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Thread: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

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    Default Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Cognitive psychology tells us that you will make faster gains if you allow a skill to deteriorate somewhat before you practice it again. The extra effort makes for stronger learning. However, the goal is to play effortlessly. If you are always allowing your skills to deteriorate before you review them, it seems they won’t ever become effortless.

    Has anyone else thought about how one should resolve this contradiction?
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  3. #2

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Since I don’t believe the first sentence has empirical validity, there’s no contradiction. Apparently 2 a day is in invalid practice.
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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    From JonZ - "...if you allow a skill to deteriorate somewhat before you practice it again.". Jon - personally,i think that maybe has to do with not letting a skill 'deteriorate' so much as letting our memory / muscle memory 'forget' the wrong way we played something.

    One of the first Bill Monroe instrumentals i learned how to play 'by ear' was ''Old Daingerfield'' & i played it for a couple of years until one day, i realised that i was playing the first few bars incorrectly. I tried to play it correctly,but the 'wrong way' stuck !!. So,i left it alone for 18 months or so,then went back to it & managed to get it right,
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    If you increase you alcohol intake over time as you play, thing deteriorate as you play...q.e.d. You alway get better!
    I think I'm on to something...
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Since I don’t believe the first sentence has empirical validity, there’s no contradiction. Apparently 2 a day is in invalid practice.
    Look up “spacing effect” and “desirable difficulty”. They are among the most consistently validated practices in educational research.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    You don't want your skills to deteriorate much at all. That seems perfectly obvious to me.

    However, it can certainly be a good idea to leave something which you find difficult and come back to it later, and often that little break can help. But use that time to do something else - don't 'deteriorate'.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    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 !
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    Phil Goodson Philphool'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.
    Isn't this talking about retention of MEMORY specifically? I don't remember reading about allowing deterioration of 'physical abilities' or 'skills'.
    Certainly, re-establishment of memories which are fading causes stronger and longer lasting memory. Other things, .... I'm not so sure.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Don't think "deteriorate." Think 'recovery." Every resistance training regimen has time for the body to recover.
    Making synoptic circuits seems no different. At least personally.

    Many type of mental development. But this pursuit of effortlessness, what many find the most difficult (this is paraphrasing Kenny Werner) is getting rid of the effort. Graduate students have essentially made careers out of learning. Many can't see the forest for the trees. Remember grad. students already know how to play at a high(er) level. Then the next step is to leave the nest and fly. As in letting go of the ground.

    So I think if you're still at the level of learning the fingerboard, and getting your fingers to do your bidding, you've still got a ways to go. If you know all the aforementioned and are essentially bored and wondering what's next, what's next is to forget all that stuff and just wail. (apologies to Thelonius Monk)

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by farmerjones View Post
    ...forget all that stuff and just wail. (apologies to Thelonius Monk)
    Bud Powell?

    When you have been working hard on a passage or technique, you get tired and that can last a day or two, as in a baseball pitcher that needs a couple days off before pitching another game. Even waiting a few minutes can make a difference. It's not always obvious that your hands are tired. Ditto your brain, or rather, your attention. What may feel like reduced learning capacity or plateau then, and faster learning later, is simply that you are less tired. And you have not forgotten the stuff you were working on, but last time you were hard at it you were getting progressively more tired. When you come back a day later, you have the memory plus fresh muscles and attention, so it is common to feel a sharp improvement.

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

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

    I often spend entire practice sessions only on the hardest sections of pieces I'm working on. I figure, if time is of the essence, why waste it on the easy parts, if I'm looking to improve overall? Sometimes, the necessary work is nothing more than slow, mechanical repetition with gradually increasing speed, and I can do this work while occupying my mind with other things, such as reading forums or articles on the Internet. My ears are attentive enough to what I'm practicing, and I often find the slight distraction of reading cements the physical parts of playing the passages quite handily, making them more automatic. Then when I play the pieces in their entirety, the tough passages are noticeably improved.

