Practice!

Practice!

Advice for getting the most gain from practice?

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1) Practice less material.
2) Aim to make significant improvements.
3) Decide at the end of a practice what you will practice next time.

If you don’t do (3), you’re dabbling, not practising. If you’re not doing (2), see (1). If you’re not doing (1), see previous comments about dabbling.

I would say slow down, because it’s true, but no-one ever does and by the time you realise it’s true you’ll be teaching yourself.

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Discipline. Practice is only useful when you’re attempting to make something specific better and your brain is actively engaged. Pick out something specific to accomplish like a scale, an ornament, long tones, a figure, whatever. Tunes come last. Decide how you want them to sound then play them until they sound the way you want to hear them. Sitting around knocking out tunes isn’t practicing. Slow down..pick up speed only after it’s (whatever "it "is) done well.

I have two fiddle playing friends, both wonderful players, and one of them said something about the other that I thought was very insightful. She said, "he plays like he thinks somebody else would like to hear him"!

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Practice transitions - going from one tune to another as seamlessly as possible.

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Do it every day.

Do it every day.

Do it every day.

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What Ross said.
Also, set some specific action items for each week. Track them.
You only need to spend a bit of time focused on these specific bits every day to see satisfying progress.
Playing tunes is fun, but playing them well is funner.

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For me— don’t get distracted by the internet

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Record yourself while you’re practicing. Then set it aside for a few days without listening to it, and then you can listen to it with a bit more objectivity. Listen to what you like and what you don’t like, and try to identify specific things that you want to work on (learning tunes, breathing, rhythm, ornaments, variations, etc. Or any small detail of those things). If you work on one aspect of your playing at a time, it can help.

Another thing that can be useful is to sit down with a piece of music that you really like, and deconstruct what the player did with it. (slow-downer software can be very useful for that). Where did they breathe, what ornaments and variation did they use. Take bits and pieces of that, and work on trying to incorporate that bit into your playing.

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Another thing that recording yourself can be good for is to be able to pat yourself on the back when you can notice specific improvement. It’s good to spend some time focusing on the positive, not just the negative (like the things you want to work on). Trust me, nobody likes recording themselves. But it is a really useful (and often humbling) tool!

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Treat practicing technique and learning tunes as two separate activities. If you have an hour to practice, spent the first twenty minutes working on technique, practicing ornaments or rhythm patterns or whatever you think needs improving, either working up and down a scale or adding them into a tune you already know well. With the boring bit over you can then relax and spend forty minutes learning a new tune and playing through ones you already know.

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I think it must depend on your own temperament. Know yourself, but don’t underestimate yourself.

Reading some of the advice above, I’m sure it works for each one of you who posted but it wouldn’t work for me. Some of the postings seem very austere and advocate pushing yourself too hard. eg Do it every day, etc. Surely the main thing is to keep enjoying playing. If you don’t enjoy it don’t bother. If you enjoy the challenge of the regime of practice practice practice, fine, do that. That’s still enjoying it. But be careful not to burn yourself out. If you dedicate 5 or 10 years of your life to battering away practicing thrice daily only to achieve a few dozen tunes that nobody except yourself listens to then it might not be very surprising you could get disillusioned.

So my advice is quite the opposite of some of the above. Go easy. Keep enjoying your own playing.

And always keep tunes going in your head. Keep thinking up wee variations, to even the most banal tunes when your in the most banal of locations like when you’re buying a pint of milk in Lidl. My best ornaments come from Aldi.

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Yeah, we all do it differently. There is no one recipe. I personally go along with what Reverend said. I don’t agree with the "Do it every day" theory. If I want to just play I do, and on those days i just don’t want to pick up my fiddle, I don’t force myself. That’s the same for when I intentionally practice something, which as Mark M said, is a somewhat separate thing.

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"Sitting around knocking out tunes isn’t practicing." Really? I guess it depends on if you prefer to play in sessions, or be a soloist. Personally, I’ve made a lot of improvement simply "knocking out tunes", but then again I’m just a session player anyway.

