Trivial Tuesday — Violin Miscellany and Other Tangents


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.

My next thoughts would be: is it a case of the mind losing focus being caused by repetition, or is there a point where the brain perceives it is being overloaded and briefly stops the process to force a mistake, thus creating stronger, more secure connections? These scientists are talking about this having real promise for people like gamers and air traffic controllers and train engineers. I’m not sure that this is the appropriate forum to tell you what I think of gamers — I have a teenage relative who has totally trashed his life because of gaming. I can see that, but the evidence seems to suggest that people in high-pressure fields such as ATC and transportation make mistakes because they are tired, not because their jobs are repetitive. Instead, what I see as an even more exciting long-term development is the prospect opening up a whole new area of science to education — not just teaching instruments to kids — but teaching kids in the classroom as well. The ability to develop educational theories and practices that actually work for the benefit of all the kids, not just the ones who go to adequately-performing schools. NCLB could be totally trashed! (In my opinion, it should be anyway.) This is something that has absolutely nothing to do with how much money a school is given to spend per pupil. It actually gets to the root of how we learn. And that is a very exciting development!
















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