I’m a huge advocate of what I call “spot” practice — taking very small spots out of the context of the music and focusing on those areas to the exclusion of everything else. It is a very efficient way of practicing, because you basically separate out all the parts and work on each one before you combine it progressively back into a whole. Because the spots are so focused, it is hard to make mistakes. Which brings me to a really interesting, albeit much too short and generalized, article I ran across this morning on MSNBC. But, it’s amazing that it’s there, given the MSMs propensity to report anything and everything but news. Here it is, so you can take a look for yourself:
In a nutshell, scientists are trying to discover why we make mistakes when we’ve done something repetitively for a long time. If I’m reading the article correctly, the brain apparently lapses into a resting state for a pretty significant amount of time before the mistake is made and then recognized. And so, I got to thinking — wow! what implications does this have for musicians, because it seems to relate perfectly to practicing. After a practice action is repeated so many times, focus goes away and the student stops paying attention. Which is precisely when mistakes begin to happen, and they typically don’t get fixed because the student doesn’t always realize that they happened. It almost looks like a vicious circle — the mistakes are repeated enough times that they are perceived as correct. I think this is part of why I believe listening is so vitally important to the practice process. Listening repeatedly to the pieces being studied eventually buries them so deeply in the subconscious mind that the probability of making mistakes is drastically reduced. The process of learning becomes much more streamlined, and is generally faster as well.