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Thread: After the initial learning, comes the real work

  1. #11
    mp Mezzo-Piano samibe's Avatar
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    The balancing act for practicing things that are hard with less-than-instant results is to figure out how much time you can dedicate each week to make progress but also not cause you to burn out. If you felt confident that you could spend 30mins five days a week you would make faster progress, but if you burn out after the second week you wouldn't have made it past the "awkward/unfamiliar" stage. Also, some things you can practice without sitting at your instrument (tapping out rhythms, naming notes, naming chords and chord progressions, identifying key signatures and accidentals, looking up what different symbols mean, etc.).

    I'm not sure about what books to recommend. I would probably get Music Theory for Dummies to use as a reference. There is way more information than you'll ever need to know but it would come in handy if you come across something unfamiliar in a song you want to learn. I would probably get a book or two from Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course (start with the level 1 lesson book and the basic sight reading book 1). The songs in these books are not the most interesting or fun which is why I suggest rewarding yourself with getting to play some other music after you get done with them. They are set up to teach specific concepts and then give you something to play/practice that will reinforce the concepts. You might also look into blues or rock real/fake books for some sheet music exposure to the genres you like. A real/fake book has songs with only the notes for the melody line, lyrics, and chord names written in. It's the bare-bones framework of a song that allows you to fill in the gaps with any style you want. Also, if you can find some easy piano books or sheet music of songs you like, that can give you something to read that is more fun and interesting but also a lot faster to learn.

    You're on the right track. Regular consistent practice will produce results eventually.

    So, all three of your frustrations stem from your brain having to use cognitive power to address something that you have been relying on muscle memory to do. By the time you have memorized a song, your fingers' and toes' muscle memory (subconscious brain) is doing the grunt of the memory recall so that your cognitive brain power can focus on other things (like how the song sounds, whether the instrument should be louder or softer, if you're doing it right, what's for dinner, etc.). As soon as you change something so that your muscles can't fire in the order they are used to, they forget what to do and your cognitive brain hasn't had to worry about it so it doesn't know either. This is why it is so important to learn a song as mistake-free as possible to begin with. The same thing happens if you try to say the alphabet backwards, spell your name backwards, or try to leave off the first letter of your name while writing your signature. It's hard because you have spent so much time doing it one way and your cognitive brain hasn't had to think about it for so long that it takes some effort for it to adjust.
    Last edited by samibe; 11-01-2017 at 07:13 PM.
    Sam

    Home: Yamaha P22 and a modified Allen ADC-4500 ... for now.
    Church: Allen MDS-5
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  2. #12
    f Forte eblues's Avatar
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    Sam:
    I thought I had responded to your last post, but apparently I did not. Your explanations for why things can be difficult to play when I slow them way down, and why I can't start a piece of music at a random location make good sense. This would also explain why sometimes one can suddenly become utterly lost after a mistake or other distraction. Interrupt the flow of muscle memory, and sometimes you can't get the stream flowing again. Thanks for the insight!

    Everyone:
    I'm working on adopting the new (for me) practice philosophy of working on small sections for shorter periods of time, rather than trying to master difficult passages by relentlessly (and often uncleanly) hammering away at them continuously for 30-45 minutes, as was my method in the past. I'm actually making this adaptation fairly easily. The one long standing practice aspect I still have difficulty with is consistently and steadily playing slowly enough to be able to play without mistakes. I start out with that intention, but there's a very stubborn internal tendency to speed up as I go along, even against my own conscience mindset to not do so. This may currently be my biggest challenge to achieving more effective practice, and I continue to work on eradicating the bad habit.

    Today's practice philosophy question is in regards to practicing a cluster of small snippets. Once the first 10 minute practice snippet is concluded, and then a 2nd one started (and then a 3rd, 4th, and so on), do the subsequent practice snippets not interfere with the process of overnight learning for the first couple of things practiced? Should the practice snippets be arranged by difficulty/familiarity, for example working on the hardest or least familiar ones last, so that they are freshest in the mind?

