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Thread: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

  1. #26

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I'd really like to stop learning tunes entirely, but what is a difficult passage without context?
    But "the idea" is to play the instrument well enough to converse in a conversation. The pay-off seemed to be relatively fast. I found one can be fairly plain spoken and still be able and accepted into a conversation. Sure, I can recite, but prefer not. I realize this isn't every person's goal. But I'd rather be flexible to handle odd keys, time signatures, or harmonies as they come, rather than being a tune repository. I keep thinking being better at pattern recognition should compensate for not having a huge tune collection. And I don't say it out loud, but it seems there's really only a finite number of continually played melodies. What I can't do is write or compose because I've mentally diminished the value. Be careful of effortlessness. Don't they say a genius is bored with everything?

  2. #27

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    I haven't understood what is so unclear about this "effortless" thing. What is effort? It is a special state of mind where some part of your brain strains to achieve something out of the ordinary (cramped facial expression, beads of sweat on your forehead, you get the picture). Playing music does not work like that. What you need is concentration, and that is a relaxed state of mind. You're not playing music, the music plays you, that's how it must feel to be successful. If you can't do it effortlessly, you can't do it at all.
    The only extra challenge can be to stay relaxed under extra distraction, such as someone spitting into your beer while you solo at the jam.
    Well this is delving into other aspects, more pertaining to performance (for me) rather than the topic at hand, which to my understanding is concerning learning/practicing (?). But pursuing your comments, we're again caught in the spectrum of activity where (our) language (play, work, music, you, me, etc) again is insufficient to the task of representing/communicating precisely the experience of what we're trying to convey. Although the many angles allow us to gain greater perspective, which provides us with a better picture.

    There's plenty of sweat, intensity, anxiety and passion involved in learning (for me anyway), i would guess, although im not aware of it as I'm being driven by powerful and irrational forces - in this respect i think i achieve that "zone." This is part of my process, for better and worse. (In performing and rehearsing, however, I'm inducing more relaxation, as you say.) Whether or not this is "inefficient," I haven't considered. It's not really a rational concern for me (probably why I'm not teaching).

  3. #28

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by farmerjones View Post
    I'd really like to stop learning tunes entirely, but what is a difficult passage without context?
    But "the idea" is to play the instrument well enough to converse in a conversation. The pay-off seemed to be relatively fast. I found one can be fairly plain spoken and still be able and accepted into a conversation. Sure, I can recite, but prefer not. I realize this isn't every person's goal. But I'd rather be flexible to handle odd keys, time signatures, or harmonies as they come, rather than being a tune repository. I keep thinking being better at pattern recognition should compensate for not having a huge tune collection. And I don't say it out loud, but it seems there's really only a finite number of continually played melodies. What I can't do is write or compose because I've mentally diminished the value. Be careful of effortlessness. Don't they say a genius is bored with everything?
    I'm as you apparently. And im often too distracted to pursue love with what i was doing yesterday. I wind up improvising a good portion of whatever I'm performing with - simply as my mind drifts, forgets tunes, is inspired to go in various tangents, or otherwise just playing what I feel. I have pronounced ADD and easily become bored of tunes and pieces. This HAS been a problem, and likely has contributed greatly to my predilection/tendencies. It doesn't always work, however, but that's what i have. There are moments of inspired playing, and others of rote mechanics awaiting inspiration. My challenge is in revivifying the vitality of material from which i've moved on.

    Sorry for going off topic.

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  5. #29
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I don't think practicing and performing involves just one kind of mental / emotional function. In both it seems that there are easy parts of a tune and hard parts. And you study the tune with your own method.
    And when you perform, you either forget the easy parts and screw up on that, or you have anxiety about the hard parts, forgetting distractions about the safety of your beer, ha ha.

