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Comfort Zone vs Challenge Zone
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DanielB
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July 5, 2014 - 1:31 pm
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One of my music teachers used to talk quite a bit about the need to balance "Comfort Zone" and "Challenge Zone" in music practice.

"Comfort Zone" are things we can do easily and "Challenge Zone" can include anything from pieces that we have to work a bit on to pieces that are actually quite a bit past our current ability and that we have to learn with a strategic approach over time.

She recommended about 75% of practice time being spent in Comfort Zone and 25% in Challenge Zone as probably around right for an average musician.  The exact % will vary so far as what will work best for a given person.

Too much time spent in "Comfort Zone", and you can feel like you are getting nowhere and only doing easy boring stuff.  Too much in the "Challenge Zone" and you are basically beating yourself up with the things you can't do well, and you become frustrated a lot.  The trick is to find a balance where you spend a good bit of time perfecting things you already do fairly well while trying enough things that are newer and harder that you actually make an amount of progress that you can be personally satisfied with as the days/weeks/months/years march on.

"Comfort Zone" can include some things that we consider ridiculously simple.  The things on that end of a player's personal spectrum, one is trying so accomplish something she called "consolidation".  That is where you get (and keep) something down so well that it feels like second nature to play it and a listener might think you must have been born knowing how to play that. 

"Challenge Zone" can include pieces that are so difficult for us that we can't even really make it through and be sure we'll get all the notes right, even at a fairly easy tempo.  Such pieces may have whole new techniques that have to be learned.  She called that part of that zone "adventure".

So working super simple stuff to perfect it and apply style and dynamics to be able to do it many ways and with many sorts of feeling was at the "consolidation" range of the "Comfort Zone" part of the spectrum, while "adventuresome" pieces were things one maybe had to learn a bar or two (or even just a note or two) at a time, and where one might need to study and practice new techniques to do it at all, at the top end of the "Challenge Zone". 

But most of a practice session will be in between those two extremes.  The idea was that by balancing comfort and challenge, you spend part of every session feeling accomplished and part like you are working hard.  But that in the end, it ALL is part of what a musician needs to find their "stride" and make good steady progress.

I know that she was classically trained.  But I don't know if this particular principle is a part of classical training in particular.  I only present it in the hopes that it may be something helpful to some folks here.  I feel I find it a useful concept to apply in my own practice and playing.

"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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coolpinkone
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July 5, 2014 - 1:53 pm
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Wow.. I think that is just a great way to balance out playing for practice and practicing to progress.

 I suffer from a bit of "too much comfort".

I know when I practice shifting and I don't get it right during a session, I feel a bit beat up.  But I also know that If I keep trying there is some progress... I tend to forget how those little 10-15 minutes of practice on the "uncomfy" things help over all.

I keep talking about my practices and making them better.  I am being given a lot of tips.  I guess It is coming down to this... either I do it and progress... or don't and stay stagnant.

Great article as usual Dan.

Thanks. 

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Oliver
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July 5, 2014 - 3:20 pm
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I can address the challenge side of the discussion because I was a heartless audience as my kids worked their way through school.  That included violin, trumpet and piano/keyboard for my daughter.  And flute.

My son recently sang with Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the 4th and last week he sang with BSO under John Williams.  So what!  I was not in Boston for all this but I know I was there.  The investment worked and it was NEVER just "good enough".

My daughter could play (keyboard) professionally today but is happier doing 9-5.

I never gave them a (musical) break and nobody liked me.  (I also was a band counselor for 3 years.)  But it all ended well.

How about me?  I have a motto that I never play anything that I can play.  Is that fun?  No.  But I remember the times I have played in church with people way over my head/background and I pulled it off because I was used to stretching the envelope.

I check myself once in awhile by going back and playing my past challenges and usually find that I made a big deal out of nothing.  But such is progress.

I DO like to end practice sessions with something easy so that I come away with a positive attitude. 

I think my approach did accelerate things in my teacherless world but I think I could have been less intense and survived as well.  There's nothing wrong with fun!