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"Sitting around knocking out tunes isn’t practicing."…. Yes of course it is. just like diddling them in your head is practising. All these things add towards improvement. You have to see it as a big picture and small detail thing where one thing can be separated from the other but both are is essential to the improving form. I only play solo and have never been to a session, but I agree with reelsweet.

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Wholeheartedly agree with both of the above comments. However, reading between various lines, and to be fair to previous contributors, I suspect that some people are viewing this whole thing from different perspectives. If you have been playing for just one to five years, then yes of course, practice every day, twice or thrice. And maybe then you’d be after winning a fleadh. But if you’re just an old session junkie like me, been hammering away at various yokes for nearly forty years, and dabbling in various other interests, picking up a box or a flute at a whim is still a joy. Just part of my daily life.

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I agree with the practice every day bit, if you’re a procrastinator like me. Form the habit, even if it’s only ten minutes a day. Once the habit is down, you will feel uncomfortable missing practice. Build up your practice time once the habit is formed.

Now to take my own advice..

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I love my fiddle but I don’t like forced friendships. Hence, when I just don’t feel like looking at it I don’t. It will still be there tomorrow. I have a lifetime to keep improving and don’t worry about days off. I truly believe that I get better after a short break.

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This is an interesting thread and I hope more people contribute. In my musical pursuit I’m reminded of this quote, "I hate writing, but love having written." I’m easily distracted and easily frustrated. I sit to try to practice and immediately think, "Oh, I need to get groceries." "Look, the floor needs cleaned!" and such. Serious practice is always going to start tomorrow. Tomorrow for sure! Today I’d rather go for sushi or a few pints. How long will I lie to myself?

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For me I’ll rely on neuroscience as a guide. To be sure anyone who knocks out tune after tune will eventually get better and even know a lot of tunes. I’m too old to wait out the years. Smarter people than me will point out the science that shows us that the key to improvement is discipline…wish it wasn’t, but it is. I’ve said it before, here it is again; a few minutes say, 10 or 15 out of every practice day will, in short order, make you a much better player, much quicker. And you’ll still learn a lot of tunes. The difference is that the tunes you learn might be worth listening to. If doing what it takes to play tunes well is boring, tedious, too hard, well I have no response to that. If doing what it takes to improve doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Just don’t be disappointed when improvement is slow to absent. One thing that we do know is that if the brain isn’t actively involved in learning we don’t learn. There’s no such thing as subliminal learning, no such thing as muscle memory. It’s all brain and that has to be "awake" at the time. There is no good reason to think that practicing "chops" regularly should limit the number of tunes you play. No reason to think it limits "free expression". The contrary is true. Discipline frees you to play with inspiration instead of memorization. Improving skill on your instrument is what makes those wonderful variations and ornaments you hear in your head translate to your hands. Without skills developed through discipline what you hear in your head will always be "air guitar". By having good skills you don’t have to give a moments thought to the mechanics, the technique when you play. The finest expression of that thought is to practice smart, play stupid…the skills you practice will be there when you need them and that’s the only way they’ll be there. I know it’s hard. It’s hard to say, harder to believe. I challenge anyone to spend just 10 minutes a day on dedicated skills, tone and technique, and not be a better player after a year. Don’t spend more than 2 minutes on any one thing. Make it lifelong and you’ll be world class for life. By the way, the honor system applies. No, there’s no need to make a job of it. An honest tithe of your time with your instrument is quite enough and worth it.

For the record. I rarely, maybe 6 or fewer times a year, I’m called on to perform (as a flute or banjo player) and always as part of a group. For trad I prefer sessions first and/or busking after that. I do play in a contra dance/old time string band. It’s frustrating to me that after years, we haven’t gotten any better. We just knock out tunes (hundreds now) but no effort expended on playing them better. No "group chops" and it shows. Disagree with me if you like, we’ll still be friends. And this is all I have to say on the matter.

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1) Don’t practice when you play.
2) Don’t play when you practice.

