Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Turning Coal into Diamonds, or How To Turbo-Charge Your Practice Routine

A study conducted at Duke University of Texas at Austen (see below) uncovered some interesting things about practicing. While raw quantity remains important, the quality of practice can have a dramatic impact on results. Here are the main points the researchers pulled from the study.

Start out slowly
The study reinforces what some of us already know: Slow down if you want to speed up your progress. Then work steadily towards performance tempo.

Play it with feeling
The players who made the best progress adopted a musical approach as soon as possible during the learning process. It may help to play mechanically at first, but as soon as the kinks are worked out, start playing music.

Mindfulness is the single biggest factor
The study found that the students who intensified their focus during the challenging bits did better overall. They remained aware of the parts that presented a challenge, anticipated them, and slowed down and played them more intentionally.

Prepare for and polish the boo-boos
The top students prepared for the boo-boos and they also learned from them. This suggests that, when you encounter a trouble spot, the best reaction is, "Aha, there's something I can work on". Isolate the problem, analyze what might (or did) happen, slow it down and work it through applying mindfulness and musical sensitivity. Seize the mistake as opportunities. It will be time well spent.

It’s Not How Much; It’s How/Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills; Robert A. Duke, The University of Texas at Austin, Amy L. Simmons, The University of Texas at San Antonio, Carla Davis Cash, Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Journal of Research in Music Education Volume 56 Number 4, January 2009 310-321.

For the original report, visit

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