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Block Style practice vs ??
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DanielB
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June 26, 2014 - 5:50 am
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I recently heard about a study they did with musicians where they were testing block style practice against a more randomized approach, to see which worked better.

I have always been rather a block style person with practice.  What that means is that I start my practice with things like open string bowing and scales and maybe technique drills in a methodical fashion and only then do I go on to repertoire or "free time" playing.  Kind of like if you had a set of blocks in a row and you deal with them one at a time, finishing one completely before moving to the next.

But what the study seemed to indicate is that, while a rather trad way of going about things, that produces less progress than mixing up the practice session in a more random fashion.  Like maybe start with an easy piece from your repertoire to warm up, then spend 5 min or so on a bowing exercise or scale, then do another piece from repertoire, then maybe another bit of exercises or scales and maybe then moving to working some improvisation against a backing track.  Basically covering all the same ground that you would with a more rigidly structured practice, but mixing it up for variety.

What the heck, I'm trying it.  If there's a way to get more out of an hour's worth of practice, I'm all about it.  LOL  So I've made checklists for what exercises, scales and etc I'm working, and that way I can check them off as I do them, to make sure I'm not skimping on any of them.  But it allows the practice to flow in a more freeform sort of way than the more structured block style.

I've only been doing it a couple days, not long enough to form an opinion of if it is actually *better*.  Can't decide something is better until one sees consistent better results from it over some time.  But I have noticed a definite difference that is fairly obvious immediately.

The problem with block style practice is that it does get a bit mind-numbing.  Some days it can be hard to keep the high level of focus and attention on the exercises.  It can feel somewhat tedious, especially if you're really in the mood to just pick up and play and have some fun.  Mixing it up does seem to help quite a bit with that.

Time will tell if it actually works out better in a longer run.  It will take some getting used to, for sure.  I have been rather methodical about practice for most of my life.

So.. How do you practice?   Do you methodically hack through your set of blocks/chunks each day and then approach repertoire only after you've practised all your basic skills?  Or do you have some other approach that you feel works better for you.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Panzón
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June 26, 2014 - 9:33 am
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My practice is pretty random, but I'm beginning to add "must do" exercises to it. I usually do some scales and fingering exercises, and play the few tunes I can, and then try to learn a new exercise or tune, but I have no set order to do anything.

 

Mike

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coolpinkone
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I am very undisciplined.  The best thing I can say about practice is that I do it.. and I don't miss it and I play a long time.  On my days off even two long sessions.

Now I can tell you exactly what I do.  I pick up my violin.. I walk to my music stand and hit the button on the tuner.  I do a bow stroke over each open string.  

Then I immediately start playing the piece I am working on.  I might play it for 20 minutes.   I might stop at sections and try the sections that are causing problems. Then I go to the next piece that is on my list. I usually give each piece 5-15 minutes of work.  When it is all done, I play God Father theme, no less than 3-5 times.

This has been my routine for about 5 months  or longer now.  

I have put my Essentials book in a safe place...so safe I can't find it.. but the goal is to get that up and start working in it 15 minutes before I am allowed to move on.

Thanks for the tips Dan.  I think I will make a list... 5 minutes open bowing.  5 minutes on a particular scale. Then go into the Essentials book... Then work on the pieces.   I also need to find 10 minutes for metronome work.

Good topic.  I like that we can redefine and address goals here and post for a reference. 

Toni

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Fiddlerman
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June 26, 2014 - 7:12 pm
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Very interesting topic. Sometimes the most effective way to learn is not the most effective. In other words, if a person is too bored to get anywhere they may just put down the instrument and do something else. Having fun learning may pay off with persistence.
Everyone has different needs and desires. In essence every piece you play is an etude or a scale if you approach it the right way.
Not saying yay or nay to either, just "to each his own".

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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1stimestar
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June 26, 2014 - 11:29 pm
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Ah yes, I'm undisciplined.  Right now my practice sessions look like this.  Ashokan Farewell, Lover's Waltz, Faded Love, Tennessee Waltz.  Then I go back to my book that I am learning out of and work on a few of the tunes/skills I'm supposed to be learning there.  Then if I have another piece that I am supposed to be working on like right now, I work on that.  My instructor copied it out of another book for me.  It's called Surprise Symphony.  Then I might play something else for fun like Scotland the Brave or Turkey in the Straw. 

 

Opportunity is often missed because it wears suspenders and looks like hard work.

 

Alaska, the Madness; Bloggity Stories of the North Country

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Oliver
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June 27, 2014 - 11:42 am
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Truth is that it's no big deal.  If your bow is moving then you are practicing.  Avoid practicing anything you're good at.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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Fiddlerman
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June 27, 2014 - 3:28 pm
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Oliver said
Truth is that it's no big deal.  If your bow is moving then you are practicing.  Avoid practicing anything you're good at.

Excellent point. Practice the things that don't work so well, and practice perhaps performing (making music) with the things you're good at.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Schaick
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June 28, 2014 - 9:07 am
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"Avoid practicing anything you're good at."

@Oliver  Well that sure leaves the door WIDE open for me!!

Violinist start date -  May 2013  

Fiddler start date - May 2014

FIDDLE- Gift from a dear friend. A 1930-40 german copy, of a french copy of a Stradivarius.  BOW - $50 carbon fiber. Strings - Dominants with E Pirastro Gold string.

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DanielB
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June 29, 2014 - 5:13 am
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Well, different people are different.  We have different attitudes, learning styles, and so on.

For me, I have to put in a certain amount of work to feel like I am "being serious" about my music.  If I don't, I feel like I am letting myself down by not giving it a good honest effort.  It is the difference between "I gave it a good try" and "I know I could have done much better".

