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Thread: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

  1. #51
    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    My question about the first post would be: "what qualifies as a skill in music?" It seems like this statement is a useful way of thinking about mental activities like knowing the order of the US presidents or how to multiply exponents. Performing music, though, is more physical- I don't know if being able to, for example, form a big 'chop' chord benefits from periods of forgetting. Maybe it does.

    So as far as this goes, I'd say that the I have often had the experience of learning a swing tune, mostly forgetting it, and relearning it later, it being much easier later on. My best takeaway from this would be to try to learn a lot of tunes and not get hung up on obsessively practicing the same five or six. If you have a show coming up, though, you don't have a much of a choice what you practice.

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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I get more out of what Niles posted than most else in this thread - certainly more than what I got from the original premise - What's the point? Pretty much everything I'm doing is aimed toward performance. Making music to please myself and hopefully to bring an emotive response to the listener. I can't imagine sitting down with an instrument with no goal whatsoever in mind - makes no sense. You have some reason for doing it. But again thinking back to Niles' comment, what's the point? Are you after virtuosity for virtuosity's sake? And then ten years down the road, you're still not happy with it when you realize that there is still a lot left to learn?

    We each have the same number of hours in a day, and we get to decide how we spend them, or how much power we give to others over our time. We each have "all the time in the world" and yet "no time at all." So it's good to have an idea of what you want from life, and spend your time pursuing it. I'm happy with my musical journey and it ain't over yet.
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  3. #53
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    Smile Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post




    It's like you need a loaf of bread. There's a country store 1/4 mile up the road at the 4-way stop. But they charge $1 more. So instead ogetting "gouged", you drive 8 miles into town to the grocery store to save a buck, meanwhile wasting 30-40 minutes and burning up $1.50 (or more) in gas, not to mention adding mileage on the vehicle. The efficient thing would be to go to the country store for the item... and waste less time and actually spend less overall!

    Anyway, I also seem to get the impression that "practice" is some loathsome task which must be dispatched with ruthless efficiency. Why are you playing? Do you think the situation is going to be any different 3 years from now, or 5 years from now. Maybe the barflies at the local watering hole will be impressed with what they perceive to be your "effortless displays", and hoot and holler and buy you some drinks, but...what do they know? Unless you start buying your own pr/publicity, you still know that though it may be better than what it was, but it still isn't good enough.



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    living in the country, with a country store 3 miles up the road, if you want a FRESH loaf of bread, you drive in to town:-)

    On practice: I actually enjoy practicing a lot and most of my playing is practicing , working out different chord soudings and alternate ways of playing and in different keys for trying different sounds for the same tune, you don't get to do that in a jamm,
    I play in a jamm maybe once a month, I practice every day.

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    I have found repeatedly over the years that I get better when I take breaks (sometimes unintended) for a while. If I have reached a plateau and then can't get back to playing for a week or two, it may take a couple of hours to get back up to speed. But once I do, I find that it comes more effortlessly than before. And this is when I usually have a leap in improvement.
    odd but true for me as well

  5. #55
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I get more out of what Niles posted than most else in this thread - certainly more than what I got from the original premise - What's the point? Pretty much everything I'm doing is aimed toward performance. Making music to please myself and hopefully to bring an emotive response to the listener. I can't imagine sitting down with an instrument with no goal whatsoever in mind - makes no sense. You have some reason for doing it. But again thinking back to Niles' comment, what's the point? Are you after virtuosity for virtuosity's sake? And then ten years down the road, you're still not happy with it when you realize that there is still a lot left to learn?

    I like what you wrote in your previous post about how you practice; I could have said many of the same things, so you saved me having to type them out. The main differences between us seem to be with respect to our goals. On plucked instruments, performance is not one of mine. I pretty much don't even think about that. I don't care if there are any listeners beyond God and my cats. There will always be people who can create and execute more virtuosic chord melody arrangements than I, or perform Bach gigues, fugues and the Chaconne better than I, but all the same, I get pleasure out of learning to do these things and play them for myself, and play them regularly and on a variety of different instruments.

    The pursuit of learning on plucked instruments has always been primarily a solitary recreation for me, as I've said before, a hobby, in contrast to my professional life of playing viola in ensembles and orchestras. It's been something to unwind with, as it were, from the stresses of life. Some musicians take up gardening, or handcrafts, or golf as hobbies... but everything non-musical that I've ever tried wound up on a shelf after a year or so. I have to have hobbies that are musical, too. It's in my DNA, I guess... and no idea where in the family that came from, either!

