I’m always interested methods that speed up the learning process. If you’ve followed my rants you know that I’m continuously curious and my goals are about moving forward, not necessarily about achieving a set goal. So I’m taking a look at moving forward faster.
At the start of every recital or performance for my mentors students she talks about the successes they have made in the learning process. The latest was on how the brain and repetition work to learn music.
How students normally practice
In most cases a student of music will play something a couple of times and consider that as good enough. They may also try to play entire songs before they have really learned the pieces of it.
I’ve recently have forgotten my training in my practice method and did exactly that. I tried to play entire songs, because I thought they were easy. I was playing them once through, only one time, maybe twice. Guess what, some months later I still have not learned the songs very well.
In my experience, the ones that can play full songs right off the bat have already spend the time to understand the structure of a style or played that style of music many times. They’ve had years of practice and experience.
So what would be a better way to learn songs? Well, it’s through a very specific method of engaging the brain to learn the material and then practice bits of it repeatedly to achieve desired results.
How the Brain Masters by Explicit Repetition
The brain develops by a process known as myelination. It’s a process that protects and conducts electricity to develop neural pathways through repetition. I’m not going to try and explain it, only to direct you to a method of study that allows this process to work for you.
Let me set up an example. Baseball players go to batting cages to practice hitting. They hit, evaluate, adjust, and try again. They do this many times, same with most sports. Tiger Woods didn’t become the great player he did by showing up one day and hitting the golf ball. These athletics repeat the process to improve performance. Typically focusing on just one specific thing.
Music as a Sport
Learning music is a sport as well and these same rules apply. If you are going to learn a song, it pays to break it down into manageable parts and to focus and these parts in a set method.
Let’s compare a golf swing to music. First you step up and size up the first shot. Is it a long shot, a chip shot, or a putt? In a song you look at key signature, time signature, rhythm concepts.
You’ve sized up the shot or song. Next you might look at which club you will use. Is it a driver, an iron, or a putter? In the song you may be looking at series of chords, scales, intervals and analyzing the progression.
You choose your club and you’ve analyzed your first shot and phrase or bit of music. You next take a few warm up swings. In music you could be blocking out the chord progression or voicings and fingerings.
To get use to the golf club you are going to go hit a bucket of balls. Well let’s say a dozen or so to get the hang of using that club. In music you’re going to play, practice, or perform that first bite (phrase) ten times.
This is where things happen. What do you think would happen if you went out every day for a week and hit a dozen balls in a row with the same club observing and adjusting and improving your swing? Well, that same thing will happen as you learn or practice your music.
This concept works remarkably well, when you focus on one small bit of music ten times in a row in one sitting. That sitting requires you to practice one thing ten times in a row, not five now and five later. All ten right now.
Putting it into Practice
Here’s what I’ve decided to do. If I’ve got a long piece I’ll take a one small bite that takes no longer than 30 to 40 seconds to complete. (Hey, 20 seconds might even be better) Then I’m going to spend 5 to 8 minutes focused only on that one thing until I have played, experimented, adjusted, and performed it 10 times.
I’m going to do that 5 days a week with the same bite. If I allow myself to work on three things per day, that 15 to 30 minutes total and maybe at three different times of the day, I’ll have accomplished more in learning in that one week than I would have half heartedly practicing for a month and not letting the mind do its thing.
Give your mind a chance to learn. Spending time is not the answer. Take a clue from the sports world and focus 10 times on just one thing. That’s putting a “how to practice” method in place to learn faster.
OK, you have 10 minutes to sit down and learn a phrase. Define the bite, do it 10 times. Left over time? What other bite can you do 10 times in the time left?
I don’t play golf, don’t even like the game. Hmm, I wonder if it’s because I never took the time to learn and practice it correctly!