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

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DanielB
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July 6, 2014 - 4:47 am
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@coolpinkone:  Well, how do you teach someone to knit or spin?  I personally do neither, but there are some similarities I've noticed. Both knitting and spinning take a similar sort of relaxed but positive handling that many musical instruments take.  A similar sort of process of looking at results you are getting and adjusting how you are working to get something more like what you want.  Knitting in particular, the use of different stitches (or whatever the right word for the individual pieces is) in a pattern to make an eventual whole that can be quite an impressive design reminds me of music.  There's a balance of discipline of sticking to the basic idea and creativity, balance of utility and fun factor..

I know you have taught people how to be able to knit and spin.  So how do you get them through that process?  How do you help them find their motivation or to know when to tackle something bigger and more complex? 

Maybe there is a clue in there somewhere?

 

@Oliver:  Well, if it works for you, there is no arguing with that.  So long as you are satisfied with your results, no point in looking any further. 

A "heartless audience" with your kids, though?  Wow.  I never would have imagined that.  I've always noted you to be a rather positive and encouraging sort. 

"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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Oliver
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July 6, 2014 - 6:53 am
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"Heartless" but only to those who thought I was too demanding.  And I knew when to back off. 

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

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MrYikes
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July 6, 2014 - 9:16 am
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I am still at the point where I forget to breathe when learning a new part.  I get to the end of the line and have to stop to gasp for air and shake my left hand because I'm choking the neck creating a cramp.  I do that for awhile then play scales to loosen up.  Dan's tips for bowing will help overcome that given time.

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BillyG
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July 7, 2014 - 1:10 pm
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@DanielB - interesting and thought provoking...  I have never had a "music teacher" ( other than for about a year in school ) - much to my regret, actually... but never mind - the fiddlerman.com forum seriously makes up for it !

The way I approach violin/fiddle can be summed up in my corruption of a JFK speech - and my apologies to the original speech-writer -

I choose to play violin. I choose to play violin at this age in my life and do other apparently impossible things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of my energies and skills, because that challenge is one that I am willing to accept, one I am unwilling to postpone, and one which I intend to win.

Simple, no ?

@fiddlerguy - too much for your new header - but - it makes a point about why many of us are here and participating ! LOL

Sounds like I'm off topic?   No, I don't think so - it is all about "being out of your comfort zone" - and - largely - that's where I always like to be.

Push the boundaries.  Look at where I fail.   Analyse.  Try again. 

When I hit problems, personally, I get little comfort from "falling back" and playing something I am "good" ( well, good-ish ) at...  oh don't misunderstand me - it DOES help brighten my sunken spirit a little bit - because I can digress from the "fixed pattern of playing whatever it is I have fallen-back to playing" and try a few embellishments - but - truly - that bores me - and when I get into a seriously bad funk and swear words are echoing off the walls ( @Barry LOLOL - so glad you are back with us man - I kinda get where you were coming from! ) - I go for my personal comfort-zone of scale practice - a few arpeggios and a bit of fooling-around - maybe a few minutes just ad-libbing, or "composing/improvising a tune" on the fly - then - back to the mission-to-the-moon.

Dan, I totally get the "comfort v challenge" zones - I can't put a percentage on it - hacked out two new tunes today because I saw them mentioned on the forum - they WERE hacked out - recognisable but never to be heard in public without more practice - but that was ALSO a "fall back" from something difficult (for me) I was trying and it gave me pleasure to find I could get "close" to something new quite quickly ... LOL - if I had to I would put my percentage of comfort v challenge ( ignoring other practice and learning ) at about 10% comfort, 90% challenge.  [ I absolutely DO need the 10% comfort, that's for sure ].  

As I progress, I do suspect that my comfort-zone percentage will increase, as I approach new-to-me pieces which are MUCH more complex, and I am prepared for that !  I look at the Thaxted project - I went for the V2 part because it "looked easier" than the lead - well - it was far from easier ( for me ) and I did a LOT of "backtracking to the comfort zone" before I was even half-way happy with it... ( why was it difficult for me ?   I'm largely a "play by ear" person - the counterpoint to the melody line is NOT ( to me ) a recogniseable "tune" as such - I found that very difficult, but learned a lot in the process - that's another story though )

I also like the "consolidation" reference - I get that as well - something you can play in-your-sleep or with your eyes-closed...  yup...  and I only get that with repetition, practice, stamping my individual expression on it to make it, in some way, unique, and hopefully, eventually, "good" as distinct from just mediocre or passable.