    I don't think I buy into the idea of letting skills actually "deteriorate", although I agree with many that a fresh approach after a short while away from the instrument is often helpful. But then, in general I don't put too much stock in what psychologists say.

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    My way of learning something difficult is to not be in a hurry to get it down..I practice every single day,,in my practicing,I go over the hard thing maybe 5 min. and then move on ..5 min. a day,,eventually it happens,,it is not unusual for me to work on something like this for months,,sometimes over a year,,,

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    My buddy and I played duets for an old-folks' home. My mother in law lives there and the audience is quite forgiving. We played complicated stuff (two Bach Inventions - guitar and mandolin), O'Carolan and arrangements of old-time/Shetland/Celtic tunes.

    Not a great day for me! Really made me feel underprepared.

    Now the audience and other family members didn't notice (didn't tell me) errors. I still felt less than glee afterwards; however.

    Went about 10 days in such funk.

    I had a great practice yesterday though! I really felt great playing those same complicated tunes. I think breaks and other such re-calibrations are good.

    I know nothing about psychology; however. . .

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

    At 63 years young, I've been teaching myself to do something completely new to me as of 2017, namely fingerstyle picking on my fifths-tuned ukuleles, and my goal is (naturally) that it become effortless. Needless to say, but I will anyhow, it's way different from using a pick (or a bow)! At this stage, I'm still not ready to perform in front of anyone who knows anything about music. And when I skip a day of practice, I notice it. Two days, and it gets maddening. A week would doubtlessly put me backwards in progress. But my overall progress has been encouraging, as I'm getting actually comfortable doing things that were unimaginable to me 6 months ago....

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    The brain has two different learning states, focused and diffused. The focused state occurs during practice (hopefully) and the diffuse state occurs when we are on auto-pilot (driving, sleeping etc.). Our job during practice is to prime our brains so that it will continue to build better neural networks during the diffuse state. It is actually similar to exercise. We actually damage our muscles during exercise which signals our bodies to build the muscles and improve the neural pathways that the muscles require.

    Studies have shown that shorter bursts of intense focus followed by rest or a change of focus is optimum for strengthing neural connections. Practice can be optimized by working on new skills, songs, or whatever for no more than 20-25 minutes before changing focus. You can still practice for hours while following this rule. The act of loading information from short-term memory to long-term memory is what causes adaptation. By allowing ourselves some time to "forget" the new information and then try to load it into memory again, we will strengthen that memory. If we can tie it to some emotion it will be a stronger impulse still.

    One of the most interesting phenomena of this whole process is that when we make something harder to learn, we learn it better, but we experience it as a learning it worse. We all like to practice until something "feels natural" but the time between being able to play something for the first time and the sensation of having it down is actually wasted time.

    I use spaced repetition for managing to learn new tunes or licks etc. Basically, I write a flashcard with the name of the tune on it. I have a box with flashcards divided into 4 sections. A new two starts in section 1. I practice a new tune for 20 minutes a day until I can play it at a slow tempo with a metronome. Once I have it down it goes into section II. Tunes in this section get practiced once or twice a week for a few months. Section III is twice a month for a few months. Section IV means I know the tune. If, during this process, I find I've forgotten a section, then it moves down a level.

    This probably seems insane but it takes very little time and with limited practice time, it prevents me from over or under practicing a tune. I should mention that this whole process works much better if you aren't reading music. Reading off the page makes the practice easier which also means less effective. You need to force yourself to recall tunes in order to hammer them into long-term memory.

