Music Practice


RandomVSBlockPracticing

 

This article on how musicians should practice captured my attention the other day. For those who love podcasts as much as I do, check this podcast with the writer of the article, Dr. Christine Carter,  interviewed by Andrea from TeachPianoToday.

What are we talking about?

More often than not, musicians (me included!) find that after a grueling practice session of repeating a difficult passage many times and finally making progress, all the progress disappears the next time. Even worse, you look like you didn’t practice in front of your teacher. What Dr. Carter talks about mainly, is the difference between block practicing, and random practicing.

What is Block Practicing?

Block practicing is repeating a difficult section over and over again, until improvement is obviously evident. Sound familiar? This technique is the most standard way to practice a tricky part. More commonly, it is heard in this way:

“Do this section 10 times correct in a row”

What is Random Practicing?

Random practicing is repeating the first difficult passage a couple times, then switching to another difficult passage (even if the first passage has not been perfected). Return to the first section afterwards, or skip to another difficult passage first.

For example:

Practice bar 1-4 three times. 
Practice bar 8-12 three times
Practice bar 1-4 three times again
Practice bars 16-20 three times
Practice bar 1-4 three times again

Which is More Effective?

Based on Dr. Carter’s research, students who do Random Practicing experience better results than students who do Block Practicing.

Why?

Although block practicing reinforces muscle memory, and shows evident improvements during the practice session itself, it does not promote learning efficiently. This means that the progress made with block practicing is often temporary.

Our brain also becomes “bored” of repeating the same passage over and over again, which negatively effects our focus, patience, and overall productivity.

Random Practicing allows for more variety in practicing. Practicing different sections randomly means a more interesting practice session. Because our brains must reset each time we approach a new section ,this promotes more learning, and more long term results.

According to Dr. Carter’s research, random practicing is twice as effective as block practicing, even though the time spent practicing is the same.

 

Let’s get to random practicing then!