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I am always interested to hear about other people’s practice regimes, so I am not contradicting anyone here.
For me, practice is a matter of several disciplines, one of which is the development of strategies.
I break things down and formulate goals. I will take a fiddle tune, identify the awkward parts and work out what is difficult about it. This usually involves bowing. I often have to reject a pattern after I have learned it, because at speed, the economy of effort was not realised.
I divide my practice time into allotments for different sections or pieces. I believe it is the practice in excess of one hour a day that makes really noticeable progress. Really great musicians don’t so much practice, as play all the time. Its a 24-7 thought process. That is why they often have no dress sense.

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1. Arguably the most important factor is consistency. Practice every single day. It is a scientific fact that we learn by exposure repetition. Most musics, even simple tunes, take at the least a couple of days worth of due diligence before you reach that first level of mastery; playing them at a performable standard. You won’t reach that level until you give it its due diligence.

2. Goals/Assessing are also important. "That new tune I’ve been learning is in the key of F, but I don’t play in F well. I should practice other tunes in F, or work on my F scale.", "That 3rd bar in that D major tune throughs me off every time, I should give it a couple rounds.", "I haven’t learned any slip-jigs in a while, I should check my to learn list to see if there are any I can work on right away". "I really like that one set on that album I just got. I should listen to it a couple of times so I can start committing it to memory."

Having a direction can make all the difference, and keep you motivated.

3. Perfection/Slow Down. You know the old phrase, "Practice Makes Perfect"? That’s not necessarily true. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. You don’t want to develop and learn bad habits, and slowing down prevents that. Not only does it allow you to be more present and mindful, but that presence and mindfulness give you an opportunity to be more perfect. Where’s, at one tempo, you can only focus on playing the right notes; at a much slower tempo, you can focus on playing the right notes, throwing in more ornaments, improvising, and even your physical technique.

4. Intensity. If want to practice for an hour a day, do it. If you have that much material to work on, go for it. If you’re feeling really inspired, don’t let the enthusiasm die down, take advantage of it.

5. Challenge Yourself. This is kind of like #2 but in so many more words. Don’t run away from the hard tunes. The tunes that require you to get uncomfortable again. The tunes that require you to slow down. The tunes that make you feel like a crap player again. The tunes that expose your weaknesses. The tunes you think are too hard. This is a personal one for me because due to the lack of criticism I’ve received in all my years, challenging myself was the only way for me to grow.

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A quote from a scientist who has studied the virtues of practice for 20+ years:
‘Practice makes possible."

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Lots of good comments, My £.005 ….
"Don’t practice getting it wrong" - but almost everyone does.
Often "mistakes" are because one is not actually 100% sure how it goes, in detail.
Getting something right first time is what matters, correcting a mistake afterwards is a waste of time.
It takes time for the brain to transfer things to long term memory - a couple of weeks.
A counter-intuitive one I came across recently - "if you’re practicing something tricky several times to get it right don’t speed up until you do it wrong again - you actually need to slow down slightly with each repetition."
Even if the instrument allows you to practice right and left hands separately, it’s better to practice both hands together as soon as possible, however slowly.

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I am going to be in the Clare for 2 weeks beginning 7/27.
I am looking for a fiddle or whistle lesson/s. Any suggestions?

Also hope to attend as many sessions as possible during my stay.
It looks like there are quite a few posted. My wife will be spending most days drinking tea with her cousins, so I will be looking to play and learn.

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My philosophy is that it is better not to play at all, better not to spend the time and money on instruments, lessons, recordings, festivals, etc.. than to take up an instrument with no plan, no discipline, no rigor for attaining mastery.

Better not to play at all than be an instrument owner. Better to just be a spectator than try to play, and suck perpetually because you won’t make the consistent, disciplined effort required for mastery.

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I don’t know, Eulic, there are lots of players out there, not just Irish music but lots of music, who are pretty halfassed in their approach towards practice and are as far away from mastering their instrument as I am from being Lionel Messi. But they enjoy it. And it isn’t like people who are halfassed horse owners, or dog owners, where the owner’s ignorance/laziness affects something that isn’t in any control over who owns it. Instruments don’t care. Other musicians who have to deal with them might care (depending on the session), but they can always leave or more likely, be passive aggressively grumpy.

