Each year brings us new and more advanced studies that seem to teach us how we and more specifically our brains are growing and changing because we play the piano.
In the past, some common ideas about playing have actually been changed because the findings of many of these tests showed us a new and a different result from what we expected and contrary to what we had believed before.
Once of these concepts is infused into our approach to practicing from the beginning, and it is this:
Keep practicing...keep playing the passage, or the scale, or the chord, as many times as needed until you finally get it. We think that the only way to finally get something, is to just keep drilling it until it finally gels.
Well, this is only partially true...which is great news!
The truthful part is that repetitive action - meaning correct practicing will produce results. But...
We can achieve better results if we do variations with the repetitions, instead of just playing the same thing every single time. In fact, once we master this skill we can learn almost twice as fast in the exact same amount of time. It's very exciting. One recent study found:
"What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row," said lead researcher Pablo Celnik, from Johns Hopkins University. (source)
Let's see what this might look like if we're trying to learn a new scale.
You decide that you want to learn the G Major scale.
You learn the Key signature - F# & C#, you place your fingers over the correct notes and begin playing the scale one note at a time. It's not so bad...now you're going to add in your left hand and play both hands together. Up and down the scale you go...wait, until that 3rd octave and you keep missing that cross over coming back down. Well now what...
You play it and play it..you slow it down and can play it better, but then you speed it back up and whamo, your fingers fall apart again. How can that happen when you just played it through 10 times??
Because to really reinforce the information and keep your brain alert and involved in what you are doing... you need to play it over and over again, but in different ways!
Play it with different rhythms, or added slurs, or different note values...anything that you can think of to switch up the scale or passage that you're working on, will work. The point is, to do it differently.
This doesn't mean that you want to do it differently every single time.
Pick a new way to play it, and play it this way say 5 times. Then pick another way to play it, and play it that way 5 times again. See how you just played it 10 times but repeated the same thing only 5? Your brain stayed active and engaged much more by doing repeated variations. Studies have shown that results are better when the variations are subtle and easy to play, instead of playing something so different that you almost don't recognize the sound of it. This doesn't reinforce anything but cause a bit of confusion actually.
Even more interesting for those that may still doubt this concept, researchers also discovered that those who repeated the same actions with no variations, actually performed worse on the repeated acts than they did on the first one. Meaning...there was a bit of tiredness or some type of lapse once the repetitive motion became comfortable.
This method can be applied to any new scale, or exercise or piece that you want to learn on the piano. It is certainly a great way to keep your brain really engaged with what you are doing which is half the battle most of the time.
Head over and read the full study here.
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