    But the side benefits, though not part of any goals I've set, have proven to be many and valuable. Playing different instruments gives me many fresh perspectives which help my efforts at my primary one. Aspiring to, and achieving, the difficult stuff helps solidify and improve the not-so-difficult (and how could it not?) Experimenting with harmonies on a plucked instrument I always have beside my desk also helps me in writing arrangements for my church trio, even though I play viola in it. And I hope that along with all of this, I am generating loads of nice new neural pathways that keep my mind young and stave off dementia in the future.

    Finally, knowing that there will always be a lot left to learn is simply a given. It's always true, for every one of us, no matter our level, and therefore should never be any kind of surprise or epiphany to anyone.

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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    And I hope that along with all of this, I am generating loads of nice new neural pathways that keep my mind young and stave off dementia in the future.
    Hear, hear!
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  8. #57
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Look up “spacing effect” and “desirable difficulty”. They are among the most consistently validated practices in educational research.
    As far as spacing effect: "The spacing effect is the phenomenon whereby learning is greater when studying is spread out over time, as opposed to studying the same amount of content in a single session... Practically, this effect suggests that "cramming" (intense, last-minute studying) the night before an exam is not likely to be as effective as studying at intervals in a longer time frame."

    I also am not sure what deterioration has to do with it but I have never studied this and am reading the definition for the first time.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I've had a few spots in my life/career where I didn't touch the piano for a month, but could still sit down and whip through the Minute Waltz effortlessly. All that that proves is that my pianos skills are high enough that I can deteriorate to a level that's still above effortlessness. (I gotta admit it's a comforting place to be.)

    My mandolin skills are nowhere near that.

    I do tend to think that, in this discussion, we might be overestimating the length of time off. On the mandolin, stopping practising for lunch makes me unsettlingly aware of the deterioration. I'm also aware, however, that the deterioration rate is kinda reverse logarithmic – stopping for two hours isn't twice as bad as stopping for an hour. I suppose that it's a mirror of the law of diminishing returns (practising for six hours doesn't double the improvement that practising for three hours will etc).

  10. #59
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Stopping for lunch? What about sleep?
    Training biological neurons is a slow process that is stabilized in phases of reorganization. Maybe that is what happens during this mystery "deterioration", but a good night's sleep will normally suffice for it.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    While we're discussing deterioration and recovery, here's something interesting to ponder:

    This year, for four months (April~July), I didn't touch the piano – no injuries, just no access to one. When a digital piano was finally delivered to my new apartment, I sat down and practised for, I don't remember exactly, probably an hour or more. Everything worked fine, no unrecoverable loss, muscles that should be relaxed behaving nicely etc. I took a break, sat down at my laptop and found that I couldn't type! Well, I could, but was super-uncoordinated. Something in my brain had become quite mixed up. The phenomenon did not reoccur.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Seems to me this works best when one has a firm grasp of the instrument one is playing. That is, knowing where things are without constantly looking at your hands or going "well, the F#m chord is shaped like this". Am not at that point on the mandolin. So when I take a break of a day or 2 from playing, it's quite obvious. Still at the point where if I'm not playing certain songs on a semi-regular basis, they can get lost in the mists of my mind and I need to remind myself of how things go. (If I'm concentrating on Finnish music for a my band, the Swedish and Danish stuff can get awfully awful sounding.)

    Luckily, I'm at a point where I can now pick up the guitar and still back up other musicians without having to go through that. Flatpicking something? Well, that's a different story.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    When a digital piano was finally delivered to my new apartment, I sat down and practised for, I don't remember exactly, probably an hour or more. Everything worked fine, no unrecoverable loss, muscles that should be relaxed behaving nicely etc. I took a break, sat down at my laptop and found that I couldn't type!
    Don't pick and drive...
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I get more out of what Niles posted than most else in this thread - certainly more than what I got from the original premise - What's the point? Pretty much everything I'm doing is aimed toward performance. Making music to please myself and hopefully to bring an emotive response to the listener. I can't imagine sitting down with an instrument with no goal whatsoever in mind - makes no sense. You have some reason for doing it. But again thinking back to Niles' comment, what's the point? Are you after virtuosity for virtuosity's sake? And then ten years down the road, you're still not happy with it when you realize that there is still a lot left to learn?