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One thing to keep in mind…

Over practicing is a great way to injure one’s self with tendonitis or worse. I have a classical guitarist friend who has "mastered" his instrument, but went through years during which he could only play very briefly because he had burnt out his body.

Carry on.

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Just want to clear up something here. The OP was about getting the most from practice and so any comments I made addressed only that. I might have come off as a bit snobbish about it. I apologize for that. Practice and playing are different things. Everybody has to fit a lot into their lives, we all live in different spaces. Somewhere between "not at all" and "all consuming" is where we fit playing music. I get that. More than anything else I’d say do what makes you happy and that will be enough. If you play with joy and love every note, and ever find yourself in my neighborhood, give me a call. We’ll knock out a few tunes together.

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One thing to keep in mind…

Over practicing is a great way to injure one’s self with tendonitis or worse. I have a classical guitarist friend who has "mastered" his instrument, but went through years during which he could only play very briefly because he had burnt out his body.

Carry on.

You will certainly do that if you don’t use proper ergonomics, practice/play with too much tension, and/or won’t take instruction from people who know what they’re doing…but that happens to people who do all the right things, too.

However, that is an acceptable risk. I’d rather be good, and deal with potential injury, than never reach my musical goals.

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To Eulic - Your comment reminds me of something I once read, forget the source, called WAS, which is "Whistle Acquisition Syndrome". The idea being people who are whistle players, even dabblers, often buy high end whistle hoping to find THE whistle. I know I’m infected. I have Brukes and Reyburns, quite some dollars. And tune books and tutorials. But I dabble. Its always, "I’ll get structured and serious nest week."

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I think there is something to be said about passion as well. You can have the best practice methods, techniques, goals, etc., but if you lack the passion, or drive… Of course there are the prodigies, who excell quickly and effortlessly, but I think most of us have to really want it. Want it more than all the other things/ distractions/people that will compete for our time.

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That’s real sweet, reelsweet. But practice is above all an exercise in being practical. Drive is an important force in getting through one’s practice with discipline. Drive is not passion. You can practice with passion and it might help in being more expressive, in being spontaneous, in going off script. Frankly I don’t consider that practice; assuming that is how the OP wants to gain experience. The experience gained from practice comes from being clear with oneself in one’s goals, striving for specific improvement, evaluating your progress. If you’re passionate about it, all the better. But it’s not the same as playing music in a session. Practice is work. You gain directly from it by what you apply to it.

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"Practice is work." - the difference with the "geniuses" or talented ones seems to be that they love that work and you couldn’t stop them putting the hours in! :)

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I hate work but love playing my fiddle and that works fine for me. If it was work I assure you that I wouldn’t be able to play.

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Playing a dance tune that is new to me, especially if there are parts that take time to ‘get my fingers round’, usually leaves my feeling slightly tired. Is that work? That is especially the case at a workshop where the process is to largely someone else’s schedule.

So a question that might be relevant to the OP. If when practicing a tune (‘working on’ it so as to play it ‘better’) we feel the need to take a break, is it lack of application, drive, passion, concentration or whatever to stop for a while or is it something we need to do as part of the learning process - to let it ‘sink in’ maybe?

How do we know when to press on and when to take a break or move on to something else?

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Hi David50- Your point of why one takes a break is a good one. And I have experienced both aspects. I had for about 10 years played GHBP. I started as an adult, nearly 40. It was my first serious endeavor in music so I had to work quiet hard to play well enough to join the band for performances. So for a good while I pressed on nd would end practice period when it became obvious no gain, and perhaps some loss, was occurring. The same later happened, and happens now with the penny whistle. Too often I think more about practicing than actually doing so. Practice will get serious tomorrow. Or the next full moon. On the first of the month. Or… I have hundreds of dollars spent on high end whistles. A pile of tutorials and tune books. But I battle laziness and lack of confidence even having experienced the joy of playing well at times. It is a personality fault I have had all my life.

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Maybe if there was something else that you were supposed to be doing then practicing could become a way procrastinating over the that!

I wonder if for some of us learning an instrument really is tiring without it being obvious that we are mentally ‘working hard’. Lots of energy needed to forge those new neural pathways or whatever.

