2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Mid-Afternoon

Efficient Learning and Memorizing when Practicing to Perform
by Barbara Fast, NCTM

Ms. Fast shared statistics from expertise research of ice-skaters. The research indicated that ice skaters intended to practice more difficult elements, but practiced easier moves instead. However, in their post-practice diaries they reported practicing more difficult elements. Recall was also incorrect. There is indication that we feel like we have spent more time doing that which is more difficult.

On another note, research has also shown that children do better when they have adult supervision in their practicing. We should aim to involve the parents. When students were given music in which they were disinterested, they just tended to play through it; however those who chose their own music designed elaborate practice strategies to learn their pieces well. Importantly, it is practice strategies rather than the length of study that influences performance.

Practice Strategies of Top 3 Performers:
1. Played hands together early.
2. Practiced with inflection [musicality] early.
3. Practice was thoughtful (evidenced by silent pauses).
4. Errors avoided and fixed immediately
5. Precise location, source of error identified
6. Tempo of performance trials varied systematically
7. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected

Another research report revealed that the pianists who gave the best performances increased the length of music practice segment in middle-stage of practice.

Suggestions for Teachers:
“Can you teach me how to do this?”
“Can you explain to me what you are doing?”
“Is what you are doing working? Why not?”
“In order to do this, you will need to… [specific, not general, practice suggestions]”

Sports Psychology: Blocked and Variable Practice
If golfers could be convinced to go from one shot to the next, without stopping to fix any mistakes, there was a slower learning than those who did repetitive block practice. However, in the end, those golfer rose to a higher level of playing ability than those who did the repetitive practice.

The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston
A very popular book among students at her university. Contains some interesting strategies built on the idea that you should always look for ways to vary and change your practice.
* Break a piece into sections and label them from worst to best.
* Give student only a short section from a piece.
* Assign specific metronome marking.
* Number the piece into zones and randomly select numbers from a cup to determine practice order.
* Play with eyes “glued” to the music.
* Just work on transitions.

Introducing a New Piece: Getting Them Hooked
• Teachers should take the responsibility to help their students fall in love with the music they are learning. Providing a sound model (e.g. teacher, demo, CD, YouTube) of the piece is very helpful!
• Make it easy.
• Identify parts of the piece that play to their strength.
• Look for patterns in the music.
• Give students the essential tools; let them experience the correct technique in a passage in the lesson.
• Tap the rhythm on the fallboard to practice coordination separate from the notes.

Memorization Practice Strategies
• Some students memorize holistically, developing a concept of the entire piece. Others practice in segments, breaking the piece down into smaller parts. Some are addictive, systematically lengthening musically meaningful sections. Some memorize serially, just playing as far as possible. These are the four categories of memorization.
• Research showed that difficult passes in the middle of a phrase were the most prone to memory errors. These areas need more reinforcement.

Memory is Context Dependent
Students who played their pieces fine by memory in their regular practice environment experienced considerable memory loss when the performance took place in a different setting. Even in the same room, transitions from one instrument to another caused memory loss experiences. This is why it is so critical for us to give students lots of opportunities to perform on different pianos.

Practicing to Perform
• Use verbal cues in passages as a way to focus on the musical elements (e.g. in a forte passage, say “forte”).
• Use visualization (a technique used extensively by athletes).
• Write in detail about an upcoming performance. Be positive. Can also writes scripts for pre-performance and post-performance.

Resources
Guides to Practicing (Available through Hal Leonard) by Nancy O’Neill Breath
Playing Your Best When it Counts: Mental Skills for Musicians (available in 2010) by Bill Moore
Practicespot.com

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