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Ben Clapton

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Albert Einstein

October 7, 2006 at 4:10 AM

We were talking a bit about practice techniques in String Class yesterday. To start off with, let's see what a fairly typical practice session would be?

Open up the case. Start playing through . Get to end of . Think Gee that wasn't great, let's do it again, and I won't do again. Play through again. Get to end of and think "that was even worse" and "I'm not having a good day today." Decide to either "work" on some more, which invariably ends up being repeated play throughs hoping that it will improve, or decide to leave it, it's not going to get any better, and I'll work on something different.

Sound familiar?

I know it is for me. It's basically summed up my practice technique for the past 13 years... but it seems rather stupid when you see it written out like that. I'm gonna do the exact same things and expect a different response. It's a Pavlovian Dog set up, where the Dog keeps hurting itself. We're doing the wrong thing, but we'll keep doing it and expect it to just magically change overnight.

So if that's not a great way to practice, how can we/I change our methods to improve our playing? There's a very simple answer - Think.

No, I'm not asking you to think about the question and what the answer could be. I'm saying that think is the answer. Having aims for your practice session. Don't just sit and play through. Play through with specific goals in mind.

It takes a bit of practice, and a bit of an understanding of the organ that does the thinking - the brain. Brains are like computers, they're binary. Remember that old geek joke? There's only 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't. It can think of just about anything, but if you want to picture what not to do, you need to picture what it is you're not doing first. You get me?

Say you're riding a bike, and there's a rock up ahead. If you think to yourself "Don't hit the rock" what's gonna happen? You'll ride up and hit the rock. It happens in the movies all the time. They're on a rope bridge over a massive computer generated canyon, and someone says "Don't look down." What happens next is the most cliched action in any movie. Someone looks down. Why? Because in order for the brain to know what not to do, it's got to picture doing it, and then cancel it. First it pictures looking down, and then it cancels it. But of course by the time it gets around to cancelling it, it's too late. However, if they said instead "Look straight ahead" - you would, you wouldn't need to cancel it because you'd already be looking straight ahead.

Getting back to music (which goes a lot faster than someone crossing a rope bridge). If we say to ourselves "Don't miss the e natural" what's gonna happen? Your brain pictures you missing the e natural, and by the time it gets around to cancelling it, you've already missed the e natural. So how do we get around this awkward thing called the brain. We think in positives. Instead of "Don't miss" think instead "Hit that." Instead of "Don't drop the elbow" think "Keep that elbow in the right position." It can seem odd, but it works.

Another thing to do with the brain is memory. There are two sides of the brain. The Left and the Right. Generally, Left is creative, Right is logical. However, this also is like a computer. Your left side is like your RAM (Random Access Memory). The right is your hard disk, but insanely more. Your left side continues thinking "Am i doing this right? I'm not sure if this is right, is this what i'm supposed to be doing?" etc etc. That is unless the right side comes to the rescue by saying "This is how it's done, and this is how it's always been done, and this is how you do it." The right side is your massive filing system where nothing ever gets deleted, just filed away in case you need it again. That is of course, if you deem it necessary to be remembered.

Do you know anyone that's able to remember a whole load of apparently useless facts? I, for one, can name the AFL premiers all the way back to 1990. There are ones who know the name of every American President, or every quaterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Why are people able to remember them? Because they deemed it important enought to get them stored in their right side of the brain.

Now we can utilise this. You can say "This is the bow hand that I want. I *WILL* remember this." And just like riding a bike, even if you stopped, you'd still remember how to do it. You can say "This is the tone I want to produce. I'm going to remember that." And you do. And if you don't produce that tone next time, stop, remember what's different, and then correct it.

This way, we can practice more efficiently, and really note progress.

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