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Better learning from practice that better engages our cognitive practices

Here are some practice tips from one of my favorite teachers, Polly van der Linde (who runs the Sonata and Sonatina piano camps for adults and kids in Bennington Vermont). These are winners, precisely because they engage deep processing of the sort that cognitive scientists have been showing in recent decades is so important for learning. Faster and better learning: what’s not to like?

1) “Opposite practice”: for instance, if it’s staccato, practice it legato a few times. One thing to be clear on, when doing opposite practice, to not do it too much as that will defeat the purpose. Most of this kind of work is done to double check that you know the repertoire inside out. It also brings out the pitfalls of the original score. For instance, if the score is staccato, you’ll be releasing notes all the time. If you practice it legato, you might notice that your fingering choice is inefficient. Practicing it legato will magnify fingering choices so you’ll choose the best solution and hopefully it incorporates into your bones enough that when you release the note for staccato, it sticks.

2) Practice the downbeat of every bar. Most chord changes occur on the downbeat and so that reinforces your harmonic memory. It also forces you to practice every bar without a running start from the bar before and that helps your memory and finger work.

3) Blocking, which isn’t so much about fingering as it is thinking about chord structures and possibly using a better fingering organization based on how many notes you can cover with your fingers. Fingering sometimes changes from blocking because either where you’re going to or where you’re coming from may dictate a different fingering.

4) Chunking, which is pressing your fingers down for passages that are predominantly scalar and finding the best 5-finger pattern for a passage. The notes will sound gross together but you’ll know where to put your thumb if the RH passage is going up and what finger to turn over with if the RH passage is going down (the opposite is true of the LH).

5) Playing things in different registers. Most people are shocked when they play a piece they know well and separate their hands an extra octave apart. Suddenly your hands do not feel as neighborly and, in fact, they seem to behave in a foreign manner if you’re not concentrating 100%. It’s a great test to figure out if you really know the score.

6) Imagine the music away from the piano or try to “play” your piece on the fallboard with your fingers, no notes, just gestures. It’s hard to do!

Classical music video subscription site

Sort of a “Netflix for classical music” (but a lot more expensive: medici.tv.  Subscriptions from $120 – $190 / year (as of today).  They claim to offer over 100 live events per year, and the catalogue of viewable videos is currently over 1600.

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Feeling better about practice: the peak-end rule

Kahneman and Tversky, in their many studies of cognitive biases, discovered the “peak-end rule”: our emotional memories off experiences are disproportionately affected by the end of the experience. For example, they had subjects submerge their hands in painfully cold water for 30 seconds, then another time but with an additional 15 seconds added, but at a slightly more comfortable temperature at the end. They preferred the longer session of torture, and remembered it as less painful.

Noe Kagayama, in his blog Bulletproof Musician, suggests that this finding can be used to design practice sessions (or lessons, if you are a teacher) that are remembered as more pleasant.

 

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The Bulletproof Musician

Just discovered this site — seems to have a wealth of useful advice and wisdom. Primary focus on helping musicians deal with performance anxiety, and also on more effective practice. But lots of other areas of advice as well. The Bulletproof Musician

 

How much practice? Less if deliberate

A nice article on the advantages of mindful (deliberate) practice.

 

Why and how to make better practice with “random” practice schedules

A plausible argument (with some research, though mostly not about music practice) for using random rather than blocked (massed) practice. “Why the Progress You Make in the Practice Room Seems to Disappear Overnight.”

 

Falling (water) music

Wow.  The cleverness (and programming patience) of folks amazes me.

Falling music

The oldest living Holocaust survivor, and oldest pianist?

Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest known living Holocaust survivor.  She was a concert pianist before being sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she played over 100 concerts including Chopin’s complete etudes (from memory).  She was married to Leopold Sommer (who died at Dachau) and her son (who was interned with her) Raphael was a distinguished cellist and composer. Famous music documentarian Christopher Nupen filmed her for “Everything is a Present” when she was 98.

Now there is a new documentary about her, “The Lady in Number 6“.  She’s still playing the piano, at 109 years old!

 

Consider helping a new composer

I received a request from Jeffrey Leiser to mention his Kickstarter campaign to fund a full orchestra recording of his new symphony, “The Summit”.  I’m happy to pass along the request, with no particular endorsement.  I don’t know Leiser, or other music by him.  But he’s a talented fellow, having scored and sound edited many films, and apparently won a Park City Festival gold medal.  Here is the link to his Kickstarter campaign  and the link to his website.

Preparing for performance (anxiety)

Some tips from a fabulous teacher and experienced performer – Polly van der Linde — on how to prepare for performance.  Polly runs a piano camp that has been in her family for over 40 years: summer camp for kids, and 4 and 10 day sessions for adults year round.