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Yes it takes a lot of energy to play an instrument, but I still never think of it as work; kind of like when I played football as a kid. My fiddle is usually my means OF procrastination. Whenever I’m supposed to be doing something else I pick it up. Time wise I don’t really separate playing from practice. I agree that they are different things, but I don’t have separate times for them. I just pick up my fiddle and become absorbed.

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AB, what I was getting as is this: If you have passion and drive, you don’t need discipline, you will be practicing every single chance you get. You will cancel plans, and ignore distractions. It seems to me that a large majority of people fail at discipline, and don’t practice daily. Why? If they really enjoyed it, and really wanted it, there would be no issue, and no need for that forced idea of "discipline", because they would want to do it all the time. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to practice. In the end, it’s motivation that matters for most people. You have it, or you don’t.

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Yes reelsweet, that describes me!

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Did either of you read my post? I didn’t say anything about forced discipline. I don’t think I implied it either. Motivation and incentive are of the utmost importance. I’m sure you each agree. I do understand why both of you think in negative connotations of work. But if you put that aside long enough and consider ‘work’ to mean effort used in a deliberate way to acheive a goal (improvement) then maybe my entire post might make more sense to you, reelsweet & Gobby.
Cheers.

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Hi AB - I think you’re on to something with the comment on a negative view of work and how it relates to effort. I have worked decades in various aspects of food service. It is work because I take little to no pleasure in it. But to cook for myself at home I not think of as work because I do enjoy it. The same basic tasks but one is drudgery the other enjoyable. so perhaps the same in music. Learning a new tune or set can be work, frustrating and not enjoyable. But once a tune is played well enough to be music, it is a joy and the drudgery of the work is left behind.

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David50- I wish I could procrastinate going to work with the excuse, "I’m staying home to practice!" I think on problem is imaging myself playing well, both for myself and others, and becoming frustrated and disheartened when that imagined goal is so hard to obtain.

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@ AB, No Ben, I fully grasp what you meant. All I was saying is that FOR ME, I never associate playing and practising my fiddle as work For me it’s like Michael the whistler’s analogy with cooking, except that I personally find neither of those thing a drudgery. I always find them to be relaxing and enjoyable, and that’s how it works for me. We are all different. I guess when I think back that it was all work in the early days of my learning, but not now.

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‘Learning a new tune or set can be work, frustrating and not enjoyable. But once a tune is played well enough to be music, it is a joy and the drudgery of the work is left behind.’
Posted by Michael The Whistler

I’m the opposite! I have tunes in a book that I learned months ago but I rarely practice them. But when I hear a new tune I want to learn i’m excited to practice it. Learning new tunes is more fun than practicing old ones, but i need to do both. And more often than once a week! Lack of confidence is a powerful de-motivator.

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My point I’m hoping to communicate is how one improves through practice. I did not intend to have my words used primarily for their perceived negative connotations. Which seems to be happening despite my hopes.

Take care.

Michelle Mc ~ Grand, that’s what I’m talking about!

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The more enthusiastic I feel about the tunes/music/playing with others the more I’m likely to want to learn/improve. I do try to spend time going over things every day but feel that a lot of that time has been wasted over the years through lack of knowing what to focus on to get better so I don’t think it’s enough to just spend time on it each day. But that’s all down to me - I suppose a lot of my time plugging away at this I’ve not known what was possible in terms of improvement plus a lack of belief so yes, we’re all different and some of us maybe come with more baggage/hindrance than others. Only now am I realising how limiting a factor a negative outlook can be - in all walks of life (without wanting to be unrealistically positive).

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@Eulic
"You will certainly do that if you don’t use proper ergonomics, practice/play with too much tension, and/or won’t take instruction from people who know what they’re doing…but that happens to people who do all the right things, too.

However, that is an acceptable risk. I’d rather be good, and deal with potential injury, than never reach my musical goals."

Oh, absolutely :)

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Re: "Is playing tunes practicing?"

I think it can be, and it also depends on whatever stage one is at in learning or mastering the instrument. Getting ready for a gig by running through the setlist is "practicing," but so is learning and practicing a scale in a disciplined way, or internalizing how to do a roll.

