How to practice effectively

News about effective practicing based on research by Annie Bosler & Don Greene.

The link is to a TED ED video that is very compelling. I think the explanation of the biology of how the brain and the nervous system work is well worth the five minutes it takes to watch the video. Since it goes by fast, I’ve taken some notes:

Quality effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of our capability. To practice effectively we need to focus on the task at hand, eliminate distractions (Facebook is mentioned, but there are many distractions vying for attention). Then, start out slowly, or in slow motion. We all know that slow practice is the “go to” technique for elite performers. Interesting to learn that coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If we gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, we have a better chance of doing them correctly. (I want to read more about this.)

Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. In fact, the most successful performers devote 50-60 hrs. per week on activities related to the craft. But, multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration are most effective. Research has shown that “practice in the brain” actually is as worthwhile as physical practice once we have established and know in vivid detail what we need to do. I would caution that “brain practice” really isn’t a substitute for physical practice, rather, it is worthwhile in addition to physical practice. Physical motion established can be reinforced just by imagining it.



  1. Hi,

    I’ve ordered Don Greene’s recent book and intend to see what I learn this summer.


    On Sat, Mar 25, 2017 at 6:04 PM, Dr. Pierce's Bassoon Studio wrote:


  2. Neat video!

    I agree with you that “brain practice” is a great addition to actual practice. I regularly use mindfulness techniques while practicing to help me become aware of what my body is doing while I’m playing. It’s similar to “brain practicing” but I’m not of an ability where I could do this in place of physical practice and feel good about my practice sessions. When playing bassoon, mindfulness brings my awareness to what I need to do physically in order to produce a sound in a specific way. These techniques have been beneficial for me in both eliminating bad habits and in creating better habits, and it has been one of the most beneficial practice tools I’ve utilized when working on tuning.

    I think “muscle memory” and “coordination” are two separate things. Consider how many great musicians have spent years of their lives physically practicing – building the coordination needed to perform to a professional caliber – only to have their careers, and sometimes even their own lives, cut short from diseases such as multiple sclerosis where the body attacks and destroys the myelin shealths surrounding muscle fibers. Jacqueline du Pre would be one example. I’d bet those who are still alive could still “brain play” their favorite pieces even when their physical body is no longer capable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.