PRACTICE TIPS #35: Makes You Think . . .
Sep 24, 2000 13:44 PDT
PRACTICE TIPS is an occasional email newsletter with practical
piano practice tips and ideas, by Brent Hugh
You are receiving PRACTICE TIPS because you subscribed to PRACTICE
TIPS at the Practice Tips Web Page or because you are a student of
Brent Hugh. To end your PRACTICE TIPS subscription, see the
instructions at the end of this message.
PRACTICE TIPS #35: Makes You Think . . .
I came across an interesting article today in my email archives. The=20
article has to do with learning--why do we remember some things better than=
This rang a bell with me--what better way to describe a "practice session"=
at the piano than as a "learning session"? What we are learning when we=20
practice a piece of music at the piano is a complex interrelated sequence=20
of movements, sounds, and (musical) symbols. It is a quite different kind=
of learning from the kind we mean when we say "I'm going to study for my=20
history test tonight". But still--practicing *is* learning, and it is well=
to keep this simple fact in mind.
Here is the main conclusion of the article (a much longer excerpt from the=
article is quoted at the end of the message):
What makes your brain more likely to [remember] one item over
another? . . .
The studies provided some hints. . . . [M]ore complex cognition
increases the chances of memory.
This gives some very concrete ideas that can be used in practicing to help=
you learn you music faster and better:
* Look for chords, patterns, motives, repeated rhythms, phrase groupings,=
repeated sections, variations of previous motives or phrases in your=20
music. Try to understand the overall plan or "form" of your piece. Try to=
pick apart and understand everything about it you are able, from the simple=
to the complex.
* You must find patterns that are meaningful *to you*. It might make=20
perfect sense to me to think of a certain chord as "German Augmented=20
6th". But this might be gibberish to you (gibberish, last I checked,=20
doesn't fall under the categoary of "complex cognition"). It might make=20
more sense for you to think of the chord as "black key-black key-white=20
key-white key", a pattern that makes good sense to you.
Relate everything "new" to things that are "old" in as many different=20
ways as possible. Consciously try to think of comparisons such as
The motions I use in this section are like piece X I learned before
This has the same mood as X
This has the same tempo as X
This has a similar rhythmic pattern to X
This has the same form as X
Do NOT Learn your music in just one way, which you then repeat in=20
practice session after practice session. This seems so easy, because the=20
brain can become more and more comatose with each succeeding practice=20
session. On the contrary, consciously plan to learn your music in dozens=20
of different ways--from dozens of different "angles". Learn it in small=20
sections, medium sections, and large sections; left hand alone and right=20
hand alone; play it with different rhythms; at different tempos; with=20
different groupings (finger groupings vs. rhythmic groupings, for=20
instance); be able to play underlying chord progressions; be able to play=20
your sections in different orders (reverse order or random order); learn to=
start easily, by memory, at many different places in the music; and so on.
------------Longer article excerpts--------------------------------
Scientists discover brain's remembering mechanism
Copyright =A9 1998 Nando.net
Copyright =A9 1998 The Associated Press
*Mechanics of memory studies
WASHINGTON (August 20, 1998 4:30 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) -- Why=
is it you can't remember where you put your car keys but you can't forget=20
the theme song to the "Brady Bunch"? Scientists have taken a big step=20
toward solving the mystery, literally peering inside the human brain at the=
split second it creates a memory.
In a unique pair of studies, scientists at Harvard and Stanford=20
universities used sophisticated imaging techniques to watch people's neural=
activity and, for the first time, show which parts of the brain determine=20
whether a specific experience will be remembered for forgotten.
The findings "mark a significant step forward," said memory expert Michael=
D. Rugg of Britain's University of St. Andrews, who critiqued the studies=20
in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
. . .
Scientists have long suspected that how well people remember depends on=20
differences in how their experiences are "encoded" into the brain at the=20
time they occur. Studies of people with brain damage have suggested various=
brain regions were involved, but it wasn't clear if damage to those regions=
meant people couldn't make new memories, retrieve old ones or store=20
memories over time.
New, high-powered "magnetic resonance imaging," or MRI, machines work fast=
enough that scientists can measure split-second neural activity as a=20
person's brain processes an experience.
At Harvard, neuroscientist Anthony Wagner put healthy volunteers into these=
"functional MRI" machines and rapidly flashed one word every two seconds=20
onto a screen inside. At first, the volunteers merely noted whether words=20
were in upper- or lower-case letters. With additional words, they were told=
to decide if each was concrete, like "chair" or "book," or abstract, like=20
"love" or "democracy."
That's because psychologists already knew that analyzing the meaning of a=20
word helps people remember it.
In Stanford's study, Brewer showed volunteers color photographs of indoor=20
and outdoor scenes rather than words.
Neither set of volunteers had been told this was a memory test. But after=20
the MRI scans, they were asked which words or pictures they remembered=20
well, remembered vaguely or didn't remember. The scientists compared those=
memories to the brain scans.
The longer that two brain regions -- the prefrontal lobes and the=20
parahippocampal cortex -- both lit up on the MRI scans, the better people=20
remembered the items. Words or pictures that caused weak activity in the=20
two regions were forgotten.
What makes your brain more likely to react to one item over another?=20
"That's the million-dollar question," Wagner said.
The studies provided some hints. Wagner's volunteers showed more neural=20
activity and better memory during the "concrete-abstract" word test than=20
for other words, providing biological evidence that more complex cognition=
increases the chances of memory.
And personal experiences probably play a role. Perhaps Brewer flashes a=20
photo of Zion National Park: Someone who just visited there may react more=
than someone who says, 'Oh, a desert scene.'
Most people think of memory problems as "failing to retrieve an event,"=20
Instead, think of "what went on when you put those car keys down that=20
distracted your attention from where you're putting them," he said. "But=20
you're thinking of that stupid piece of trivia, you're attending to it" --=
so the trivia of, say, a TV show becomes a memory.
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer
------------End article excerpts---------------------------------------
PRACTICE TIPS is by pianist, teacher, composer, and internet nerd
Brent Hugh. Brent knows about practicing mostly because he *does*
it, and in fact is toddling off to do some of it just about now . . .
Please remember that this tip is but a small spot near the tip of the
elephant's tail--it's not even close to the whole elephant that is
"how everyone in the whole world should practice the piano".
Practice Tips Archives (updated about once a month):
You are welcome to forward PRACTICE TIPS to others as long as the
ENTIRE message, including this trailer, is forwarded. Friends can
find out how to subscribe to PRACTICE TIPS at
++++++++++++ Brent Hugh / firstname.lastname@example.org ++++++++++++++
+ Missouri Western St College Dept of Music, St. Joseph, MO +
+ Piano Home Page: http://www.mwsc.edu/~bhugh +
+ Internet Piano Concert: http://www.mwsc.edu/~bhugh/recit +
++++ Classical Piano MP3s: http://www.mp3.com/brent_d_hugh ++++