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I would like to thank Michael the Whistler and all discussants for this thread. I have been a lurker here mostly, and this has been the most enjoyable discussion I have read in a long time. I have come to music and ITM in middle age, and one senses the urgency of time a bit more at this stage. How best to practice while keeping enjoyment and discipline in balance is a great thing to ponder. Your insights are so useful!

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I agree that motivation is important, and will also shape your practice approach. I personally play for fun, so I’m not interested in forcing myself to practice daily in a rigid way in order to become a master player.

With the whistle, I am mainly playing it so that I get to participate in sessions. If I practice (which I don’t all that often), it is to learn new tunes that I like, or that other session members have agreed to learn so that we can play together. I’m not too bothered about playing super well (unless it’s a tune/set that I plan on launching myself and I need to be able to hold my own) because in my session my little whistle gets drowned out anyway, and I mostly play with people at my level who are not bothered by the occasional off note, and don’t care how much ornamentation I use. I play for fun, and making myself practice when I don’t feel like it takes the fun out of things.

Once I started the pipe it was a different story. I fell in love with the instrument and really wanted to make time to practice it multiple times a week. There’s so much to learn that if I don’t practice often and diligently I won’t make progress, but practicing in itself is a joy. I also lose muscle strength and can’t hit the second octave easily if I’m not playing often. I still don’t push myself to the point of stress or injury - I’m still playing for fun and stress-relief. After giving myself tendonitis from pushing myself with the bodhran I would argue with those who say that reaching musical goals is worth the tendonitis - not worth it if it stops you from playing at all! (or being able to lift your own instrument case without wearing a brace!) It’s worth slowing down and developing proper technique to minimize this possibility. Then again, my goal is not to be really good, just good enough to enjoy playing and continue to make progress.

So, I’m taking things slowly but surely with the pipe, practicing often but not too intensely (15-40 minutes a practice session, several times a week). If I’m learning something new and difficult, I repeat it over and over slowly and correctly and don’t worry about doing it fast until days (weeks) later, when I find it’s worked its way into my muscle memory. I try to pick one or two skills (ornament, phrase, playing technique…) to focus on at a time, but also briefly repeat skills I’ve learned recently. I pick a tune that can include the skill I’m learning so I can practice it in context. It’s one thing to do an exercise separately and another to link it with all the other notes. At the end of each practice session, I play a few tunes that I know well and like and focus on relaxing my wrists as a sort of "cool down" in case I tensed up my tendonitis-affected areas while working on more difficult skills.

I’m playing the pipes for the fun of it, not to become a soloist in the near future, so while I want to learn to play well and make steady progress, I’m OK to not push myself excessively. At the same time, my completely relaxed approach to practicing the whistle just wouldn’t work if I want to actually play the pipes.

Anyhow, that’s my personal perspective… I think there are tips here for a wide range of motivation and experience levels. And I can see how it can be both more motivating to learn a tune you love, and more rewarding to enjoy playing a difficult tune you’ve mastered! I experienced both when our intermediate session learned this set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc8CjDkpb30 Took us a few months, but so worth it!

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I remember seeing the following link from another discussion here on The Session. There is a series on a scientific approach to practice written by Dr. Josh Turknett, a neurologist, musician, neuroplastician, and founder of Brainjo. It’s the best I’ve seen. Although written for banjo players, it all applies to any musician.
The link to the introduction is https://clawhammerbanjo.net/brainjo/
The link to the actual series of articles is https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-the-art-and-science-of-effective-practice/

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Thank you EylerC for that link! I ended up reading his whole series, and found it very interesting (other than the occasional feeling that this was one of those endless advertisements trying to sell you something - in this case, his clawhammer banjo lessons).

There were a few things that really stuck out to me:

1. About using notation to learn - the right and wrong ways: http://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-the-art-and-science-of-effective-practice-episode-11/

That was well articulated by a neurologist - and it really helps explain why some people who learn from sheet music have a hard time retaining the tunes, and then have a hard time learning how to learn by ear. There’s nothing new there that hasn’t been discussed on this site, but I found it to be a very concise summation of the old ear vs. dots thing, including a handful of bullet points at the bottom about the right way to use notation without it building the wrong neural pathways.

