Lesson 3: Breaks, Sleep and Imagination

Read this Explanation about the important tools: Breaks, Sleep and Imagination.

Active Lie Down
This film is made for you by Gilles Rullmann, one of the teachers at the Alexander Technique institute here at the conservatory. The film starts with a few minutes explanation of how to start your lie down. After minute three, you can join the teacher in lying down, and just listen to what he is saying. The demonstration involves a progressive release of tension throughout the body, allowing you to use gravity, taking time and your attention to re-set yourself for better practice. After you get used to the instructions, you will find that you can better focus on your own body, and become more aware of where you might be holding yourself from letting go to allow the floor to support you. After practicing a few times with the video, you can also do lie downs of a few minutes throughout the day. They are useful to begin your practice session, to use in breaks to refresh yourself, or even to begin or end your day. By taking time like this, many people find their concentration, coordination and stamina increasing. They can notice more what they are doing, and monitor how much tension they bring to playing or singing. You become more intelligent by lying down! That is why this technique is used at many conservatories to improve practice. For instance, at the Royal College of Music, London, is it advised to lie down for a few minutes after every half hour of practice. When you lie down, your mind and body can process and learn what you have just practiced more efficiently. Whatever your thoughts or feelings are when lying down, do not try and control them. You can be sure that when you take time like this, your thoughts, even if they are busy, will slow down a bit, giving you room for new impressions during the rest of the day. Physically, Some people find they need a bit more softness under the head or lower back, so folding a towel and putting it on the books or floor makes it more comfy.

“Mental Study, Breaks and Sleep”
The reading in the link above is a translation by the teacher of parts of a book by the motor-neurologist Ben van Cranenburgh. He founded “Stichting ITON”: an institute that promotes application of principles of motor-neurology to sports and music. His book (in Dutch) is called: “Muziek en Brein” and is available in our library if you want to borrow it and read further. For this lesson, you can just click on the title above and read the summary.

Practice Tactic:
Try 25-5 breaks and Imagination exercise

25-5 breaks: Remember first to start a few practice sessions with the Lie Down warm-up film above. Then you can see what it is like to take a break of five minutes after 25 minutes of practicing. Walk around, look out the window, get a drink, or have another short lie down. Remember that looking on your phone does not count as a break, and actually takes away your attention for the following 15 minutes.

Imagination exercise: Remember that imagining playing a phrase actually stimulates the motor skills part of your brain, which means that you are actually practicing your technique. With this in mind try the tactic Alternating Silence with Sound. This allows you to try out playing, then imagining in short intervals during normal practice time. In this practice tactic, it may seem strange to alternate playing or singing a phrase with silence. However, as we have learned from the motor-neurologist, stopping can give your brain time to process what you have done, how it felt and sounded, where you are, etc. It also gives you a mini-moment to re-set and make new choices! You may find that this method of practicing is so efficient that you will want to make it a habit!

Questions for Lesson 3
Send your answers to these questions to the teacher. See the instructions for this on the course instruction page.

1. Do you take breaks regularly, or do you go on until you are tired?
2. Do you sometimes find that during practicing that your mind is wandering and you are not paying attention? What do you do when this happens?
3. Do you ever stop and think about what you are doing and change the direction of your practice?
4. Do you slow down sometimes to really pay attention to your movements?
5. When you are done practicing, do you have a sense of what you have done, or is your memory of the practice time confused?
6. How does taking breaks help you practice better?

7. Were you able to follow the instructions for lying down in semi-supine position and carry it out with use of the film? Did you also try it yourself also without the film?
8. Have you ever done anything like this before?
9. Was it possible to stop and do the lie down before a practice session, or did you feel somehow that it was a waste of time?
10. What happened when you lay down, and also in the practice sessions afterwards?

In this reading, different research projects into learning were mentioned.
Tell what the research appeared to show in the following cases:
11. Mental practice: What did the scan of the motor cortex section that controls the fingers show about mental practice vs. live practice?
12. Repetition and time: What did the research about those kittens tell us about the number of repetitions over a short or long time?
13. Breaks and progress: What did the researcher discover about breaks and sleep and progress in technical skills?
14. Sleep: What do the brain scans show about learning in your sleep?
15. What do you think: how do these recent discoveries affect how you think about your manner of practicing?

Practice Tactic:
Alternating Silence with Sound
16. What did you experience when you alternated live practice of a small section of music with imagining it without playing?
17. How did it feel to have to stop yourself from going on with actually playing?
18. Did you notice any changes in your playing or singing after imagining what it was you wanted to hear?
19. Did this tactic throw any light on your state of mind and body when you were doing it? Did stopping make you notice anything about the state your were in at that moment?
20. Did you try first calming and focusing yourself using a lie down before using Alternating Silence with Sound?
21. What relationship does silence have to sound in music?