    Or does long term memory have a certain number of "slots" to store the different snippets, such that all are absorbed relatively equally well?
    60' Hammond A-100 (free!) Church duty, certainly not "minty"
    Leslie 710 ($80)

  3. #13
    mp Mezzo-Piano samibe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eblues View Post
    Sam:
    Today's practice philosophy question is in regards to practicing a cluster of small snippets. Once the first 10 minute practice snippet is concluded, and then a 2nd one started (and then a 3rd, 4th, and so on), do the subsequent practice snippets not interfere with the process of overnight learning for the first couple of things practiced? Should the practice snippets be arranged by difficulty/familiarity, for example working on the hardest or least familiar ones last, so that they are freshest in the mind?

    Or does long term memory have a certain number of "slots" to store the different snippets, such that all are absorbed relatively equally well?
    I have no idea which order would be best for overnight learning. I tend to practice the harder stuff near the beginning of the session when I am freshest and can focus better. Doing that gives me a chance to circle back to the difficult passages again at the end of the session (if I have time).

    Gradually speeding up while playing through a song can be a tricky thing to figure out. I think learning how to slow down (for a tricky section) while playing can help. Practicing with a metronome might help. I also found out (after a rough performance many years ago) that I need to make sure I hold the long notes long enough. Taking the time to breathe and count out the long notes in my head helps me keep the tempo in check. Not starting a song too close to "regretamento" also helps. Even with all of these tricks I still occasionally have songs speed up, but at least I can keep them from getting out of control.
    Sam

    Home: Yamaha P22 and a modified Allen ADC-4500 ... for now.
    Church: Allen MDS-5
    Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, Chorus/Mixture TC Generator, ADC TC Soundfont, and MOS TC Soundfont

  4. #14
    pp Pianissimo OneWatt's Avatar
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    I'll chime in to second the metronome idea as the right tool for maintaining an appropriately selected tempo during practice. And working on the hard stuff while you're fresh is always more productive than saving it for when you're tired.

    As for snippet "overload" ... fear not! Given whatever time you have, it'd be nearly impossible to overload yourself with too many short passages to learn. Keep them short and sweet - and no longer in length than you can play correctly at some minimal speed - and it's a matter of time until you will see remarkable progress. Certainly remarkable compared to any other method for learning new material.

    It's akin to the way one can learn vocabulary with flashcards. Small chunks of information are infinitely easier to absorb and internalize than longer chunks.

    Keep up the great work! - OneWatt

    p.s. - don't forget, when dividing up these little snippets: make sure to include the first note or two of the passage that comes next in the song. This way, these little pearls will string together beautifully when you're playing the tune in full context.

  5. #15
    f Forte eblues's Avatar
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    Samibe, OneWatt,

    Thanks for all the suggestions and info, guys! I think you've really helped me to become smarter about the way I practice, and break out of literally years of bad habits (many of those years have been on guitar, but the same applies).
    60' Hammond A-100 (free!) Church duty, certainly not "minty"
    Leslie 710 ($80)

  6. #16
    mp Mezzo-Piano samibe's Avatar
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    I'm happy to help. It takes some guts on your part to ask for help and accept criticism (regardless of how constructive it is meant to be). Keep working at it and don't forget to have fun. We're rooting for you.
    Sam

    Home: Yamaha P22 and a modified Allen ADC-4500 ... for now.
    Church: Allen MDS-5
    Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, Chorus/Mixture TC Generator, ADC TC Soundfont, and MOS TC Soundfont

  7. #17
    Moderator andyg's Avatar
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    Lots of good advice here. I could have written most of that myself but have been beaten to it!

    You may well find that there is a minimum speed for practice - not the same as the speed used for reading through - and once you go below that threshold it's harder for the brain to form those muscle memories. And keep things smooth. Playing a section effectively one note at a time - ie. non-legato - is a whole heap of muscle memories and recalculations for the brain. Playing through the same selection legato results in just one smooth movement to learn.

    As for sight reading, some people will naturally be better than others at this. Yes, if you spend the time you can improve, but don't get hung up on it. There's a difference between being able to play at sight and being an accurate reader. I know plenty of people, including some of my students, who play brilliantly and they can read very accurately - but at their own pace! Make them read and play a piece at sight and they're out of their comfort zone. So strive to be accurate, of course, but unless you're taking an exam, playing as a session musician or jamming with others and having music placed in front of you for instant playing, don't fret! Do what's comfortable and what works for you.

