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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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August 9, 2007 | Osmosis and Effective Practicing

Let's ponder learning styles, attempt to understand "understanding." To prescribe a single best possible way for a person to incorporate a new raw motor skill or intellectual concept is like saying everybody ought to wear size 32 waist pants. It's an absurd thought, but just as everybody's physical stature is different, so is mental capacity and the way thoughts and reflexes are wired into unique and individual brains.

That said, it is fair to say there remain generalities in how we absorb thought and performance, especially in regards to practice techniques. Some learn best by rote, some demand a printed page (visual), and many others seem to only learn through casual repetition. What we do have in common to some degree is the ability to get lost "in the now," only to fail in preparing for what is yet to come.

The third quarter...
You're playing a concert. You thought you had everything mastered but about two-thirds into the performance your mind wanders and you start to screw things up. You end everything well, but that later middle part just wasn't up to snuff.

This is all so very common; you start a performance with an abundance of adrenalin. You're nervous and in a "heightened" state of mind. As you play, the nerves calm, but at the expense of concentration. The mind naturally wanders, you miss notes you never thought you would. Ending a performance, the endorphins start to kick in again and your synapses are back in the game.

What does this mean to you? Make sure the "middle" of your songlist is polished best. Also, make sure the middle sections of your music are tight, as this is a microcosm of an entire recital. It's just as easy to mentally wander in the middle of one song, for the same reasons.

The last shall be first...
Along the same lines, mental doldrums can also appear at the end of a long complicated section of a song. A good trick in learning a long passage is to isolate and practice the back end first, making the end automatic and reflexive before the front. Start with the last measure, master it, move to the preceding measure and master, then the next before, and on to the beginning.

The goal is to internalize, and if you're still thinking about the front and middle of the passage, you'll lose full concentration toward the end. You want that back end somewhere between "easy" and "autopilot" so you can process the whole phrase.

More on this in Learning Backward.

Also: How We Learn

Posted by Ted at August 9, 2007 11:36 AM

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