    I like the saying, "practice until you can't make a mistake". Not usually the case with me but that is my goal.
    A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

  6. #30

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I know I'm going to make mistakes, lapses, everything, so I try have fun with it. Although performing with others or staying serious for extended periods is a different bag, skill, and is fun too. But I make so many mistakes it's better performing alone

  7. #31

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I wonder,

    Is there any evidence that adopting/following a scientifically-developed protocol for practice and retention actually produces better musicality ?. My question is genuine. It goes to the heart of what music actually is to me. If something is flawlessly learned and reproduced effortlessly... is it necessarily "good"? I really don't know.

    I DO know that I have seen lightning fast technical players produce amazing demonstrations of skill that leave me impressed with their aptitude, but musically less-than-thrilled. Conversely, I once saw a person play "O Holy Night" on a cello with such incredible feeling and emotion that it changed me inside, even though the piece is relatively simple to play.

    Can cognitive psychology tell us about art ? Or is it confined to mechanics?

  8. #32
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I look at technique as the interplay between mind and body. But musicality? That part is the soul.

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  10. #33

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by jshane View Post
    I wonder,

    Is there any evidence that adopting/following a scientifically-developed protocol for practice and retention actually produces better musicality ?. My question is genuine. It goes to the heart of what music actually is to me. If something is flawlessly learned and reproduced effortlessly... is it necessarily "good"? I really don't know.

    I DO know that I have seen lightning fast technical players produce amazing demonstrations of skill that leave me impressed with their aptitude, but musically less-than-thrilled. Conversely, I once saw a person play "O Holy Night" on a cello with such incredible feeling and emotion that it changed me inside, even though the piece is relatively simple to play.

    Can cognitive psychology tell us about art ? Or is it confined to mechanics?
    Well, one component of education that leads to greater retention is called “reflection”. This is, basically, playing with the skills or information you have learned. This would be where you develop your musicality. The “play” and “work” reinforce each other.
    Last edited by JonZ; Dec-02-2017 at 8:07pm.
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  11. #34
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness



    Hey, do you know what might "efficient"?

    Instead of pondering and researching the micro-details of super-efficiency and then spending time discussing it, you might just sit down with your instrument and just practice! Maybe that isn't the ultimate in efficiency, but that somewhat inefficient (?) practice has got to be better than no practice!

    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.

    Just like Jethro Burns said..."No matter where you go, there you are!"

    NH

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  13. #35
    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 catmandu2 View Post
    Well this is delving into other aspects, more pertaining to performance (for me) rather than the topic at hand, which to my understanding is concerning learning/practicing (?).
    Niles put in other words what my approach is, generally:

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    Hey, do you know what might "efficient"?

    Instead of pondering and researching the micro-details of super-efficiency and then spending time discussing it, you might just sit down with your instrument and just practice! Maybe that isn't the ultimate in efficiency, but that somewhat inefficient (?) practice has got to be better than no practice!
    To me, practising and performing are not two different actions. Procedural memory does not care why it is playing a particular piece, it just registers that this is the nth repetition of a pattern and burns a deeper groove for it. To practise, I play the tunes that had too little repetitions, for performance I play those that had enough of them; but I always just play. It does not get any more simple.

    There is no magic intricate way around it, and if there were, I'd not trust it because intricate things can fail on you more treacherously and unforeseen than simple ones. There is no effortlessness without trust.
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  15. #36
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Who says pondering and discussing have to be at odds with practicing? Instead of either-or, why not both-and? I think that's what most people on this thread are about, really, as the two aspects are not mutually exclusive - far from it. Some of us like to read how others work these things out. Nothing wrong with that, and it may just give someone a new insight.

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  17. #37

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    Niles put in other words what my approach is, generally:



    To me, practising and performing are not two different actions. Procedural memory does not care why it is playing a particular piece, it just registers that this is the nth repetition of a pattern and burns a deeper groove for it. To practise, I play the tunes that had too little repetitions, for performance I play those that had enough of them; but I always just play. It does not get any more simple.

