Lesson 4: Variation and Mastery

Explanation: Read this explanation of the topic Variation and Mastery carefully. It contains a lot of tools for varying your practice and using your attention to focus in different ways, which can exponentially improve your practice, and make it much less boring by waking up your curiosity.

Reading: Read this translation of a section of the book called “Muziek en Brein” by the motor-neurologist Dr. Ben van Cranenburgh. In this summary, you can learn how your brain learns best NOT by repetition alone, but by variation:
Motor-neurology MENU for expanding your practice

Warm-up: Vary your warm-up by choosing one of our three class warm-ups daily:
Active Lie Down
Spinal Spiral (with finger pointing)
Unpacking the Musician (Arms and Back)

While doing the warm-ups, choose different proprioceptive aspects to focus your attention on:
-Where you are standing, the soles of your feet: pressure sensors
-Where your head is, your back, legs and arms, how it feels to move: kinaesthetic sense, stretch sensors
-The room around and where you are in it: your changing field of vision, the sounds around you.

Practice Tactic:
In the explanation and reading for this lesson, many tactics were described that you can use to vary your practice and challenge your mind and body. We will work on different aspects in the coming weeks. This week, concentrate on the varying the musical approach to your practice using:
Variation makes perfect. You are also welcome to try out other types of variation mentioned in the explanation at the beginning of this lesson. Remember what we learned in lesson 3: you will often need a break, or even a nights sleep, to gain the benefits of concentrated practice. So try the variations freely, without checking back in the next minute if the tactic worked!

Answer these questions and send them in a doc or pdf to the teacher. As usual, use the instructions on the class homepage to do this.

Do you recognise the description of the musician who repeats and repeats to try to get things right? Do you or your friends do this at all?

Describe a situation where you noticed your mind wandering during practice. Why did it wander?

Do you ever get bored when you are practicing? What do you do when you get bored? Do you blame yourself for this? Or do you think up new ways to amuse and interest yourself in practicing?

Do you rate your own practice based on the amount of time you spent on it, or by the amount of effort and the level of tiredness at the end of a day? Are you critical of yourself a lot of the time?

Do you think that practicing well and a great deal of effort go together? Can someone finish a practice session refreshed and lively? How would you manage this?

What did you think of the quote by Stravinsky at the end of the explanation? How can one gain freedom by limiting one’s self?

What does choosing and creativity have to do with each other?

Are there choices involved in music making? When we choose one thing, do we consciously give up other things that we feel we do not need?

Do you notice that you have moments when you suddenly understand or discover something? Do you value and enjoy them? Describe such a moment.

What is the purpose of practicing? What do you think?

In the Practice Menu from the motor neurologist, many tactics for practicing were mentioned. Did you recognise any as some that you already know and use? Musicians often use some of these tactics without realising it. Name a few that you recognise.

Which tactics surprised you and were not yet in your experience of practicing? Which ones did you find strange and new? Which might you like to try?

Do you ever stop and re-think your approach to a certain passage, and change what you are doing to learn it? Describe this.

Is it alright to have a playful attitude to practice, trying things out when you are not sure they will work? What would you gain from “losing” some time like this?

This week you varied your warm-up using the three we have learned in the lessons. Which ones did you do, and how often? Did you try some with and also without the films, on your own?

Which warm-up is our favorite? Least favorite? Describe your experiences with the warm-up choices.

Do you notice that a certain warm-up had a certain effect for you that was good for a certain moment or situation?

Do you have your own mental or physical warm-ups that you use? What are they?

Practice Tactic:
In the practice tactic Variation Makes Perfect, you could choose from a menu of options to vary your practice. Which ones did you recognise as tactics that you already know and use? Explain how you use them.

Which aspect did you vary during your work with Variation Makes Perfect? Explain how you did this, and what you experienced.

Which variations would you like to be more conscious of, and use more?

How did it feel to vary your practice strategies and attention? Did it still feel like practicing? Or like an interruption?

Was it fun to vary your practice?