Monday, September 20, 2010

Where to Practice

This NYT story looks at what research is saying about study habits in general, not music specifically.

. . . For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. . . 

 . . .The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding. . . .

This tallies well with my experience. I think with music it's especially important because the acoustics of the various places will be different, and besides that helping you encode the info, it will make it easier to adapt your sound to a particular performance space when the need arises.

I also think everyone (except maybe piano players) should play outside from time to time. It's just different from playing indoors, as good tone is an absolute requirement for good sound without that reverb effect any room will have. Plus, playing in a natural surrounding can be great fun. Some years back my yearly routine involved two short stays in the Ozarks and I loved taking my cello out into the woods and sawing away, mostly simple improvs responding to nature.

Music does get a mention in the story here:

 . . .Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

This story also has some of the contemporary push back against the notions Martin Gardner put forth years ago in his Frames of Mind, which I find very helpful. I think the pendulum will find its way to somewhere in the middle once all the data comes in and we've made some sense of it.

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