Practicing the wrong way is like having a bad habit. The habit (practice) is bad but it locks in nonetheless.
To reach perfection, care has to be taking when practicing to encode things the right way. Good coaches accomplish this by:
1. Slowing down the action e.g. playing a piano or a violin at a painfully slow rate to make errors more noticeable
2. Chunking - breaking down the skill into smaller components and practicing these chunks separately. E.g. tearing music notes into pieces and practicing the notes separately
Books: Little Book of Talent, The Talent Code
You have to be careful with this as well. There are some musicians who do this, but can only play at the practice speed. (So be sure to speed things up, and vary things. You'll have true mastery if you can morph what you've practiced.) It's also good to listen to recordings of yourself and of model musicians as a means of feedback.
2. Chunking - breaking down the skill into smaller components
Care has to be taken with this as well. I've encountered musicians who have chunked ornaments in traditional music, but have practiced so much, that they consistently replay the ornament at their practice tempo, regardless of the tempo being played at the moment.
Music is a game of continual contextual awareness. There is a powerful analogy with programming here.
Then once you do a small chunked section slowly perfectly (say 8 measures), you then try at regular speed until you do it three times perfectly.
Then you try playing two chunks (say 16 measures) the same way, constantly building.
For reference, I had a full ride to multiple universities for my music. So at least for me it worked well this way.
It works amazingly well. It also requires persistence and determination, but so does any type of skill that differentiates you from the average person.
For traditional music, you need to add variation by rhythmic emphasis as well. Just because something is called a "hornpipe" or a "fling," this doesn't entirely specify the rhythm, beyond the time signature that has been most often used to notate that particular kind of dance. (And it doesn't always even get you that far, actually.) The first note is probably emphasized by giving it a bit more time to varying degrees, and there might be other subtle changes to give it more or less or a different feeling of "swing." To be a very good traditional musician, one needs to listen to and adapt to these changes/variations.
But I think GP has a point about the dangers of this approach (even though it's unavoidable I think). It sometimes results in noticeable 'seams' in an otherwise fluent performance. You can occasionally spot these 'seams' even in performances by world-class concert pianists (though this is rare). I find it weirdly reassuring: no matter how talented you are, those first few days of practising a new piece will always be a tedious grind.
There's a bit of stuff in classical music that strikes me as being there so that musicians can show off their speed. It's one of the things that even the lowest common denominator audience can relate to, so of course this happens!
It sometimes results in noticeable 'seams' in an otherwise fluent performance.
The way to avoid seams is to truly make the chunk yours, by being able to morph it in rhythm and time and introducing variation. By the time you can freely do that -- by the time it has become a plaything -- it is truly yours, and you can play it without seams. The problem for me with this and classical music, is that often I really don't care so much for the difficult segments. I'd rather play something beautiful, than something that shows me off.
Heh, agreed. Though I think the Rach Prelude was more designed to break piano strings :) (they're chords, some of which are marked 'sffff'... also looking at the sheet music it's actually 8 notes)
There seem to be a few etudes like you've described (Liszt comes to mind). I cannot for the life of me figure out what these composers were attempting to teach their students...
E.g. if your chunks start at bars 1, 3, 5, 7, ..., then repeat with chunks starting at 2, 4, 6 , 8..., then scale up to larger-size chunks so that you always have multiple chunks than cover up a 'seam'.
Yup. It's called taking chances.
See "Make It Stick" and the studies referenced in it regarding "desirable difficulties" that help create strong connections; coaches, teachers and learners mostly express preference for controlled, topical, less-confusing practice, but their preference is usually wrong as measured by performance (in sports and classroom contexts, anyway), whereas mixed-up practice that feels harder, and variations on that like trying to solve things before being taught the correct way, show better results.
Keep in mind that most of the research in this area is psychological. It is often very difficult to build good studies. On top of that, many papers have pretty poor statistics in them, so take whatever you read with a grain of salt. It's very, very easy to suffer from confirmation bias because there are a lot of studies and many of them are not great. You can pick your conclusion and build an impressive looking list of references. Just be a bit careful of that when you are going through the review literature.
I got interested in learning science from reading about the SuperMemo guy about 10 years ago, and there were some HN discussions where people were saying "this is cool, are there any other really solid learning effects, like spaced reps, that we know about?," and I think it was from HN that I learned about some of Bjork's stuff (one of the fathers of desirable difficulty, https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/robert-a-bjork-publications/).