    There is no magic intricate way around it, and if there were, I'd not trust it because intricate things can fail on you more treacherously and unforeseen than simple ones. There is no effortlessness without trust.
    This is interesting. My process is as yours, I guess, since all the 'work' during practicing is in a mode more resembling 'play' (again, words may or may not help here ).

    But what's interesting to me (and while at this point I don't know whether it's off-topic or whatever) is where some of these differences and aspects intersect, and involves rather broad aspects to consider (if one is inclined to indulge; perhaps neither you nor Niles are not, I understand)...

    (Me) so I try all kinds of different playing/performing, instruments, repertoire, approaches. I'm ADD so I can't help it much. I would rather be a dedicated bassist or something and have a regular job, but that's another discussion.. So, some of my playing involves taking quite a bit of risk, and some playing is not taking risks at all, depending upon what I'm doing at the time. There are many varied cognitive elements involved in all types of (my) playing and performing. On some level, I'm somewhat like you Bertram in that I'm doing/thinking/feeling and executing much the same during a practice session and a performance. Yet I can observe different psychic states and emotional impetus during these events. My response varies: sometimes I 'allow' total latitude in going with this flow, or constrain my thoughts more, diverting mind here, or there, or loosening mind, or accessing mind, sometimes it's like dream, sometimes like 'lucid dreaming,' sometimes like stone sober.. This discussion involves consideration of the mind at play (What is 'play'? What Is music? What/why are we doing in a given performance? ). For some, it's all the same. For others, why bother to discuss it, theorize or explore it?, but 'just do it.' For me, music is an activity involving many varied feelings, thoughts, experiences, heuristics and even revelations. So, I'm inclined to indulge conversation about it - in fact I very much enjoy it; for me, music is a creative *process* in many different ways, and in fact it's the creative process that's of most interest. That others may not be interested is fine and expected.

    Some folks like to bash out a tune. Others like to do crazy things. There are sessions for the former and fields like music therapy or performance for the latter. Both involve music, so it's all cool

  18. #38

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    I was trying to think of why I dont get bored practicing... and---

    I think I have just realized that I don't ever practice. I just perform.... it's just that most of the time that I am performing, I am doing so completely for myself, and I am the only one in the room....

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  20. #39

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    [IMG]Hey, do you know what might "efficient"?

    Instead of pondering and researching the micro-details of super-efficiency and then spending time discussing it, you might just sit down with your instrument and just practice! Maybe that isn't the ultimate in efficiency, but that somewhat inefficient (?) practice has got to be better than no practice!

    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.

    Just like Jethro Burns said..."No matter where you go, there you are!"

    NH
    How can one respond to someone writing criticisms on a forum towards people for spending time on a forum?

    How can one respond to a teacher who is not interested in pondering the most effective methods for mastering what he teaches?

    To each his own, I suppose.

    In regard to your question, I always enjoy practicing. Fun and efficiency are not mutually exclusive.
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  21. #40
    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by jshane View Post
    I was trying to think of why I dont get bored practicing... and---

    I think I have just realized that I don't ever practice. I just perform.... it's just that most of the time that I am performing, I am doing so completely for myself, and I am the only one in the room....
    I don't get bored practicing either, and I definitely practice. I'm always grasping for things just out of my reach, so that I can't "just play them" without a lot of woodshedding going into it beforehand. And, even though I play mostly for myself, there is satisfaction in being able to expand my musical horizons and repertoire, and even joy in the journey itself. Practicing may at times be mechanical, even frustrating (when I think "this passage will never sound effortless!" ;-) ) - but I don't ever find it boring.

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  23. #41

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    [QUOTE=bratsche;1615874]I don't get bored practicing either, and I definitely practice. I'm always grasping for things just out of my reach, so that I can't "just play them" without a lot of woodshedding going into it beforehand. And, even though I play mostly for myself, there is satisfaction in being able to expand my musical horizons and repertoire, and even joy in the journey itself. Practicing may at times be mechanical, even frustrating (when I think "this passage will never sound effortless!" ;-) ) - but I don't ever find it boring.