2. About learning tunes, and why it becomes easier and easier the more you do it: https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-the-art-and-science-of-effective-practice-episode-15/

The "Expert Advantage" was something I found to be well stated. And his discussion of fluency in music is really well stated.

3. There is no such thing as "natural talent" for playing music. This is a recurring theme throughout the whole series, but it starts right at the beginning: https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-deconstructing-the-art-and-science-of-practice/

I have been saying this for some time on this site. Nobody is born knowing how to play music. The people that pick it up faster than others do so because they have either been shown or stumbled upon learning techniques and habits that help them build the neural pathways necessary. And the biggest key as to whether you’ll succeed or give up is whether you can stay motivated to put in the time necessary.

All in all, I suggest that everybody read the entire series. It’s worth it. Throughout the 25 "episodes" of the series, in fact, he covers a LOT of the things that are discussed on this site, like:

"I’ve lost my motivation to play",
"Is it too late for me to learn to play an instrument?",
"I wish I had started as a kid",
"I can’t learn tunes by ear",
"I am forgetting as many tunes as I am learning",
etc.

Thanks again for that link! It will become required reading for my students, I think ;-)

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"We no longer need to write music down in notation form to store it. Furthermore, as a means of transmitting musical information, it is an inferior tool for doing so when we now almost always have access to the REAL thing. Written notation for a piece of music is a representation of the thing, while a recording of a piece of music is the thing."

This is not neurological! It’s simply a *bias* which insists written notation is inevitably inferior. It’s not the medium, you numpties, it’s how one uses it. Granted , I prefer learning tunes by listening. But I always strive to get that into my head regardless of the source; live, recorded or written.

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What, did you just read up to that sentence and then decide it was biased and so you stopped reading? I wasn’t trying to stir up the ear vs. dots debate (again). I was just pointing out that the neurologist had a pretty good explanation of why a lot of players struggle to retain tunes as well when they learn them by reading. The main reason for this would be because the "neural network" that is being built when reading notated music is a "print-to-motor" network. Which means that you’re training your brain for ultimately the wrong thing. The neural network that you want to build and strengthen is your "sound-to-motor" network.

But he goes on to discuss strategies for how to successfully use the printed notation, including getting your eyes off it as soon as possible, visualization, listening to tons of music, and ultimately working on picking out tunes by ear. Because those things will help strengthen the right "network" in the player’s brain.

And, for the record, I DO think that musical notation of a piece of music is inherently inferior to a recording of that piece of music (played by a good player). In the same way that a description of a painting is inferior to the painting itself. That doesn’t mean that the notation and description are useless, it just means that they convey a lot less information, which makes them inherently inferior.

If you take the example from https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-the-art-and-science-of-effective-practice-episode-15/ where he talks about the Master Advantage, there is a painting shown to two people, one of them a master painter, and the other a beginning painter. The master painter has a huge advantage in being able to recreate the painting. Likewise, if you gave the same two painters simply a description of the painting, the master painter would still be able to paint something beautiful, whereas the beginning painter would fare even worse than if they were shown the painting they were tasked with recreating.

In a similar way, someone who has a solid grasp on playing Irish music can take a notated piece of music and make it sound great, and that’s perfectly acceptable! The big issue in the ear vs. dots debate is not about people who know the music and learn tunes from a notated sheet, it’s that there are a lot of beginners who are trying to use sheet music to learn how to play the music. So not only are they lacking in the knowledge to make the notes on the page sound right, they are also potentially building the wrong neural pathways, which won’t help them much down the line…

But now I fear that I’m just opening up the can of mustard flavored worms again. ;-)

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That explanation totally works for me Reverend. Very educational. Thanks.

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Reverend, I get all that. What troubles me is I constantly hear a prevalent bias which pits one against the other. Too often ignoring those of us who learned reading and listening in companion; not at odds.