    IMO effortless mastery is the result of appropriate focused practice. I found this website very helpful for designing more effective practice routines:

    https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immu...tive-practice/

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    My way of learning something difficult is to not be in a hurry to get it down..I practice every single day,,in my practicing,I go over the hard thing maybe 5 min. and then move on ..5 min. a day,,eventually it happens,,it is not unusual for me to work on something like this for months,,sometimes over a year,,,
    This is interesting - we all process so variably. I think I have only one approach: I fall in love with something (new piece) and obsessively pursue it til I can more faithfully reproduce that sound. It's more like a state of mania, or frenetic agitation as I become increasingly impatient with finishing it; then i begin rehearsing it.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    However, the goal is to play effortlessly.
    Play effortlessly?
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    This is based on a Japanese principle called "ki-zen",, or "perpetual improvement"....where you practice something the same, every day,,and time goes by,and before you know it,eventually you master it....

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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    Isn't this talking about retention of MEMORY specifically? I don't remember reading about allowing deterioration of 'physical abilities' or 'skills'.
    Certainly, re-establishment of memories which are fading causes stronger and longer lasting memory. Other things, .... I'm not so sure.
    There is research that indicates that skills track similarly to memory.

    To make the concept clearer, assume I have a skill #27 that I want to improve. I can practice it every day, or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, gradually increasing the time between practices, so each time there is a little bit of struggle. The theory is that if I stop after a week, the skill that I practiced daily will fade faster. The one that I practiced on increasing intervals will be stronger, because the struggle makes for a stronger memory. This is assuming that each time I practiced the skill until it was at performance level.
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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    This is interesting - we all process so variably. I think I have only one approach: I fall in love with something (new piece) and obsessively pursue it til I can more faithfully reproduce that sound. It's more like a state of mania, or frenetic agitation as I become increasingly impatient with finishing it; then i begin rehearsing it.
    This must be the emotional component. I do the same process. It looks like the practice method is different for different types of people. I could never be so organized as some here.

    Right now I am slowly 'getting back' after a serious injury and surgery. Last July I dislocated my shoulder and broke four bones in my right shoulder and one in my left thumb.

    I have been doing mental work on music theory and I'm arranging a tune for a chamber group. The physical side of holding a violin or mandolin is going pretty slowly. I can play only about ten minutes before it hurts. So I'll see if the break (pun intended...) will help or challenge my memory in playing old tunes.
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  26. #22

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    This is interesting - we all process so variably. I think I have only one approach: I fall in love with something (new piece) and obsessively pursue it til I can more faithfully reproduce that sound. It's more like a state of mania, or frenetic agitation as I become increasingly impatient with finishing it; then i begin rehearsing it.
    Your approach is not necessarily different from what I am talking about. Do you continually play the entire song through or work mostly on the hard parts?

    According to research, you should work on a part until it is sounding good. Then leave it and do the same with a different part. You should go back and forth between several practice items in this way.

    At least this is what I have gleaned from The Bulletproof Musician website.
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    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Effortless .... I doubt ever... possible yes, playing more difficult pieces will spread skills across the entire spectrum of ones playing. R/
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  28. #24

    Default Re: Practicing what is hard in pursuit of effortlessness

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Your approach is not necessarily different from what I am talking about. Do you continually play the entire song through or work mostly on the hard parts?

    According to research, you should work on a part until it is sounding good. Then leave it and do the same with a different part. You should go back and forth between several practice items in this way...
    Yes I suppose this is about what I do, perhaps intuitively. However I don't claim to be doing anything particularly efficiently - i was merely contrasting TD's approach: rather than having anything consciously distributed proportionately or whatever, I just dive in obsessively and impatiently until it's finished. When i was younger i would go through periods of little sleep during particularly creative spells. About the best analog I thought of was falling in love - it just takes me over, and I'm in a mad rush to reproduce or recapitulate the feelings evoked upon hearing it originally from the source (recording or whatever). It's much as any addiction. And the same for performing - I'm trying to reconstruct, in the moment, that feeling, for myself, of falling in love which, to no surprise, is the challenge.

    An aside, for me this is a creative process - learning - using my instrument to render a piece to elicit an emotion. Reflecting now, I think this is the essence for me, as Doug mentions, It's a very emotional process.

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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

    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.
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