Practice makes...

September 26, 2020, 3:46 PM · I wonder how many immediately filled in the word "Perfect." Recently one of my students reminded me of what my teacher drilled into my head: "Practice Makes Permanent".

This student is an extrovert and the prolonged semi-isolation is taking it's toll. Now she is still practicing daily but grinding in mistakes.

It is difficult to communicate the intricate process of the development of neural pathways into neural superhighways that see or remember a note within a piece and in a particular key/position/attitude (attitude is Doflein speak for where the half steps bring fingers next to or apart from each other - there are four of them). And move fingers to the exact location on the fingerboard.

While I have her playing music that she likes that use the skills I'm attempting to teach, she has fallen into that trap of making the same mistake over-and-over-and-over... Unfortunately, the parents are not musical and frankly cannot hear the out of key notes. They are just happy that she is practicing.

When I mentioned this to the mother she replied with the old saw: "Practice Makes Perfect!"

Replies (23)

September 26, 2020, 6:06 PM · I think you have to slow it down or switch to something else for a while. My middle-school music teacher, Wayne Boylan (a real gem of a human being, now departed), also was fond of "Practice Makes Permanent." But, I don't think your student will wreck herself playing out of tune for a few months. Really, basic mental health has got to be the highest priority. The pandemic and its trappings present quite a threat to the psyches of our young people.
September 26, 2020, 7:23 PM · Maybe try some visualization exercises. Visualize the half and whole steps on the fingerboard (in first position). Think of the frame formed by the hand when playing a scale.
September 27, 2020, 12:34 AM · Practice makes practiced.
September 27, 2020, 4:56 AM · Paul,

You are correct: mental health is paramount. I have offered outdoor lessons but the parents will not do that. So, this is all over computer links and everyone in their own bubble.

My wife and I share the Myers-Briggs classification as introverts and we are thriving during this time of social isolation. We don't have to come up with excuses to stay at home. We have more energy now because we aren't being drained by constant interaction with other people.

My student shows all the signs of an extrovert in crisis. What I see (confirmed by e-mails to her mother) is that she spends her day in pajamas, has no energy, is lethargic,... She desperately needs human contact.


Good comment: That visualization is the foundation of the Doflein system of "Attitudes" that they (Eric and Emma - husband and wife pedagogues) taught over 100 years ago in Germany. (They also commissioned a young composer to write teaching duets for their method and a young Bela Bartok wrote 40 of them. Their biggest problem was getting Bartok to make the student part easier than the teacher part - hence No. 1 is extremely difficult while No. 40 is really easy.) The duets on every page is one of the reasons that I love Doflein although there is no practical way to play them over the internet. I've even tried making MP3's of the teacher part for the students to play along with - Like the old "Music Minus One" it is interesting but not as satisfying.

September 27, 2020, 5:04 AM · My saying is "Practice doesn't make perfect -- perfect practice makes perfect."
Edited: October 7, 2020, 7:48 AM · Two reactions:

1. "I have never made a mistake. I thought I did once, but I was wrong." - author unknown

2. I recall reading a anecdote about (I think) Jascha Heifetz. As I read it, someone asked him if he had to practice every day. His reply was, "Yes. If I don't practice for one day, I can hear the difference. If I don't practice for 2 days, the orchestra can hear the difference. If I don't practice for 3 days, the audience can hear the difference. And if I don't practice for 4 days, the critics can hear the difference."

And, as a technical matter, in 1975 I got an article published in The Instrumentalist, an article which I am proud of because I have always been an amateur. The idea is each day to take 3 MINUTES and play something specific that is technical, and play it super SLOWLY with FULL ATTENTION and CONCENTRATION and PERFECTLY. Concentrate on every little miniscule move and sound. At the end of the 3 minutes, practice as usual. You can change what to play and what to focus on each day, but do this 3-minute approach EVERY DAY. Just notice what happens after a few weeks.

Hope that helps.

October 7, 2020, 8:56 AM · Record herself! Her ears will tell her when she is making errors much better on playback than on play.
October 7, 2020, 10:04 AM ·
My students who chronically make constant mistakes are the ones I am constantly trying to slow down. For whatever reason their minds just can't slow down; East Indian Gurus call this monkey mind. Meditation may help a bit, but its not a cure.

Edited: October 15, 2020, 10:34 AM · Sander,
I prepared special 2-minute sheets of pick'n'mix warm-up routines in just the spirit you describe: shifts, intonation, bariolage, détaché trills etc, etc. with total concentration.

Slow practice with Total Awareness requires a very quick, analytical mind-set: every quiver (no, not quaver..) and buzz is Significant,
Then play "normally"..

