Practicing Smarter

I came across this article today and I figured it would be worth sharing for students and parents alike:

A group of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin did a study on practice habits of top piano majors at the college to determine what habits led to the best results. They were each given the same three measures of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and told the practice for as long as they wanted to. They then came back the next day, after being explicitly told not to practice their excerpt overnight, and were told to play their excerpt 15 times without stopping. They were then ranked based on accuracy as well as musicality (expression, tone, character, etc).

What were the takeaways?

It seemed that practicing longer and increasing the repetitions of the passage had no bearing on the quality of their performance. What did make a difference was:

  1. Thoughtfully identifying and correcting the problem
  2. Varying tempo by starting slowly and then working up to performance tempo
  3. Practicing the passage until an error-free performance can be duplicated multiple times

This is important for young musicians to understand – you can practice 8 hours a day, but if you are not consciously identifying what you’re doing wrong and working to correct errors, it won’t make any difference. Start slowly, work out the problems, then practice, practice, practice it until you can play it without making mistakes. Practicing smarter wins over practicing longer.

Read the full study here.

Happy, thoughtful practicing!

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