Going Mental (Mental Practice, that is)

A nice primer on mental practice from The Open Score, a new, useful YouTube channel. Check out her other material. There’s a whole chapter on mental practice in The Practice of Practice with more information, but this is a great way to get started.

Top 7 Practice Tips for Absolute Beginners (and everyone else, too)

We all want to get better, which means we’re all on the same path. When you see someone whose music blows you away, the tips below are part of what they did to get there. No matter how impossible it seems, you can do it, too. Follow these 7 guidelines:

Mr. Bean’s Imaginary Drum Set, or, Mental Practice

Here’s Rowan Atkinson with a pretty funny skit. It’s like he’s mentally practicing drums, and we get to hear what he’s hearing inside his head to hilarious results. Enjoy, and use this to remind you to inject mental practice into your own practice routine.

Jazz Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, on Practice

Avishai Cohen Talks Practice Jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen first came to my attention when Chad McCullough spoke with me about practice several months ago. I promptly checked him out and was psyched to discover a new favorite jazz trumpet player. He’s one of the most interesting players I’ve heard in a while; definitely check out his albums Triveni and After the Big…

When is Not-Practicing Practice?

A new piece of research shows that the “inherently unpleasant” idea about deliberate music practice may not be entirely true. In fact, we may continue to learn when we’re doing something completely different from that which we’re practicing.

Nap Your Way to Excellence

Set aside half an hour every day to do all your worrying; then take a nap during this period.
~Anonymous

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.
~Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid: 43 BC – 18 AD)

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Sleep is one of the key strategies the brain uses for learning. It’s called consolidation in the research literature. Basically put, your brain needs down time in order to process all that you’ve taken in during the day. Naps can perform the same function.

Nudge-Nudge, Wink-Wink, Say-No-More

It’s tough to change our behavior radically, or even significantly. It’s easier to give ourselves a nudge towards utopia. Some real-world examples of the nudge are putting fruit at the front of the school lunch line instead of pizza, because hungry kids (and let’s face it, adults, too) often grab whatever is closest to hand; or the new Illinois policy that changed the wording for the organ donor program so that drivers have to explicitly opt out of being an organ donor instead of signing up to participate in the program, a simple change that saves the lives of many. These nudges are examples from Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. In the book they suggest useful nudges that help us behave or perform better than we might otherwise. Others are from A. J. Jacobs, author and personal experimenter extrordinaire.

Scale It Up (part Deux)

More in the practical realm this week, continuing the scale-related theme started last week. Here are some patterns to consider for your scale practice. Because it’s so pervasive and is used to explain many aspects of music theory, I’m going to use the Major scale as a reference, and particularly, its numbers, like so:

Major Scale = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Beginnings

Planning is an essential part of your practice session. Imagine the planning that went into the video above, and ask yourself how much planning goes into your practice sessions. Every book I’ve read on practice, and every research article that looks into what musicians do when they practice mentions the importance of planning out your practice session. This includes broader plans like goals, as well as more specific things like exactly which pieces or skills you’re going to tackle and how you’re going to tackle them. This planning stage is only one part of a 3-stage process used by most of the people studied by McPherson and Zimmerman in a 2002 study. Here’s what it looks like:

Mental Floss

It’s six AM and I’m sitting in a lifeguard chair as early-bird lap swimmers make their wet way up and down the pool lanes. I try to make the best use of my time while in the chair, but I still have to keep a close watch on the swimmers. So of course, I practice. Even though my trumpet is not in my hands I get a lot of work done and still do my job. Besides, playing trumpet early in the morning won’t make you any friends, even if (especially if?) you’re playing reveille. Today’s post is about a practical technique that all experts use, whether they’re musicians, athletes, or surgeons. You can (and should!) use them to improve, too. I’m talking about mental practice.

Fail Better

In a previous post I spoke of the necessity of failure. I mentioned Buddha’s belief that the obstacle is the path, and when watching an interview with olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, I’m reminded of it again, but in a different way. Here’s the thing:

After the 1500 meter race in which he won bronze, thereby becoming the most decorated American winter olympic athlete, Ohno said something interesting in an interview after the race. He was clearly happy, but spoke about a little bobble near the end of the race, when the Canadian skater bumped him as they went around a turn and Ohno’s skate stuttered. What did Ohno say in the interview? Did he blame the dastardly Canadian for bumping him? No. He took full responsibility for the stumble and wondered (I’m paraphrasing), “If I hadn’t messed up there I might have placed better.” Ohno is giving a perfect positive example of what researchers have called attribution theory, or what I like to call, The Blame Game. Here’s how it works: