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Author Topic: Getting past the "OK Plateau"  (Read 9377 times)
ubizmo
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I couldn't fail to disagree with you less.


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« on: March 27, 2011, 06:00:03 pm »

I've been doing some reading about common elements of expertise, in many different areas. I keep encountering a description of the "three phases" of acquiring skills.  The first is the "cognitive" phase, during which we are thinking things through and consciously solving problems. Anyone new to music, or new to a particular kind of instrument, is in this phase. Then there's the "associative" phase, where we consciously and unconsciously consolidate what we learned in the first phase, and make it more efficient. Finally, there's the "autonomous" phase, where we internalize it all, and do it without thinking.

See more description of it here.

Most often, when we get to the autonomous phase, we feel that we're doing "okay" and are close to doing as well as we are innately capable of doing. That's the "okay plateau", and it's easy to get stuck there permanently.

The research indicates that the people who get to be really good at anything are those who consciously kick themselves out of the autonomous phase (also called the "comfort zone"). This involves pushing yourself to the failure point and then carefully watching yourself fail, getting feedback, and doing more conscious problem-solving, essentially dropping back to the cognitive phase. This is why even world-class musicians, not to mention golfers, etc. still take lessons, at least intermittently; and they don't practice what they're good at. They practice what they stink at!

Other research indicates that how you practice is much more important than how much.

It's good and enjoyable to play for pleasure, just to relax and enjoy the instrument. But this isn't really practice. When I was a kid playing the sax, my "practice" sessions would inevitably deteriorate into "playing" sessions. That's because I never had lessons to learn or a teacher to answer to. A teacher is someone whom you pay to give you feedback and to keep you practicing, instead of just playing.

What this has to do with Fiving is...Fiving is actually ideal for kicking yourself off the Okay Plateau. Doing this is inherently uncomfortable. We don't like to watch ourselves fail. It's much more fun to watch ourselves do something well. This is why the Okay Plateau is so seductive in the first place, and why we also call it the Comfort Zone. But five minutes...we can always pick something hard to do right and work on it for five minutes. Just one thing. A particular scale. A tricky part of a tune. For five minutes we can not only watch ourselves fail, but also pay close attention to what's going on, and why we're failing. Much longer than five minutes, and we lose focus.

If you're not hitting the failure point, push a little harder, go a little faster. It's only five minutes.

I'm writing this from the standpoint of a hardcore slacker. My general musical ability didn't start to improve until I started playing MOs. I've played the sax for over 40 years, and never really got past barely okay. The thing is, with the sax, you have to find a good place to practice--if it's at home, then you have to do it when you won't bother people. Otherwise you have to schlep the thing somewhere else. So, unless you have a dedicated practice room, it's a project. So when you finally do start, you feel that you have to put in a good long time, to make it worthwhile. And that gets strenuous and tedious, and so maybe you don't do it again as soon as you should. It gets to the point where you hardly ever practice. It's just too much trouble.

But I always have the MO with me. It's not hard to find five minutes here and there in the course of a day. So even before "Fiving" was christened, I was doing it. And I was finding that for five minutes I'd willingly work on something difficult and not-fun. Like the bridge of "Take Five". I Fived that for a month before trying to record it. Two months would have been better.

Some musical skill is instrument-specific, but some is transferable. To my surprise, I'm a better sax player now, even though I seldom pick up the sax. Fiving on the MO has bled over into my sax playing. I'm still not really at "okay" yet, but I'm closer.

It's interesting to me that practicing a skill like playing an instrument is similar to strength training. There, too, it's important to push to the failure point--not necessarily to eye-bulging, screaming, failure, but to at least tempo failure, where you can't do another rep without breaking tempo. The other interesting parallel is that, as with physical exercise, the learning doesn't take place while you practice. It takes place after you practice, while you "recover". In physical exercise, the necessary recovery time is determined by your genes and your age. For cognitive skills, it's faster, but you should still notice the same effect. You practice one particular thing until you fail, and keep failing. Then take some time off, and the next time you try it, you're a bit better at that same thing. The changes took place while you weren't playing. There is no better justification for Fiving than this.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my thoughts on this.

Ubizmo


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Yaara
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« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2011, 07:27:48 pm »

Very, very well said!  Thank you!!!

As Tamilee Webb says about stretching exercises, "You should stretch to the point of discomfort, but not to the point of pain."