    We each have the same number of hours in a day, and we get to decide how we spend them, or how much power we give to others over our time. We each have "all the time in the world" and yet "no time at all." So it's good to have an idea of what you want from life, and spend your time pursuing it. I'm happy with my musical journey and it ain't over yet.
    I don't think anyone is suggesting not having goals.
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  16. #64

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I get more out of what Niles posted than most else in this thread - certainly more than what I got from the original premise - What's the point? ........ what's the point? .
    I, too, love reading what Niles posts. And I think that answering the question "What's the point?" -- HONESTLY-- and for me, not for anyone else, has been an incredibly important part of the journey. I expect this is why there are so many different approaches with such a wide range of reported efficacies. What may work for me, cant possibly work for you if we dont share the same answers to "what's the point".

  17. #65

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    That's putting it well, jshane - your last sentence.

    But I don't begrudge Jon putting forth his take. It happens that my own process possiibly differs dramatically, yet I can appreciate a willingness to engage, offer anecdote, communicate. It happens that I'm interested in process - went to grad school in aesthetics, theory and critique. So I find interesting details, contrasts, points of view. Jon's process is his; Mark espouses his, and I've read lots from Niles on process in the past, and I mine. Possibly Jon's "point" may be just this (OP) and perhaps his interests are pedagogical aspects as much as playing - some folks like to play, others theorize, etc. There's a competitive feel to lots of posts. Why not just a dialectic? I probably disagree with 90% of things, but I appreciate someone's willingness to engage *(without being dismissive, etc).
    Last edited by catmandu2; Dec-05-2017 at 1:07pm.

  18. #66

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    As far as spacing effect: "The spacing effect is the phenomenon whereby learning is greater when studying is spread out over time, as opposed to studying the same amount of content in a single session... Practically, this effect suggests that "cramming" (intense, last-minute studying) the night before an exam is not likely to be as effective as studying at intervals in a longer time frame."

    I also am not sure what deterioration has to do with it but I have never studied this and am reading the definition for the first time.
    The gist is that trying to load something from short-term into long-term memory is the trigger that causes this information to be stored. If you work on a new tune for an hour, you will progress some. If you work on the same tune for 3 x 20 minutes with something inbetween (deterioration), you will progress more.

    I hope this helps.

    As for why I create elaborate practice schemes, mostly it's to prevent learning tunes but not having them stick long-term. I wish I could practice 3 hours a day but given about 1 hour a day to practice, I'll stay motivated if notice my own improvement. I'm more likely to notice my improvement when I structure my practice.

  19. #67

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    In regard to "What's the point?"...

    There are two points.
    What do I want while I do this?
    What do I want in the future as the result of doing this?

    People will balance these differently.

    There are certain practices that will allow you to achieve future goals faster, but you don't have to do them, if you find them disagreeable.

  20. #68

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    ........but I appreciate someone's willingness to engage *(without being dismissive, etc).
    Oh Yeah. Even more than that. I am fascinated by everyone's take on how we take consciousness and turn it into music. I am still astounded at the range of approaches.

  21. #69
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    But I don't begrudge Jon putting forth his take. It happens that my own process possiibly differs dramatically, yet I can appreciate a willingness to engage, offer anecdote, communicate. It happens that I'm interested in process - went to grad school in aesthetics, theory and critique. So I find interesting details, contrasts, points of view. Jon's process is his; Mark espouses his, and I've read lots from Niles on process in the past, and I mine. Possibly Jon's "point" may be just this (OP) and perhaps his interests are pedagogical aspects as much as playing - some folks like to play, others theorize, etc. There's a competitive feel to lots of posts. Why not just a dialectic? I probably disagree with 90% of things, but I appreciate someone's willingness to engage *(without being dismissive, etc).
    A lot of good points there. I don't mean to disparage Jon or anyone else contributing here. I believe that I take a pretty analytical approach to what I'm doing with an instrument and how to practice in order to improve skills. Jon seems always to have interesting topics and ideas about how best to accomplish goals; just rarely the type of solutions that I can implement. C'est la vie, and variety is the spice, etc.

    Niles had a telling point in that too much micro-analysis of a thing can be counter-productive in accomplishing the thing. I may have misread him, but the takeaway for me is like the Nike slogan, "Just do it." I'd have a difficult time trying to orchestrate a system of allowing certain skills to atrophy for a period and then revive them at the appropriate interval to get the most efficacious learning benefit.

    There have been studies to indicate that many types of musical practice and learning are immensely helped by napping or sleeping directly afterward. Something like that seems intuitively valuable to me, I could always use a little more sleep
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  22. #70
    Registered User Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Someone should do a study on the average number of posts in a thread required for the discussion to turn into a discussion about the discussion. :-P

    Quote Originally Posted by dadsaster View Post
    If you work on a new tune for an hour, you will progress some. If you work on the same tune for 3 x 20 minutes with something inbetween (deterioration), you will progress more.
    Ya, but...