Besides, I *enjoy* the work of practising, playing, learning, etc.

But what works for you, works for you.  We all have our own ways of going about things.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Fiddlestix
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Practicing, huh,,, interesting topic. 

When it comes to practice, I totally agree with, "Fiddlerman", that every piece / song played is in effect a scale or etude, just not in the order that we typically see note's put in scale form.

My practice session's are complicated yet rather simple. Traditional scale's are totally out of the question for me. I usually begin with, fingering, string crossing and smooth bowing, playing bits and pieces of songs that I've been working on, then moving on to new song's, song's from the past, song's I grew up with in the 40's, 50's and 60's, occasionally touching on a bit of classical stuff. Several of the song's I play will be played at the tempo they are written in, but then I change tempo and will play them in a "swing" tempo. Changing tempo automatically changes fingering and bowing technique.

What some may consider practice I consider self entertainment and enjoyment. I would have to put a video together in order to show my typical session.

The one thing I always do is TAP my foot to whatever song I play.  wink

 

Ken.

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coolpinkone
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Ken, I am hoping .. hoping that you will make a practice video.

That will be so very very cool.  When ?  When ?

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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PopFiddle
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The most important part of my practicing strategy is not how I spend the time, it is how much time I spend.

But even so, I practice technique in one session and actual music in another.  That's two hours a day, as much as I can spare now.  I set a timer for 1:05 and I'm done at the end for the hour.  The best practice sessions are the ones where I keep going after the alarm goes off, enthusiasm carries me on.  Other times, it really is time to quit.

I have experience with other instruments and it has always been a strategy for failure to neglect practice.  You absolutely spend must time at it and the more time you spend, the better you get.  There is no substitute, no "quality time".

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Fiddlerman
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July 2, 2014 - 10:16 am
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I disagree. Quality practice time is worth way more than just playing time.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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DanielB
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Some thoughts that are my personal take, understanding that YMMV, since we are all different.

"If the bow is moving, then you are practicing"  Well, yeah, in at least some senses of the word.  But to me that seems kinda like "Between when you punch in on the time-clock and punch out, you are working.."  True. But how you apply yourself during that time does make a difference.  Agreed though that picking up the bow and getting it moving or punching that clock are usually the necessary first step.

"Quality time" for me in a practice is when I am well focused on what I am doing and I am moving through things I want to be competent at, and maybe a little bit of challenge here and there, so I can manage some reasonable progress over time.  If I am not focused because I am too tired or there is too much distraction/interruption going on, then I don't feel I get as much out of it.  For me, 20 min with good focus is worth at least an hour of "going through the motions". 45 min with good focus is as good as if I practiced without that same focus until I was literally physically fatigued, which would take at least a few hours.

What I count as practice is strictly technique/skills exercises.  After I've done my practice on violin and guitar for the day, I play any time a can and feel like it, all through the day.  I don't count that as practice unless maybe it is intensive work on a specific piece or pieces I want to have down by a particular time.

The thing is, most of us only can manage some much time a day for music.  Unless maybe you are independently wealthy and live alone on a desert island, there are other things you need to do in a typical day and that limits how much time you can spend working on your music.  I frequently examine how I am practicing to see if I can think of anything that can possibly enhance it a bit and get me a little more progress per hour.

I will state at this point that nothing I am saying is at all intended as "My way is better than yours" or "You should be doing it like this".  We are all different, and have our own ways of doing things and I am sure they are for darn good reasons.  What I am hoping for here is just comparing notes with fellow musicians in the hopes that in the different ways and reasons, there will be some new ideas one might try.  

That being said.. Next question..

How well do you feel your practice style/method works for you?  Basically, are you satisfied enough with the ratio of work vs progress that you feel your way is working well? 

I can say that I feel I have made reasonable progress over the past couple of years.  Comparing it to other instruments I have learned over the years, I feel that while maybe not optimal yet, my practices are "getting me there".  A ways to go yet, still.  But considering violin isn't the easiest instrument and self-teaching isn't the most recommended method, I am at least ok with my progress.  But always hoping to find a way to get just a bit more for each hour's worth of work, of course. LOL

So what about you?

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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PopFiddle
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It is true that not all practice time is equal.  Some practice time is better than others and certainly there are better ways to apply yourself during your practice time.  And it is possible to practice doing things wrong.

Even so, a strategy that neglects the limitations of reduced practice time is a poor strategy.  The limitations are there.  All other things being considered, it is better to spend more time practicing rather than less.

We do not disparage the efforts of those whose time is limited and such people deserve the attention of experienced performers whose experience has shown them better ways to apply themselves during practice.

It's not just music, it is anything you want to learn that requires skill.  Practice, practice, practice.  Don't give up.  Keep at it.  Apply yourself.  Acquire knowledge.  Discover yourself.  Avoid panaceas and magic bullets.

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PopFiddle
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How well do you feel your practice style/method works for you?  Basically, are you satisfied enough with the ratio of work vs progress that you feel your way is working well? 

I've only been playing violin about 4 or 5 months and spending time practicing is my most fundamental goal.  I have experience with other instruments and my efforts with these instruments went nowhere because I did not spend enough time practicing.  I would spend a couple weeks practicing and then set the instrument aside and quit practicing.

I would get good and then quit just before taking it to the next level.  I'm not going to make the same mistake with the violin.  I'm just crazy about the violin and the enthusiasm translates to spending as much time as I can with it.  Even so, sometimes its hard to get started.  It takes a little discipline, but I never regret spending the time and even if I had to drag myself through what I was doing, I'm always just that much better having spent the time.  Other times, I stumble across some insight, or some move that works and I have a leap.

I am constantly looking for ways to improve that ratio of work vs progress, but for me, work is the first priority.

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