    Ha. As I've previously disclosed I have problems with 'boredom' - even with my most intense addiction (as with any addiction) the routine, spending lots of time doing much the same thing over and over, of playing/practicing for oneself presents challenges (I've assuaged need for novelty by pursuing various instruments, idioms, etc). I've been a stay-at-home dad the past 7-8 years. I could no longer go out and play with people in the evening, so I took up harp. Still, to get myself out of the house I go out weekly to rehab/nursing facilities where I can share. I play a lot of dance tunes, as it really brings energy. But I also do a lot extemporaneous playing. This is really a different bag than dance tunes - there's vastly more openess and space and opportunity to explore. That'll be a different discussion, and perhaps not wanted here. Suffice to say, wrt above, that I find this type of playing/music making very stimulating (rarely if ever boring) but it does inculcate (in terms of dynamics being discussed here) more varied aspects concerning preparation, disposition, psychology, etc.

    For purposes of this discussion, briefly, there are disparate methods, other aspects, of practice and preparation among various types of performing. Some times, I have no idea what I'm going to play, how I'm going to start a tune, whatever - I just lay my hands on the instrument and what happens, happens. I guess it's the same as meeting someone and not knowing what one is going to say (I'm not very good at rote methodology here either, social conventions, etc). I like the opportunity - to converse using sound and anything else in the room - for conversation, transaction. The preparation (practice) involved here is basically spending adequate time with an instrument, feeling compelled to use it as a medium, and some type of chops (ability to use the instrument). It's more psychological than technical.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Dec-03-2017 at 4:41pm.

  24. #42

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    But also, most of my playing stinks, but it doesn't stop me from doing it and enjoying talking about it. Mostly I try just not to embarrass myself.

  25. #43

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    .......... I'm always grasping for things just out of my reach, so that I can't "just play them" without a lot of woodshedding going into it beforehand. .....

    bratsche
    I think what you call "woodshedding" is what I was calling "performance for myself".... I certainly work hard to (occasionally) achieve the sound I am after-- I just rarely sit down and execute a pre-planned practice session consisting of certain exercises, or activities aimed at a certain end.

  26. #44
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by jshane View Post
    or activities aimed at a certain end.
    I sincerely doubt that last part

    You must have something in mind when you sit down with your musical instrument. You engage in that activity for no reason whatever? Perhaps you mean that you do it simply to amuse yourself - but that is "a certain end" in itself.

    For me, I definitely play alone to 1) make music, and 2) to get better at making better music. There's no end to the learning experiences. I think that Niles and Bertram have made some really valid points in this thread. I'll never be "efficient" in the eyes of JonZ but I actually think about what I'm doing when I'm playing/practicing at home with improvement and learning as my goal.
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  27. #45

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I sincerely doubt that last part

    You must have something in mind when you sit down with your musical instrument. You engage in that activity for no reason whatever? Perhaps you mean that you do it simply to amuse yourself - but that is "a certain end" in itself.

    For me, I definitely play alone to 1) make music, and 2) to get better at making better music. There's no end to the learning experiences. I think that Niles and Bertram have made some really valid points in this thread. I'll never be "efficient" in the eyes of JonZ but I actually think about what I'm doing when I'm playing/practicing at home with improvement and learning as my goal.
    Practicing intuitively isnít necessarily inefficient. Everyone is trying to do what they think is most effective.

    It would be easy characterize most music education as a failure. How many who try to learn an instrument quit? How many would say they have plateaued? How many who succeed were forced by their parents at some point? I look at music methods like diets: they work if you stay with them, but most people donít.

    Having a system that is engaging is definitely part of the solution. If you are still playing and making progress, you are doing better than most.
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  28. #46

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Most people want to ‘get better quicker’, whatever that means for them. And they develop a tactic, if not a strategy, to do this. Informed or not. Effective to meet their goal or not.

    I think the psychology of game design is informative here, in that millions of people eagerly and voluntarily play games. And the games are designed to suck in new players with early, simple rewards while providing more complex challenges for players whose skills advance and reward them. And keep all players interested at their level.