    I'm a touring musician, and I regularly find myself with days off, absolutely nothing to do but practise today, no show, no family obligations, nothing. Given one of those days, how should I best structure my practising? I can (a) practise for an hour, take an hour off to allow for some deterioration, practise for an hour etc, or I can (b) try to practise as much as possible. If I choose (a), I'll total maybe six hours; with (b) I'll total maybe twelve. Which will produce the best result? My experience certainly suggests (b), and the obvious-to-me reason is that an hour of practice outweighs an hour of deterioration.

    Two phys ed-type analogies spring to mind: (1) "Walking burns the same number of calories as running." If I run for 40 minutes or walk the same distance for an hour, it may be true that I'll burn the same number of calories, but that's not taking into consideration the 20 minutes of calorie-burning that simply sitting in a chair watching television post-run would burn. (2) "Holding a stretching position for more than 20 seconds will result in a permanent change." I'll likely hit my peak musical skill with six hours of efficient practising, but at the end of the day, experience has taught me that I'm more likely to have crossed that line onto a new level of skill, one that will result in permanent improvement, if I can do twelve hours of not-as-efficient practising.

    I agree 100% with the above quote, but there is an impractical side to it's implementation – it's all about time available vs time utilized.

  23. #71
    Registered User Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Also depends on what I'm trying to accomplish: If I'm trying to memorize something difficult, then four hours broken up throughout the day is best. If I'm just trying to up my chops, then four hours in a row (as much as possible) is best – momentum seems to have a lot to do with it.

  24. #72

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    I can (a) practise for an hour, take an hour off to allow for some deterioration, practise for an hour etc, or I can (b) try to practise as much as possible. If I choose (a), I'll total maybe six hours; with (b) I'll total maybe twelve. Which will produce the best result? My experience certainly suggests (b), and the obvious-to-me reason is that an hour of practice outweighs an hour of deterioration.

    Two phys ed-type analogies spring to mind: (1) "Walking burns the same number of calories as running." If I run for 40 minutes or walk the same distance for an hour, it may be true that I'll burn the same number of calories, but that's not taking into consideration the 20 minutes of calorie-burning that simply sitting in a chair watching television post-run would burn. (2) "Holding a stretching position for more than 20 seconds will result in a permanent change." I'll likely hit my peak musical skill with six hours of efficient practising, but at the end of the day, experience has taught me that I'm more likely to have crossed that line onto a new level of skill, one that will result in permanent improvement, if I can do twelve hours of not-as-efficient practising..
    You don’t have to stop practicing to allow for some decay to occur. You just have to move around among several learning goals. The fancy schmancy word for this is “interleaving”. If you practice something 100 times in a row, you are always working from short term memory, which isn’t very effective. Forcing yourself to recall a skill from long term memory is more effective.

    It is counterintuitive, because when you play something 100 times in a row it feels like you really learned it. But whenever researchers test it, they find the people who jumped from item to item, and struggled with recalling, retained the memory better.

    If you are interested, https://bulletproofmusician.com has articles that explain these topics better than I do. There is also a book, https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Sc...ssful+learning, that summarizes the most thoroughly validated concepts in layman’s terms.
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  25. #73
    Registered User Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Again, yes and no.

    I have a difficult passage to master for work, and I practise it maybe not 100 times in a row, but, wait, let me check my Ableton play-along routine...62 times in a row (at various speeds). The repetition allows me to nail it at a certain tempo before moving up. I'm not sure that playing it 62 times over the course of a day wouldn't yield the same result, but it wouldn't be as easy to control/monitor my progress. Anyways, it's not about learning it – I already know it – it's about improving the muscle ability. And hey, I do it everyday – the 23 hour-plus period in between each day's routine allows for deterioration/absorption.

  26. #74

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    Someone should do a study on the average number of posts in a thread required for the discussion to turn into a discussion about the discussion. :-P
    Yes that's on me. But if it served to help extend the discussion I'm glad. Thank you.

  27. #75
    Registered User Jim Bevan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I mean, it's like doing push-ups: Do as many as you possibly can in a row, and the last one or two will be the ones that trigger your body to build up the necessary musculature to do more in the future. Doing the same amount, one at a time throughout the day, won't yield the same results.

    I suppose that we're talking about two different things here: learning something in your head, and improving physical skill. Both are part of making progress on the mandolin, but the necessary routines for progress are quite different.

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