Like I said at the start - thought provoking, Dan.  Your words have given insight into what I actually DO while learning, without having recognized it myself..... very insightful, nice one!  Thanks for the post!

Bill

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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BillyG
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July 7, 2014 - 1:47 pm
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MrYikes said
....I forget to breathe when learning a new part.  I get to the end of the line and have to stop to gasp for air....

Aye, indeed!  Related to Dan's original post - I backtracked to the comfort zone today for a quick shot at Tennessee waltz ( I get it, "reasonably", but not "great" LOL ) - and I decided to whistle along to it as I played......  out of breath dude!

But going back to what you say - I never find that an issue - I approach a new tune with no fear - I simply KNOW I'll be cr4p first few times around ( often MANY times! ) but that's just life...  and I just relax.  

RELAX MR YIKES !  

Your first few shots on something new won't be anywhere near right.  Maybe break it down to chunks of 16 bars ( or whatever suits ).  

I found the Bb scale difficult on Thaxted ( it was new to me and I had difficulty with the semi tones close to the nut - although of course - I know  - there are other ways to reach them on a lower string - but such fingering is out of my league right now )

But, sounds like a good plan to go back to playing scales and loosening the old death-grip!   Yup, a good plan there, Mr Yikes! LOL

Good luck!

Bill

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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DanielB
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July 7, 2014 - 3:38 pm
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@MrYikes:  Violin is an odd instrument.  From what I can tell, the more you relax, the better it works. 

I also did have that problem you mention of sometimes holding my breath too much when playing. LOL  A tip I was given for it was (within reason) try to breathe in on up-bows and out on down-bows, especially during slow passages and bowing practice time.  I found it helpful.

 

@Oliver: Ok, yeah, there's always people that think you are being "too demanding" with kids even when it is necessary and even when the kids are with you on it.  Gotcha, and in that light, yeah.

@BillyG and Oliver: I do indeed hear what you gents are saying about challenge.  I sometimes do "warrior mode" myself on music or whatever and tackle large challenges.

For me at least, though, it usually doesn't end up being sustainable in the long run.  What I look for in practice is the program that I can do every day, day after day, week after week, month after month. 

At present, 45 min of practice on guitar and 45 on violin has been being sustainable over a decent period of months. 

My practice, though is exercises, scales, 4 or 5 note runs or moves that I want to be flawless someday, on guitar there are chord drills, and so on..

I don't play any songs or pieces until that is done.  Then I consider myself on "free time" and play whatever I want, whenever I want as time allows throughout the day/night.  I have a personal quirk in that I do not track "play" time.  At an estimate, on an average day it is likely somewhere between equal to or twice my practice time.  Some days more, but only rarely less. 

I have the perhaps odd view that practice is not playing.  It is working on building blocks I will use when I do play.  I practice so I do not sound like an "idjit" when I go to play.   LOL

But what works varies from person to person.  And what works for you works for you.  If you can be satisfied with the amount of progress you get over time, then you are succeeding, in my book. 

I must admit, when my music (piano) teacher used to harp on this topic, I considered it a load of crap at first. It was only years later when I wanted to break out of the pattern of working hard for a day or two and them not so much for some days, and wanting to settle into something that was sustainable for me on a personal level that I found it useful.  For me, in my experience, it is the long haul that bears the best fruit. 

But "different folks is different". LOL  I present the idea here just in case it may be of use to some at some point.

"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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Oliver
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July 7, 2014 - 4:48 pm
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In addition, I now approach my practice more as a study than a drill.  I really believe that the violin may be more mental than physical.  All the violin really provides is choices. 

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

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coolpinkone
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@DanielB thank you for that tip... on how I teach others other things.  Humm.. something to think about.  Thanks Dan.  You are an invaluable friend for good everyday stuff that corresponds with how we make our music.

:) Tonitreble-1226heartviolin-1267

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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