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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Building Skills 21

More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #35: Use the 3x10 technique.
 
This is an interesting idea, coming from a neurologist, Dr. Douglas Fields, "who researches memory and learning. He discovered that our brains make stronger connections when they're stimulated three times with a rest period of ten minutes between each stimulation. . . . 'I apply this to learning all the time in my own life,' Fields says. 'For example, in mastering a difficult piece of music on the guitar, I practice, then I do something else for ten minutes, then I practice again."
 
I've used something similar in my rehearsals with a tough passage, working on it, then putting it aside and working on something else, then coming back to it in the same rehearsal. I've done this primarily with relatively short passages, but it has worked well. I think it'll be interesting to try it in a more organized way, working three repetitions and spacing close to 10 minutes apart.
 
I've mentioned this in the past, but when I conduct the St. Matthew Passion the sudden and dramatic "Barrabam" (Barrabas) chord is a challenge for the choir. After I've worked on it a bit, I tell the choir that whenever they hear the recitative lead-in, they have to be ready to sing it . . . and I sprinkle it throughout the rehearsals here and there. It becomes almost an automatic conditioned response. By the time of performance there's no fear and the entrance can be confident and dramatic.
 
The idea of enhancing learning by spacing repetitions has been researched extensively, with the quickest and most thorough learning coming from timing each review so it happens just before one would be about to forget (i.e., just before it passes out of short-term memory). This particularly works well with individual facts, vocabulary, etc., with the timing of review periods (gradually getting further and further apart) the quickest way to put them into long-term memory. There are systems for spacing repetitions of material and one of the best is available for free through Anki (essentially it's a computerized—and scientifically spaced—version of flash cards). If you're learning a language or anything that involves this kind of knowledge, try it out.
 
I think the same idea might be interesting to experiment with when learning scores (not Anki! the 3x10 idea). As you practice or work on a particular passage or section of music and try to get it clearly in your mind, after an intense study period, put it aside, work on something else for 10 minutes or so, work on it again, and do it one more time. I suspect it will get it into your mind more quickly and efficiently. Something to try!

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