and age with almost every young person has a smartphone or has access, obviously, to the internet, so for them to go on and say, "Hey, I want to study a subject." Whether it's language, you have really developed a platform for E-learning on all subjects, everything from music theory, as you said, to languages, to nursing, to you name it, you can learn it, it's easy. And I'm just really excited that we were able to partner with you and take the to the level that we have, and we're certainly looking forward to connecting with teachers and helping them get the music theory Brainscape within their studios so that they can see the results of their students because that's really important, Andrew, and I'm glad that they can actually assess and say, "Hey, you told me you were doing your homework, I can see all of these things." So it's a great platform for teachers too. So I want to say thanks for creating that and sharing that with us.
How I actually came across Brainscape, too, and one of the things you mentioned, Andrew, was you can develop your own flashcards, which I thought was really cool, and one of our Ultimate Music Theory Certified Teachers, her name is Adrienne, and she was actually struggling with, but creating the odd little flashcard, and she said, "You've got to check this out., they're amazing." And it's really when I found you and it was through Adrienne, a ULT certified teacher, and she said, "This is going to be a powerhouse." And it certainly has been. So I just wanted to say thanks for the great partnership, and I think it's a lot of fun for teachers and students to go, "Okay, I have my app. I have my Ultimate Music Theory book, I can get into studying and learning." And I think that's going to be fantastic. I'm looking forward to teachers getting on board with the program that you're creating for them, where they can actually use this within their studio because that's I think a key, especially for schools that are big and they want to make sure they can see the results of their students.

Andrew: Amen.

Glory: Yeah. Well, I want to say thank you so much, Andrew. Again, you can go to, get all the details specifically about Ultimate Music Theory, and just get on board with that, and also check out because they have lots of subjects you may want to learn about and also create your own. So I want to thanks again, Andrew, for sharing with us, and we'll see you, you're definitely a five out of five, Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you.

Glory: All right. You have yourself a great day. Thanks, everybody.

Andrew: You too.

Andrew Cohen - Brain Science - MusicTheoryApp

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