To be effective, you should be aware first, how does the learning process in your brain look like.

Let’s take it absolutely simple! Your brain is making notes of what you are doing. Take a paper and narrow pencil and try to draw a circle. Then try to tighten it couple of times. How many times do you practice the same spot? Take as many circles! Try another circle, in different tempo, of different size and do the same. Then look at the circles. How precise is your circle? How much were you able to keep the exact trajectory? How much did you concentrate? 

Similar way, your brain records your learning process within some spot. It joins particular cells, which involve in action within the spot, and make a “neuronal circuit” from them. So when you practice, you make such a circle in your brain.  As in our drawing, it depends much, how precise are you able to be.   The brain records every of your shots. With any difference in your action, you rewrite the circle to little different shape which makes the circle less precise. The brain does not differ between the wrong and the right – you yourself have to define, what is right and then do apply it in your practice. Be as precise and same as possible to record the good and strengthen the circuit. 

How to achieve this? 

…to be conscious of how you play particular spot. For example:

  1. From technical and motional point of view, to know in which possition your hands are, which muscles and joints do you include in particular motions, the level of tension you need to make the spot functioning… You are searching for the best constellation of these aspects and then apply them every time same way.
  2. Intonation, needs orientation. It is not enough to hear that the spot is out of tune and try again. You need to be aware of intervals between tones, in which possition the notes are played, by which fingers, to have an idea of how the note sounds. To strenghten intonation, you need to create inner brain map of the notes and their relations to each other – space between them both in sound and in hands.

Be a step ahead.

Your brain records all your shots, good and wrong ones. Therefore you need to do as few mistakes as possible. How to achieve this, when we praktice exactly because we do not know the work yet?  We have to be a step ahead the music we play…

We usually practice the way, that we react on what sounds from our instrument. Then we fix what we did not like. We usually repeat again and again until we like the spot. It is not very effective. It is not a mistake to play a mistake, it is wrong to keep repeating it. Consider your steps ahead. If you make a mistake, do not overplay, stop and think how to make a spot working. Find functional way of playing and then, play the spot always with having this functional strategy in your mind right before the spot comes! 

I will now give you couple of examples from praxis, how to apply this way of playing. You will basically create an informational SWITCH in your brain.

1. Example and method. Problem – difficult jump or glissando.  

  1. Stop right before the problematic jump-glissando. Do not put your hands away from your instrument – stay at playing possition and give your brain precise informations about following jump: where do you jump – what possition, what interval, which finger, how is the suitable possition of hand, how much tension is there in your muscles and how much release, how does the following tone sounds(try to “hear” the sound in your head). Then jump.
  2. Once the spot works better, do not make a stop and just lengthen the note before the jump or glissando. During this lengthened note you give your brain informations again. You slowly reduce the amount of information to your brain. The lengthened note before jump, where you give information, is this SWITCH.
  3. Shorten the lengthened note to original. Even during the original note, give yourself at least one information about the following note (image of possition of your hand, interval,…). You keep the SWITCH within the original note. If you feel that you are loosing certainty within the spot again, come back to the point 2. or 1.  

You can now feel that it is too much information, but do not be afraid! The sooner you consider all the aspects of some problematic spot and apply them, the faster you will be able to reduce them in your mind within playing. BUT, you still have to keep the awareness of them to some extent to keep the spot working to protect it from overplaying, loosing consciousness and mistakes. Everytime you feel this is about to happen, you have to come back to strengthening awareness – strengthening the SWITCH.  I recommend you also to see the score without instrument sometimes and go through problematic spot and consider all the aspects of how to play it. You can practice and strengthen the circuits this way too! 

2. Example and method. Problem – tension.

  1. Within the spot, try to detect, where exactly you start being in tension. Start playing the kontext before the spot and stop exactly on the note where your tension starts. Keep your hands on the instrument and try to release bodily areas you can, then continue. Stop every time within the spot and release. If the place is really difficult, you can stop very often, every second note.. Mostly, these are the fast 16-notes spots, then you can stop at every beat, release and play the next three notes, than stop again, release, etc. This works also vertical way in chords. Our left hand can get in tension within chord spots. Apply this way of release, but consider it vertical way – you stop on the first note of the cord, release and put the next finger-note of the chord, etc. The note, where stop to release, is the SWITCH.
  2. Try to keep release and instead of breaks, do not stop and just lengthen the note-the beat of release, fluently continue playing. Try to integrate precise rhythm(keep the tempo you need – slow or faster, just be precise in playing and release. Lengthened note will be in exact rhythm in relation to others too. Example – in 16note passage, every beat for release will be of 4+1 “16note” long, the next 3 “16 notes” follow. Lengthened note is the SWITCH.
  3. As you are more capable of release, start shortening the time for release to original. The note, now even in original is still the SWITCH.

If you still do not know the composition well, you should apply such a tempo which will allow you be aware of all times to do as few mistakes as possible and control everything you do in advance. Once you know the piece better, the way of playing will be same mentally, but your tempo will be faster.  By this way of learning, you teach your brain more effectively and eliminate the wrong shots. You are also raising your certainty of competence to play this piece, because it is under control of your mind. Music is not becoming the rollercoaster, in nich you just sit and wait for being kicked out… Do you know this feeling?

Of course, it is hard to imagine to control yourself so much and basically it is not necessary  at all times such way! There are places, simple and clear which do not ask for such way of work. Additionally, as you keep learning the piece, there will be less and less spots to over-control. Once you will know the piece, you will fluctuate more with your awareness. The truth is, that you never can loose the contact absolutely. You need to keep particular spots  as “return” to full awareness. You will choose such spaces – the ones with high risk and keep your mind absolutely aware by making your “SWITCH” there. This switch will turn your your mind on again, if you drive away too far by our emotions and protect you from unnecessary mistakes. It is also the way how to keep yourself from stage fright damage. 🙂

Practice Strategy II. CONSCIOUS PRACTICE.

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