October 14, 2020, 4:19 PM · George, not sure if you are still following comments on this thread. I'm a non-musician mom of a 10yo violin student. A couple years ago, it became clear to me that I'm no longer cutting it as a good practice coach as her repertoire became more advanced (playing viotti 22 and bach s&p now). We had a come to Jesus moment with her teacher and he was like if she wanted to progress, we had to set higher standards with her practice. She started using a tuner for everything. For scales, etudes, and double stop exercises, all notes must be played in tune within a few cents on a tuner, 3 times in a row. That alone took forever to accomplish!! For the pieces, she would work on a few measures per day to high granularity in terms of pitch. As painful as it was to be so strict, it really made a huge difference. Her intonation is so much better now without using the tuner and the best part is that she now can hear it herself. Just my experience as a parent. We had to break the problem down and tackle it in small steps. Took awhile but it paid off.
October 14, 2020, 5:52 PM · Aaaaaaah! Liyun, I'm going to have PTSD from reading about a teacher suggesting using a tuner to work on intonation! I guess if it works, it works...
October 14, 2020, 7:32 PM · Chrisitan, I have PTSD too from using tuner to enforce intonation!
October 15, 2020, 5:22 AM · Not everybody is blessed with relative pitch recognition -- when playing with others it's easy to tell when we're in tune or not if we listen to how we are blending with others. However when we're practicing by ourselves and not playing a pitch that should resonate nicely with one of the open strings, it's much harder for some of us to know whether we're in tune or not, especially on wider non-octave leaps. Using a tuner to randomly check ourselves on longer notes can be very helpful.

Also using a tuner to help us see if we are landing on the same pitch when we move up to a particular note as compared to moving down to that same note.

A tuner can be a great tool, when used judiciously and not used to check every note we play all the time. People who try to do that tend to play the most out-of-tune of anybody. But if we remember that the tuner, just like the metronome, is simply another tool in our toolbox to be used as needed.

Edited: October 15, 2020, 7:34 AM · "perfect practice makes perfect"

Perhaps you should say "practice makes perfect, but playing isn't practice".

Out of musical context perhaps we don't have relative pitch for augmented and diminished intervals and other obscurities, but we must surely have relative pitch for tones, thirds, perfect fourths and fifths, octaves and tenths. If not, we should sell our string instruments and take up the piano or the xylophone instead.

Edited: October 15, 2020, 6:57 AM ·
"Practice makes progress." :-)
Edited: October 15, 2020, 8:58 AM · Intonation involves Anticipation.

Checking on the screen of a tuner is too late: the damage is done!

However, if we play each note on a piano, or on an app with a keyboard, we can hold it in our minds to compare with our played note (and watch both on the tuner.)

Such patient anticipation also allows us to memorise the stretches between the fingers so we'll have better luck the next time!

October 15, 2020, 11:30 AM · If you believe that "practice makes perfect" and it is achievable, then perhaps your standards are too low. Even Heifetz practiced his scales.
There are no shortcuts for the violin, you have to marry it and sometimes it is an unhappy marriage.
Edited: October 15, 2020, 12:17 PM · Of course the meaning of "practice makes perfect" is ambiguous.
It can mean, if you practice, you will become perfect.
Or it can mean, if you want to be perfect, then practice is the only way.
October 15, 2020, 12:36 PM · "Perfect practice makes for perfect performance!"
October 15, 2020, 1:34 PM · Practice makes less paid lessons necessary ;)
October 15, 2020, 1:59 PM · I find the opposite Elise. The more I practice the more I benefit from my lessons.
October 15, 2020, 3:59 PM · Liyun, et al.,

I'm casually following this thread and been distracted by some house issues.

Feedback is essential to forming those neural pathways. For us old-school folks that is listening to the "rings" when you hit the note right. Of course as you go further and further up the fingerboard a lot of the rings disappear.

My basic assertion of "Practice makes permanent" is based on neuroscience. We build the pathways that move our bodies to produce the sound. If that sound isn't right and you grind it in, that pathway will always produce wrong notes. Once well-paved it is harder and harder to undo and re-pave that neural superhighway.

I had my time of re-learning after breaking and dislocating my left clavicle. Not only did I require a shoulder rest but the muscle moves were all slightly off, and I spent many hours re-learning (repaving if you will) the neural superhighway so that the notes are on-pitch. That was not a fun time. Therefore I'm more than a bit pedantic about getting it right. If a chromatic tuner is providing the feedback, and it works, that is fine.

October 15, 2020, 4:04 PM · Paul - you wrote: " I find the opposite Elise. The more I practice the more I benefit from my lessons." but that is not what I said or meant.

The more you practice the less total lessons you will need to achieve any particular point.

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