8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently

I read a great article recently that really supports some of my own thinking and experience in practice and playing and what really gets you bang for your practice buck. Or in other words what actually works and what doesn’t. The article references a study undertaken a few years ago at the University of Texas at Austin looking at pianists. Different instrument admittedly, but the same principles most definitely apply.

One of the most important of these 8 things that apparently top practicers do differently that I find works extremely well for m (and used to recommend highly to my students), is not practicing in mistakes. Play something through very slowly, be confident of where you’re placing your left hand and right hand fingers before playing. Even if it means you’re playing reeeeaaaaaaaaallllly sllllllooooooooooooooowwwwwly. Much better this way, that encourages the correct learning of a phrase or piece, with the correct physiology, building the correct habit, than literally practicing in a incorrect movement and then doing the work all over again to unpick it and learn it correctly.

Yes, it may not sound so fluid initially, but stopping and just taking the time to make sense of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it will pay musical dividends in the long run. I promise you.

It also has a couple of interesting concepts that I had been thinking about too recently, including does aiming to play with ‘feeling’ right away assist in the learning? My instinct in has been yes for some time, and there seems to be something to it according to this study referenced by the article. My figuring is that you’re not only using your practice to build in a physiological habit, but also a musical one, and getting to know the music itself not just the fingering. That can only strengthen ones learning of a piece in my opinion.

Classical Guitar

So here are the 8 things that top practicers do differently:

1. Playing was hands-together early in practice (OK this is quite a piano-based one, but in applying this to the guitar think knowing what fingering you’re using for both left and right hands, not just your fingerboard hand)

2. Practice was with inflection early on; the initial conceptualization of the music was with inflection. (See!!)

3. Practice was thoughtful, as evidenced by silent pauses while looking at the music, singing/humming, making notes on the page, or expressing verbal “ah-ha”s. (i.e. don’t just go through the motions – 10 minutes of thoughtful, focussed practice is worth way more than 30 minutes of just going through motions)

4. Errors were preempted by stopping in anticipation of mistakes. (Stop playing those mistakes in every time!)

5. Errors were addressed immediately when they appeared. (And again stop playing those mistakes in every time!)

6. The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected. (Shall I say it one more time?!)

7. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct).

8. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials.

To read the whole article, and I strongly encourage you to do so particularly for the top three practice strategies and one strategy to rule them all, head along to:  http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/8_things_top_practicers_do_differently

The Benefits of Cross Domain Learning for Classical Guitar

I had a wonderful comment on the blog recently from a reader in India (so fab to know we’re a big widey world network of musicians!) from a post (click on this highlighted text to take you there) asking folks what they’d like to see, or read about on the blog.

Well thank you dear reader (you know who you are) – I thought it was such a great question that I thought I’d share and elaborate. Which reminds me, there were another great bunch of questions on there which I don’t think I’ve elaborated fully on as yet, so I’ll get on to those too!

Anyway, I digress!

This particular comment in question was around cross-domain learning, or musical cross-polination. And the views put across by this reader I whole-heartedly agree with! Here’s an excerpt from the comment:

I’d like to have your views on cross-domain learning (for those musicians who work in more than one domain). I have personally benefited as a classical guitar player due to my jazz orientation in some key areas:

1. An “aural” sensitivity towards repertoire – particularly modern material
2. Timekeeping – primarily due to ensemble work
3. An ear-based understanding of harmony and melody due to improvisation
4. Fingering strategies in scale work – I don’t normally practice them “traditionally” but tend to play improvised passages while singing with them.

Of course, there are benefits in the opposite direction too.

The reason for asking – there are some jazz guitarists here who are beginning to be interested in the classical guitar – but are a little intimidated by the “difficulty” involved. It would be good to reassure them that the two worlds are not that distant, after all!

I’m a big fan of cross domain learning as a musician, and musical cross-polination with other musical types too. There are some great benefits as someone just coming to the classical guitar for the very first time, perhaps having played or playing another instrument.

Personally I was very fortunate growing up to firstly learn the recorder as a wee whippersnapper to learn the absolute fundamentals of music, followed then by the piano and then by the clarinet and voice (those of you readers who’ve had the misfortune to hear me sing will understand that my voice study was not so long……). The classical guitar, in fact, was the last instrument I came too.

And I came to the classical guitar having had my schooling in musical theory, in reading music, in interpreting music, in understanding how different sounds are produced on different instruments and even how different instruments can work together. This latter point was of particular relevance re the clarinet in concert bands and orchestras.  It really gives you an appreciation of how large ensemble works are put together, the sounds that can be created and musical textures when you’re sitting in the midst of a full-blown symphonic orchestra!

And so the point I getting to here is that I found the classical guitar then relatively easy to pick up and learn. There was none, or very little of the musical “language” learning to get in the way. I was really able to focus on the medium itself, developing my technique and making music on the classical guitar.

So for those of you who who play other instruments, particularly other genres of guitar, and are thinking of picking up the classical guitar I say go for it! Musical worlds, even non-guitar worlds, are really not so different. Cross-domain learning, in my opinion and from my own direct experience, opens up new ways of learning, new approaches that you can carry over from your previous musical experience, leaves you able to focus on the new medium and a wonderful new world of music making.