Sorry, don’t mean to be grumpy. And when I said numptie, Reverend, I meant it in a friendly way (if that’s possible). I think very highly of you and don’t want to be too much of a pill. You are not a numptie. I am, sometimes. I better stop posting…

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"… a lot of beginners who are trying ["exclusively"] to use sheet music to learn how to play the music.
So not only are they lacking in the knowledge to make the notes on the page sound right, they are also
potentially building the wrong neural pathways, which won’t help them much down the line…"

True! But have you not experienced beginners who are learning to play the music by ear and they too lack the knowledge to make what they hear sound right? I have. Probably more than I care to admit.
I don’t have a solution one way or the other. Which is why I keep returning to this subject.

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I think very few people use sheet music *exclusively* to learn to play music. Usually, they will have heard the tune already or are also listening to the music while reading the dots as AB suggests. It’s not the same as learning by ear, of course, but it does give an indication of how the tune goes.
Even now, I like to learn tunes this way as it’s quite easy to miss out on the odd dot here and there or play a quaver instead of a semi quaver and so on. However, in general, I find it much easier to read if I hear the music first.

Sometimes, I have to learn a tune on my own and can find it nigh impossible to trace a recording. So, I just have to get on with it. Simple tunes are easy and a majority fall into a pattern. However, more difficult ones take a bit longer.

As for "beginners" exclusively learning by sheet music, I see no need for this with absolute beginners..i.e. those who have never played any kind of music before. They should be learning by ear at least in part as they won’t have developed any skills in sight reading anyway.
However, I’d imagine that most of those who do so are those who are already experienced to a greater or lesser extent in some other musical genre. It’s quite difficult to get them to "ditch the dots" in these circumstances.

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@ AB. OK, I’ll bite as well. "It’s simply a *bias* which insists written notation is inevitably inferior. It’s not the medium, you numpties, it’s how one uses it."

Irish jigs are normally notated with ‘even’ eighth notes. Doing it that way is not inevitable, but it is the way a (very large) population of musicians has decided works best for them. This is objectively different from what Irish jigs actually sound like, so regarding it as inferior to an aural source (from the tradition) is not ‘simply a bias’.

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"Irish jigs are normally notated with ‘even’ eighth notes. Doing it that way is not inevitable…."

It is possible to write it in a more complex fashion but, as you say, this is rare with Irish music.
However, "written" Scottish music can often be very complicated especially scores for fiddle concerts and so on and conveys much more information about how the tunes are expected to be played.
Personally, I still don’t think that absolutely everything can be translated on to the paper……although there was a big discussion here a few months back where some argued otherwise….. but it can still make a big difference. Of course, the human element comes into play too and not everyone will interpret what’s on the page in the same way. They are more likely to make errors if the music is too complicated.

However, my preference is for written music to be kept simple and for the player to interpret it as he or she sees fit in light of their previous experience with the genre.

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Along with good suggestions and an interesting conversation, I learned a new word, "numpty’, like it.

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David50, fair enough. But you’re using a version of written music which is notably flawed. There was a former member here who acknowledged the inadequacy of using notation to convey anything more than a representation of the music. Yet he was constantly transcribing tunes with an ear toward what might better convey what he was hearing, with notation. For someone like him, who recognises the inadequacy, someone who does not turn a deaf ear when transcribing, when using notation to the best of his ability, when discussing tunes using abcs, knowing the limitations I almost always learned more about tunes from this then I did using my ears alone. I learn tunes by listening to them. But when I use notation I also sing it the way I expect the tune to sound. Depending on the transcriptions I notice that the rhythm of jigs, hornpipes and other tunes are not notated as played. There is never a perfect score, especially with traditional music. I know.

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Johnny Jay, I agree with you about beginners not always learning exclusively from sheet music. I used quotations for two reasons. I have read the term used on this board on a regular basis in the past and while it has not been used in this discussion it is used in the the-art-and-science-of-effective-practice tutorial (which I did read).

"Banjo playing networks built exclusively through the use of written music, on the other hand, operate quite differently. These networks translate visual information into movement of the limbs (so that the written code is translated into banjo sounds). We may refer to these as “print-to-motor” networks."

I agree though the statement does refer to an exclusive approach to learning, which is why I inserted the term.

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