    Quality of practice is always more important than quantity. That focused practice on short sections that's been talked about is the way to go. I tend to recommend having two or three pieces on the go at one time. That doesn't mean that you're learning three pieces - one may be being polished up ready for performance, being played all the way through (I call that 'performance practice'), the second piece may be the one you're doing the 'serious' work on, 'chunkifying it' and dealing with the challenges (don't have 'problems', just challenges) and the third may be almost new, where you're starting to work through it, identifying what's new or tricky, ready for 'chunkification'. Having just one piece on the go can lead to that boredom, burn-out and building in of errors.

    I'd like to have my students practising at least 5 times a week. Raw beginners start with 5 x 15 minutes, working up to 5 x 30. Once exams kick in and draw near, that will go up to 5 x 45. Exam over, drop back to 5 x 30.

    Personally, I'm the last person you'd want to copy, as I jump right in and break all these rules. I'll quite happily sit down and hammer away at something for an hour or two, often playing for three hours or more almost non-stop. BUT..... though it works for me (and was actually how I was told to practise all those years ago) I wouldn't recommend that anyone does it. This is a case of 'Do as I say, not as I do'!
    It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

    New website now live - www.andrew-gilbert.com

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  8. #18
    pp Pianissimo OneWatt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andyg View Post
    Lots of good advice here. I could have written most of that myself but have been beaten to it! ...
    Wonderful additional advice from a real pro... you've filled in a number of missing puzzle pieces with clarity! -OneWatt

  9. #19
    f Forte eblues's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andyg View Post
    Lots of good advice here. I could have written most of that myself but have been beaten to it!
    Thanks for the extra nuggets of insight, Andy! It will take time to really change my habits and register true improvements in progress, but I'm more enthusiastic about the potential than I've been in a long while.

    I have been a mostly self-taught and generally dissatisfied student of guitar for 7 years. I dabbled before that, but 7 years ago is when I got serious. Almost never quite get to a point of generally playing things cleanly all the way through, always lacking in confidence around others, suffer long learning curves when learning new songs, and having a very poor retention and recollection rate on things I've learned in the past.

    I started learning songs on organ about 3 years ago, and expanded to a digital piano during the past year. For some reason with the keyboards, the learning curve has been slightly better, but only slightly.

    It seems apparent that much of my dissatisfaction can be traced back to my long standing method of learning and practicing, which as I've previously mentioned, frequently involved spending long periods of time (sometimes up to an hour or more) trying to iron out a single "challenging" passage. Add to that the ever present tendency for speed to continuously creep in, which of course virtually guaranteed I would continue making errors and playing sloppily. I can remember many times after such 1 hour sessions feeling like I had not made much progress for the time invested. But it never dawned on me to spend *less* time on individual challenges, and instead divide that time over more challenges. That was problem number one.

    The other major issue was my general philosophy that mistakes would just kinda take care of themselves over the course of repeated playing. My main goal was generally to get things memorized, and I put a lot of focus on that. But as far as the actual physicality of playing, I expected the kinks to work themselves out. Looking back over my 7 year history, I can say now that this is not the best approach.

    Somehow, despite my poor practice habits, through sheer force of will and extreme focus on a single particular song, over an extended period of time (3-6 months) I could briefly get that focused project to a level worthy of a personal Youtube video (worthy in my mind, anyway). Of course, recording a video is nothing like playing with others. With recordings, you have the luxury of having as many do-overs as you want, until you eventually get lucky and have a decent play through. Why, I've even been known to splice pieces of different takes together to produce the illusion of a clean performance

    But those videos are an illusion of sorts. They are not a good representation of my true level of ability... especially as it relates to spontaneously playing live with others, or just in public in general.

    Hopefully, with this new understanding of how to practice more effectively, the next 7 years will be much more productive than the previous 7.
    60' Hammond A-100 (free!) Church duty, certainly not "minty"
    Leslie 710 ($80)

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