But I got the chance to learn more when researching for some training software I wrote in 2014, which was when Make It Stick was published; it was really helpful.
As another commentter mentioned, "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle is excellent. Applying the principles it discussed made my musical practice an order of magnitude more effective than it had been previously.
- You need to challenge yourself to move the needle. If it's so slow that it's too easy you're not accomplishing that.
- Sometimes too slow is more difficult.
- There are some aspects of training where it doesn't matter if you make errors. E.g. strength or flexibility can be developed while making mistakes and without those you can't actually execute the proper technique anyways. I think the trick is to try to avoid locking in the error by switching to other practices.
- Some physical skills are speed sensitive, i.e. the slow doesn't transfer to the fast.
- It can help speeding things up to the point where you make mistakes just to get speed up, and then coming back to normal speed.
That F barre chord is still driving me crazy though with any technique I try to throw at it ;)
Interesting to contrast this advice with the HN story from the other day: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13570892
In that document, several authorities point out that learning Morse code by listening to characters being sent at a painfully slow rate is actually counterproductive -- as in, the worst possible way to go about it. You never learn what the characters really sound like if you do that. Is there an analogous effect at work when learning a new musical instrument?
Now I practice it at a super slow level and slowly build it....
I think it's a great philosophy to have in mind...practice doesn't make perfect but a perfect practice makes perfect.
I've had some breaks away from the riding but even then I find that the techniques come back quickly. So yeah seems like learning how to do things properly certainly has a lot of merit.
Task: detect which one of the two successively presented images had a patterned orientation and which depicted just unstructured noise.
A first group practiced the task for eight blocks, waited 30 minutes, and then trained for eight blocks on a new similar task. The next day they were tested on both tasks to assess what they learned. The other group did the same thing, except that they overlearned the first task for 16 blocks of training.
On the next day’s tests, the first group performed quite poorly on the first task compared to the pre-test. Meanwhile the overlearning group showed strong performance on the first task, but no significant improvement on the second. Regular learning subjects were vulnerable to interference by the second task (as expected) but overlearners were not.
But I have encountered this: I dated a bunch of girls from OKC a couple of years ago. Many of them claimed they were 'Buddhist' on their profiles.
I'm very interested in religion, and thought it was odd so many claimed to be this, when clearly it was not of their 'ethnic origin'.
When I talked to them about it, none of them knew anything about Buddhism beyond 'The Dalai Lama' and a few platitudes. They had never read a full book. Knew next to nothing of Buddhist theology. Never been to a Temple. Had no practices, holidays, knew nothing of the various forms of Buddhism (some of them are pretty hard-core and not what we think of in the West) etc.. So in reality, they 'thought positively of the pop-culture Buddhist image' and what that image meant for themselves, and how it projected onto others.
And that's about it - but they were not remotely 'Buddhist' in any tangible way.
My point is people often 'identify with some idea' - but those ideas, and even their understanding of the more formalized idea, can be essentially fictional - or rather, they are used to 'paint a picture of their self identity', and possibly nothing more.
The 'learning' of ideas is quite a different thing. A single experience or exposure to something can fundamentally alter a set of beliefs for ideals however 'learned' they are.
You can change your mind, but you can hardly change 'how you walk'.
The connection to higher level behaviors is a tempting one, and at least worthy of research, but due to their greater complexity and the way that inhibition and stimulation have less obvious connections to behaviors at higher levels of neural complexity (as the complexity of the neural system goes up you get fun combinations like "inhibition of inhibition" and "stimulation of inhibition" and all kinds of arbitrarily complicated things), I wouldn't leap to conclusions about that.
That is, new information that contradicts your knowledge usually triggers focused attention (i.e. NMDA activation) in order to facilitate learning. However, overlearning can make the same information be discounted as irrelevant (i.e. a GABAergic signal of "it's okay, I don't need to figure that out.")
Explaining at a high level exactly what that "it's okay, don't pay attention to that" signal is rationalized as in conscious experience, is a whole different thing.
This is saying that overtraining prevents revision of existing skills, as if the learning process is interrupted.
EDIT: Someone says "If you can't get past nature's paywall,"