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Thread: Point of Diminishing Returns

  1. #1
    Registered User Lilyaperi's Avatar
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    Default Point of Diminishing Returns

    Hullo, all! So I've only been playing about a week now, though already seeing progress. But I'm also seeing a phenomenon occur that I've seen other times I've learned a new skill: I warm up and playing for a while, breaking down a new song into pieces and working on it bit by bit, and get to a point where I can play what I'm working on smoothly (though not at speed, yet). But after 45 minutes to an hour or so, I hit a point where I start fumbling again, making more mistakes on something I was playing comfortably just a few minutes before, and it just devolves further from there the longer I play. At that point, I know it's time to put it down for the night, because it'll be hurting more than helping to continue. Which is kind of problematic, because I was really having fun! Lol

    My question is, am I doing the right thing there? Or should I go ahead and continue and it'll be alright again after a few more minutes of fumbling like that? And if I'm doing the right thing, what else can I do to help facilitate learning after I put the mando down while my brain is still in itching-to-learn mode and not really emotionally ready to stop altogether just yet lol?
    "Now and then we had the hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." - - Mark Twain

  2. #2
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Maybe you could switch gears, rather than putting it down, if you really don't feel like putting it down.

    For example, stop playing the tune and focus on technique - maybe tremolo - and work on that. You don't have to play anything particular to focus on technique like tremolo. You can play scales, random notes, open strings, whatever.

    I can understand, and agree, that it can be unhelpful to practice errors. Especially if you get frustrated with making the errors. On the other hand, if your attitude remains positive, and you desire to keep on, then sometimes I think you may want to just keep on and try to push on through. If you ever wish to perform for audiences, you'll want to be able to accomplish that on bad days as well as good ones.
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  4. #3
    Struggle Monkey B381's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    You should let it settle. The brain reaches a point where it has to process. Try the tune again in 2 days, you'll be surprised at what happens.

    Work on scales when still wanting to play.
    "It doesn't matter how much you invest in your instrument until you invest in you and your ability..."

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    I came across this when I became interested in having a more efficient music practice.

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

  6. #5
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Yeah this is a common problem. Slow down, work on specific passages or a technique, change the tune you are working on. Give your brain a nudge in a different direction. Thinking too much about what you are doing can be as big a roadblock as not thinking enough.
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  7. #6
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Playing really ought to be fun (hence the term 'play'). We all need to work at developing skills that allow us to play. In the beginning, it is easy to get into a rut where all you do is the work. You need to play too, or you will eventually get frustrated.

    I suggest learning a few very simple tunes that you like. Then, each time you sit down with your mandolin, first do some work. That may involve exercises, scales, new pieces of greater difficulty, and so on. When you feel the saturation coming on (but before you become saturated) stop working and begin to play. Use those simple songs to unwind and remind yourself why you are doing this.

    For me, working past the saturation point yields no reward. If I stop at or just before that point and come back to it a day or two later, I am amazed what my brain has accomplished when I wasn't even thinking about it. I hope this helps you, but I am aware that learning styles vary among us. What works for one may not for another.

    In any case, don't forget to have fun with your instrument. Remember to play, not just work.
    Purr more, hiss less.

  8. #7
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    The last time I learned a new instrument (banjo) I found that I could put it down and come back in a couple of hours and move forward again.
    The process was sort of like: pick up the banjo in the morning and struggle for an hour or so. Come back in an hour or two and make some progress. Repeat, and as the day progressed, and by evening I was happily picking along, learning new things and smoothing up the things that I knew.
    Next morning; pick up the banjo and struggle again, somewhat frustrated by not being able to do what I was doing the day before, but make more progress by the end of the day.

    Now, I had an advantage, so to speak, for learning an instrument. This was in the early 80s when the economy was in the tank and I couldn't find a steady job so I had plenty of time to devote to learning the banjo. (The economy of the day was also a major factor in me becoming a luthier, so beware if you have time on your hands and an interest in musical instruments!)

    So anyway, try taking a break letting your brain process, then coming back. It worked for me.

  9. #8

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    I agree with other replies.
    When learning a new tune I've learned to recognize when to stop working on it. (Fingers seem to get clumsy or just can't seem to get through a tough part.)

    Take a break, and play something else for a while.

    When you come back to it in a day or two you'll be surprised how much improvement there is. A lot of what you worked on will have stuck, and then you can focus on what didn't.
    Rinse and repeat as necessary.

  10. #9
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Quote Originally Posted by B381 View Post
    ... let it settle. The brain reaches a point where it has to process...
    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    ... try taking a break letting your brain process, then coming back. It worked for me.
    What they said!

    Yes it's fun, but learning can also be fatiguing. Just as muscle fibers repair & strengthen themselves after exercise, neural pathways need down time to restore and "finalize" those new connections. (Just my amateur interpretation; it's my wife who's the biologist!)
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  11. #10
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    A slightly different approach might be to stop practicing the tune you're working on and instead, play some chords to accompany yourself singing a song that you like.

    Then find a new way to finger each of those chords and play the song again that way.
    Throwing in a different skill set and new information when you're tired of specifically what you're doing is a great way to keep things fresh.
    Phil

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  13. #11
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Try each of the suggestions above (or come up with something else), and you'll find the one that works for you. We all learn differently. We all have plateaus and over-saturation points.

    If you are still enjoying the process, whatever that process looks like, then you are doing it right.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

  14. #12
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Did you ever eat so much of one thing, you could not take another bite? - digest, give your self some time, REST.
    I find myself doing the same thing ( after all these years) , put it down or play something completely different for a spell and then come back to it.
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
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  15. #13

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    I try to divide sessions into review and new, ie warm up (fingers, picking distances, metronome work ,new tunes, arpeggios scales etc. do your mechanics first, ie warm up, scales, etc, review /play a song(s) you're working on, then , second part of your session, learn the new material.

