How to make your results in the practice room stick
The famous ‘at home I could play this!’ might sound like a lazy student excuse, but in reality it might just be the truth.
#teachers: Whenever your student tells you that, ask them to show you (not tell, show !) how they practice… you might discover why their results aren’t consistent.
What if the reason that you are not capable of repeating on command what you could do at home is because… you are not learning in the right way for you and according to the learning stage you find yourself in?
Even though there are competing and contesting theories on the subject, researchers agree that we all differ in the way we learn.
How much people learn is related to whether the information received is geared towards their learning style rather than how intelligent or talented they are.
What learning style are you?
“You can take a number of online tests”, says James Barraclough (coach and sport performance -psychology- consultant), “to tell you whether you are:
- Visual, Auditory, Reader, Kinaesthetic (Fleming, 2001)
- Concrete, Sequential, Abstract, Random (Gregorc, 1981)
- Visual, Aural, Verbal, Physical, Logical, Social, Solitary (Whiteley, 2003)
- Activist, Reflector, Theorist, Pragmatist (Honey and Mumford, 1992)
- Holistic, Analytic, Verbaliser, Imager (Riding and Cheema, 1991)
…to name but a few.” And, he continues:
Everyone perceives and processes information differently thus viewing the world in different ways. Attempting to explain these differences may help to infer why we learn at different rates and to varying skill levels. It also implies that if we have the potential to excel at something, but are not provided with information in our preferred format that we are doomed to not succeed in that domain.1
Are you getting the kind of instruction that works best for you? Getting lessons from the top artists in their field, or being enrolled in the finest music program in your nation, does not guarantee you are making the most of your learning opportunity.
To profit from the education you are receiving, you need to understand how you learn. How exactly you take in information, process new material, and how you retain what you absorb.
The 5 most common learning styles
1. The Visual Learner
Learns by watching someone else demonstrate. Imagery or other visual aids can be crucial in helping this student learn and retain information.
2. The Auditory Learner
Remembers what they hear and retains information best by listening. Sounds are their guide.
3. The Logical Learner
Learn through explanations of how to do something, by having someone talk them through each step.
4. The Physical (Kinesthetic) Learner
Learns by feeling the movements, by registering the sensation of specific actions in their muscles.
5. The Active Learner
Learns by trial-and-experience, they trying something until they get it right.
We rely on all five methods, but each of us has a dominant mode or two that consistently works best for us, especially when it comes to learning new material or changing technique.
The 3 Stages of Learning
P.M. Fitts and I.M. Posner proposed 3 progressive phases of learning a new skill. They are:
1. A cognitive phase
The cognitive phase is characterized by the learner’s trying to figure out what exactly needs to be done. Considerable cognitive activity is typically required in this stage, in which movements are controlled in a relatively conscious manner. Because learners sometimes use (overt or covert) self-talk, this stage has also been labeled the “verbal stage” (Adams, 1971). During this phase, learners often experiment with different strategies to find out which ones work or don’t work in bringing them closer to the movement goal. Also, learners tend to pay attention to the step-by-step execution of the skill, which requires considerable attentional capacity. The result of using conscious control strategies is that the movement is relatively slow, abrupt, and inefficient and that performance is rather inconsistent.
2. An associative phase
The associative phase is characterized by more subtle movement adjustments. The movement outcome is more reliable, and the movements are more consistent from trial to trial. Inefficient co-contractions are gradually reduced, and the movement becomes more economical. In addition, at least parts of the movement are controlled more automatically, and more attention can be directed to other aspects of performance.
3. An autonomous phase
The autonomous phase is characterized by fluent and seemingly effortless motions. Movements are not only accurate, with few or no errors, but also very consistent. In addition, movement production is very efficient and requires relatively little muscular energy. The skill is performed largely automatically at this stage, and movement execution requires little or no attention. (Source: HUMAN KINETICS2)
You are a Visual Learner, practicing a piece that includes skills you can execute well (you can perform them automatically), but… you practice by repeating to yourself step by step, the technical instructions you were given. The ones you used in the first stage of learning that particular skill (shoulder there, move the wrist, position and movement of the lips, fingers… etc).
Not only will instructing yourself with such analytical instruction not work for you, you learn best visually – remember? But such instructions are no use at all once you have learned a skill and can execute it automatically. You have to trust your automatism. And yourself :-)
Gabriele Wulf, PhD says:
“Some studies have looked more closely at how attentional demands change as individuals go through different phases of learning”. And “The performance of motor skills is affected at different stages of expertise as a function of what individuals direct their attention to.”2
Sian L. Beilock and team in their research ‘When Paying Attention Becomes Counterproductive’:
Whereas novices and the less-proficient performances of experts benefit from online attentional monitoring of step-by-step performance, high-level skill execution is harmed.”3
What to do:
1. identify your dominant learning modes
Do you prefer to see, hear, analyze, feel or try it out for yourself? Your preferred modes are the ones you want to use when learning a new skill or are making changes in your technique.
2. revisit the learning modes that don’t work for you
After learning a skill, you want to work on it again employing the less favorite modes. In this way you will make your learning much deeper and more reliable…if one mode doesn’t work optimally when performing, you have all the others to rely on.
3. learn to be courageous
Trust yourself once you have learned a skill. You will also be able to play, actually, better! if you let go of control (I know…scary…)
4. make sure you are not sabotaging yourself
Learning in a different way doesn’t mean you are not talented, or ‘natural’.
5. be aware of perfectionism
Be aware of perfectionism, read here how to let go of it – and why you need do to so – and be productive (staying forever at the first stage of learning is not going to help you get better ;-)
Resources & links:
1 James Barraclough: What are Learning Styles and what are their Implications for Coaching/Teaching? http://believeperform.com/coaching/what-are-learning-styles-and-what-are-their-implications-for-coachingteaching/
2 Gabriele Wulf, PhD: Learning process when acquiring motor skills similar for all individuals
3 Sian L. Beilock; Thomas H. Carr; Clare MacMahon; Janet L. Starkes: When paying attention becomes counterproductive: Impact of divided versus skill-focused attention on novice and experienced performance of sensorimotor skills. https://hpl.uchicago.edu/sites/hpl.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/JEPA2002.pdf
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