Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I was directed to a musician's blog that's quite good, and seems to be worth keeping up with on a regular basis. The name makes me cringe: it's called The Bulletproof Musician, which I'll say is a really ugly metaphor, and leave it at that. I'm also not wild about the heavy use of sports references, reinforcing the current big misconception of music as high performance. But there's a lot of good, concise discussion of ideas to do with the broadly technical/performance/psychological end of music— sort of a Lifehacker for musicians. Here's a little bit of a couple of pieces I thought were especially good:

Two Things Experts Do Differently Than Non-Experts When Practicing

Best vs. worst
Two researchers from the City University of New York did a study of basketball players to see if they could discern a difference between the practice habits of the best free throw shooters (70% or higher) and the worst free throw shooters (55% or lower).
There were a number of differences, but it boiled down to two in particular.
Difference #1: Goals were specific
The best free throw shooters had specific goals about what they wanted to accomplish or focus on before the made a practice free throw attempt. As in, “I’m going to make 10 out of 10 shots” or “I’m going to keep my elbows in.”
The worst free throw shooters had more general goals – like “Make the shot” or “Use good form.”
Difference #2: Attributions of failure were specific
Invariably, the players would miss shots now and again, but when the best free throw shooters missed, they tended to attribute their miss to specific technical problems – like “I didn’t bend my knees.” This lends itself to a more specific goal for the next practice attempt, and a more thoughtful reflection process upon the hit or miss of the subsequent free throw. Far better than saying “I suck” or “What’s wrong with me?” or “Crap, I’m never going to get this.”
In contrast, the worst performers were more likely to attribute failure to non-specific factors, like “My rhythm was off” or “I wasn’t focused” which doesn’t do much to inform the next practice attempt.

More after the break:

What to Practice When You Practice
Plan time, not work 
[R]ather than planning out our work and tasks (which usually don’t go according to plan anyway), effective execs start by figuring out where their time actually goes first, and then cutting back on time-wasters, or the least productive bits of that time.
Conceptually, this will sound familiar to many of you who have heard of the Pareto principle (aka 80/20 rule), which is the proposition that 80% of our results often result from only 20% of our efforts.
This “rule” came about when Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. And that 80% of the peas in his garden came from just 20% of the pea pods.
It’s an interesting concept, and a useful one as well, though it’s not always understood or applied correctly.
The main idea is that we can increase our productivity and maximize our results by focusing on the handful of activities that give us the greatest return on investment of time. In other words, being choosier about what we spend our time on both in and out of the practice room.

Questions to start asking
What proportion of your day do you spend fully engaged in activities that represent the most direct path to your goals?
What proportion of your practice time do you spend working on things that will make the biggest difference in your playing? That will help further your development most expeditiously? Is it another 15 minutes of scales? Or is it more valuable to do some listening and score study? Or learning more about the composer? Super-slow practice to troubleshoot? Or trying to clarify your concept of sound or phrasing for that section?
What activities contribute most to enhancing the quality of your playing? Specific etudes, scales, or warm-up techniques? A particular way of listening? Practicing for performance and developing stronger focus? Sight-reading? Based on experience, observation, and what you know, what are the most valuable things to spend your practice time on?

(h/t to Gruntersdad)

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