    1 practice new stuff in the afternoon. or closer to bed...
    2 revisit the next morning..as mentioned, this gives your brain a chance to review and digest overnight..really!
    3 with focused, mindful practice, not noodling, 45 minutes is a good session. this is not unlike trying to digest a long lecture, etc.
    4 as mentioned, slow the tempo, play something perfectly three times, then stop. the point is to make your practice goal being able to play something all the way through without an error.

    just a thought

  16. #14
    Registered User dulcillini's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    The same thing happens to me. One trick that has worked for me is to play the tune on my melodica (I have a cheap one but the sound is good). It helps me visualize the tune on the keyboard and it gets in my head. I really can't explain. Others on this site have a much better grasp of this, and why it works for me. Also, if I take a time-out, listen to it played by another, then return the next day, all seems to be well. Sorry I can't be more scientific!
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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    I've heard the term "practicing to failure" in the discussion of sports skills, meaning that once you start to see this type of failure appearing, you've gotten too tired (mentally or physically) to make progress anymore, at least on that skill. At that point, you aren't going to improve, so it's better to do something else. I think that's what a lot of folks here are saying. The conservatory students who put in huge practice hours seem to have pretty detailed plans on exactly what to practice and for how long, to try to make efficient use of the time.
    -Dave
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  18. #16
    Registered User Lilyaperi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Oh wow, I came home from work to find a huge wealth of really valuable input! Thanks so much, everyone, really!!! It's incredibly reassuring to know that this is totally normal and quite common (I particularly enjoyed the comparison to overeating and not being able to eat another bite ) , and that there are plenty of ways around it. Y'all have given me a lot of options to try and see what works best for me and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable and confident with all this input at my disposal. Bless the day I stumbled across this place lol I'm really looking forward to this journey with so many great folks to learn from <3

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  20. #17

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Agree with all the above.

    Stop and do something different, scales, arpeggios, etc.

    I find a lot of my playing on any instrument relies a bit on muscle memory. When you get fatigued and start playing things sloppy or wrong, your brain can remember that, if you go too long it can also imprint itself.

    When I reach that point, and need to get some energy out musically, I pick up the guitar.
    If I'm just too fried to play, I'll go out and do some yard work, go for a walk, go climbing, or read!

  21. #18
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Be aware of any tension in your hands and arms while you're playing. If you are tensing up then you're getting tired. For me, tension prevents me from playing well.

  22. #19

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Another thing to keep in mind is that playing too much can cause physical damage such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other issues. This is especially so if your technique is not good, such as squeezing too tight, bending the wrist too much, etc. It is a good idea to take a break and physically rest after a bit of time. This is especially so for a beginner. I would suggest 15 or 20 minutes then get up and stretch or walk away for a few minutes.

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  24. #20
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Just stop. If you have been playing for only a week, and are not coming to mandolin from guitar, violin, or another stringed instrument, 45 minutes to an hour is a long time. The hands and the mind need to learn many new skills to play the mandolin. When you hit the all-thumbs wall it's time to put it away and do something else for awhile. Go back to it later, or tomorrow, but let your mind and body have the rest they need to absorb and integrate what you are learning.

  25. #21
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    I've played mandolin for 50+years and sometime when I am trying to learn new break or run I'll work and work at it with no apparent progress, just can't make my fingers do what know they need to do. The next day I get the mandolin out and nail it first time. Go figure.

  26. #22
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Lots of wisdom imparted here. I would also add that, aside from your hands and fingers work on your ears, your listening skills. When I learn a tune I frenzy have it playing in my head and, sometimes notice myself humming it. So you can put down the instrument and have that music with you, even at work. Listen to renditions of others playing that music in your car, etc.

    At some point you also might get together with others who are playing at your level and work on tunes together.

    BTW you don’t say whether you have a teacher or are learning on your own or even what genre of music you play.
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  27. #23

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    The way I deal with this is to cycle the songs I learn. I’ll start on one tune, get the basic melody down where I at least know what I “should” be playing. Before I begin just repeating sections of the tune, to work on getting it smooth and build up speed, I’ll start on getting the basics for the next tune I want to learn. Then I’ll switch from practicing the “old” tune to memorizing the “new” tune, vice-versa, and generally, by the time I’m nailing the “old” tune, I’ve got the “new” tune memorized enough that I’m just repeating parts to make it smooth and build speed. And if you haven’t guessed, that’s when I start learning another tune, and the cycle continues. Sometimes I’ll throw in a tune I’ve already done before, just to keep it fresh. Works well for me, and I can generally play as long as my fingers hold will hold up, if I have the time, while feeling like I’m making progress on both tunes.

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  29. #24
    Registered User Lilyaperi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    BTW you don’t say whether you have a teacher or are learning on your own or even what genre of music you play.
    My primary focus is Irish folk, because that's what I've been singing for the past decade or so, and I'm the most familiar with those tunes, though I know the melodies of many other fiddle tunes as well. For now I'm using the Online Academy of Irish music for the bulk of my learning (I already had a subscription from when I was learning concertina), as well as some other free videos (especially on technique) and getting informal instruction in person from friends of mine who've been playing folk mandolin for years. During my playtime experiments (along the lines of what sunburst suggested above) I've even accidentally figured out how to play tunes I'm familiar with that haven't been covered yet, like Maggie in the Wood, Joys of Quebec, and even the dreaded Rattlin' Bog song lol. Not at speed, of course, but the notes and rhythm are in the right order at least

  30. #25

    Default Re: Point of Diminishing Returns

    https://www.meaningfulhq.com/massed-practice.html

    This will explain a lot. I highly recommend the book referenced for all learners.

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