    So, your practice today has to provide some reward today so you’re eager to practice again tomorrow. And your skill tomorrow hopefully won’t be sufficiently diminished to question why you practice. And maybe, at some point, your mental and physical skill will allow an ‘effortless’ connection between your inner song and the manipulation of the instrument.

    But if skill deterioration led to quicker learning, leaving the instruments in their cases would seem an important component, and it clearly isn’t.

    Ymmv
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  29. #47
    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 Bill McCall View Post
    Most people want to ‘get better quicker’
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  30. #48

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    It would be easy characterize most music education as a failure. How many who try to learn an instrument quit? How many would say they have plateaued? How many who succeed were forced by their parents at some point? I look at music methods like diets: they work if you stay with them, but most people donít.

    Having a system that is engaging is definitely part of the solution. If you are still playing and making progress, you are doing better than most.
    I appreciate you positing this problem - it's another big picture. As with all issues in education, all the usual suspects are at play in sociological critique. Unfortunately, public ed (in the US) provides little in the scope of arts education that provides basis for kids to contextualize experience. Certainly more integration is indicated, but curricula is subject to policy, which is of course often tooled for purposes at odds with such integration of experience.

  31. #49
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    For ME, I always practice SLOW until it becomes boring and my speed gradually picks up on it's own. Only practice as fast as you can while fingering/playing correctly ! Don't learn something wrong and than have to unlearn it to start all over learning it correctly !
    I always practice slow until it becomes boring and now I can only play slow

  32. #50
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by peterleyenaar View Post
    I always practice slow until it becomes boring and now I can only play slow


    Well, that's a good one. I firmly believe that to play fast you'll have to practice fast.

    Since this is after all a thread about practice, I'll state one of my techniques, which is very common, and that is to play a tune slowly enough to reduce (hopefully eliminate) errors. And it's not boring at all, because while I do that I think about many things like economy of finger movement, clean fretting and picking, relaxation of muscles, amount of pressure used in fretting, dynamics of softer vs. harder pick strokes, evenness of upstrokes & downstrokes, to name a few, and I concentrate on correcting problems or experimenting with differences in all those things.

    Then I play fast.

    Then I go back to playing slow again.

    I do this with songs I already know, and I find that songs I've known for years (over two years on mandolin) can use improvement. So the idea of overnight "arriving" at any degree of virtuosity is just so much folly in my own view. Music for me is a lifelong journey and if there is anything at all in my technique or execution that needs improvement, I prefer to work on it to improve it. I don't find that to be boring.

    In addition to playing songs like that, I practice exercises sometimes. Scales, arpeggios, or exercise I make from the difficult sections of songs that I'm learning or already know. I practice exercises in the same way I practice the tunes as outlined above. I don't find exercises boring either.

    Then, another of my techniques is to take a song that I may know very well from hearing it performed by someone, or a song that maybe I've performed on guitar for many years. These would be vocal tunes. I'll take that and find different chord voicings on the mandolin, and then practice the chord changes with and without the vocals until I find the "currently best" voicings; practice the smooth transitions, experiment with rhythms, then add fills, etc. Nothing at all ever boring about that, though progress can seem tediously slow.

    So these are two of my practice techniques - call them "routines" if you will - but between the slowing down, the speeding up, the playing with intense concentration or at least critical concentration on numerous things, the playing mindlessly once something is well-learned for the time being, the creative aspect of finding voices and fingerings; between all these things I don't find the need to "allow a skill to deteriorate" - and I don't get "bored" - but I can easily neglect some things for a period of time, then come back to them while neglecting other things, etc.

    Definitely not boring.

    Back to the quoted post, there have been studies that indicate switching between slow, deliberate playing and playing up to speed has a beneficial effect on learning and mastering the piece. Check out The Practice of Practice by Jonathan Harnum, it's a great book on the subject of musical practice.
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