ON DEMAND: Learning to Write Computer Programs is Like Learning to Play the Piano


  • Gene Shuman




The artifact is a two minute video animation explaining how learning to write computer programs (software) is like learning to play the piano. Both require a significant amount of time, effort and concentration. Just as a jazz pianist learns to improvise on an underlying chord structure, programmers learn fundamental algorithms and write code that is a variation on those fundamentals. When a musician is performing a solo and the programmer is deep into creating the logic of a program, both enter a kind of mental "zone" which locks out distractions and suspends awareness of time.

The purpose of the video is motivational. It attempts to explain the poorly understood process of creating computer code by providing an analogy to something that's more familiar to many. It also shows why the programming process requires a sizable time investment as well as concentration, and practice since all those are required to master a musical instrument like the piano.

Providing such an analogy can help explain how a student might approach learning some new challenging skill and knowledge and justify the time required for a course. The video narrator is a cartoon avatar of the course professor, providing a light hearted and possibly silly, yet illuminating point about the programming process. The video is presented in selected sections of three GMU IST Department programming courses: IT-109, IT-209, and IT-309.

Author Biography

Gene Shuman

Volgenau School of Engineering





2021 On Demand Pre-recorded Presentation