One thing that's helping me stretch to the point of discomfort is using those music books I ordered.  When I'm playing by ear, my comfort zone is songs that maybe have a Bb or an F# somewhere.  Anything requiring more than one sharp or flat, forget it, I'm too lazy.  But according to the sheet music, if I want to play "Anthem" from "Chess," I'm going to need to know how to play a C#.  So, now I can play C#.  And there are other songs I want to learn that are even trickier, so looks like I'm not going to have a choice.  Stretch, stretch, stretch...

But never to the point of pain.   Wink


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Spatolo
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« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2011, 08:53:36 am »

Great post Todd. Thank you SO much. I'm finding myself to stuck in the comfort zone too often now that I'm good enough to play some tunes and have fune with them playing in public without much shame, if any. I still sometime go for some "hit the failure" practice session, as I was definitely used to - without knowing any theory behind it, and stressing myself to the limit.
If I am quite OK now is also because of that. And I have PLENTY, IMMENSE, HUGE, MASSIVE ROOM for improvement. Time to focus again Smiley


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4efs
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2011, 06:30:08 am »


I know this is an "old" topic but I just want to say thanks to Ubizmo(again) but this time for his thoughts on this.
I chronically look for the easy out myself, this has given me some good ideas of how to put my practice time to better use.

As far as the ocarina goes, I have had it less than a month but I feel like it has given me back a part of myself that I hadn't realized I had missed so much. It has brought back my spirit's song and for that I will be forever grateful. My kiddo too goes around singing and humming and I had forgotten that that is the way my life used to be.

"Innerst i sjelen stiger landet frem: en blank og gylden stripe land som en gang var mitt hjem" 
 "Deep in my soul the land is rising up, a bright and golden streak of land that once was my home" 
                                                                                         Ole Paus

(is that correct Bakfot?) Undecided


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"The real secret of success is enthusiasm." -Walter Chrysler
bakfot
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Long ago I was a serious young man


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« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2011, 07:15:33 am »

is that correct Bakfot?

Yes, that is a good translation, adhering to the original rythm. Full marks!


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hoodsmom
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« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2011, 01:28:48 am »

I'm glad you resurrected the topic.  I just started testing another strategy - practicing/reviewing for a short time just before bedtime.  (Get out that ocarina silencer!)  Brain research shows that motor tasks are better consolidated if the practice takes place shortly before going to sleep.  More info about the science of practice in general here:
http://www.westboroughsession.com/music%20pdfs/16-Apr09/PracticingandCurrentBrainResearchbyGebrian.pdf


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Ben
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« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2011, 01:08:09 pm »

Very interesting. In other words, practice slowly, don't practice mistakes, practice mentally, sing in your head, and get a good nite's sleep. Good advice.


« Last Edit: November 08, 2011, 02:51:03 pm by Ben » Logged
Harp Player
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« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2011, 05:01:31 pm »

Thank you for the link to that PDF. it was very interesting. It also confirmed some things I already knew about sleeping on it when learning a new song or technique.
 


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4efs
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« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2011, 07:37:33 pm »


  Thanks that's neat stuff!  Finally, something to encourage me to go to bed when I should!
 I began last night(just before bed) trying to practice much more "correctly" too and plug up some of those gaping holes in my neurological "hose"! LOL!
Really don't need to spend any extra time unlearning! It's good to get it in perspective that way.

Thanks Bakfot-but please don't credit me with the translation! Shocked I copied it off the internet before you gave your full one. I like your choice of words better. I also wrote down the actual words and I was hoping that they were, in fact the correct ones.  Not that I'll ever be able to sing it, sigh....


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"The real secret of success is enthusiasm." -Walter Chrysler
hoodsmom
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« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2011, 05:13:35 pm »

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2978076/

Challenging to read, but key points are:
1) idea that sleep enhances learning beyond what's already been learned may be wrong
2) sleep can, however, restore losses that occur due to performance fatigue* and passage of time during the day
3) practicing at night is not necessarily better
4) shorter sessions of practice with rest in between are better than longer sessions

*altho "practice makes perfect," when you repeat a task you are also fighting something called "reactive inhibition," the tendency not to correctly repeat a task just done.  (Just like Ubizmo says, stop practicing when you start making mistakes)

Key graph to understanding the article is Figure 1.
"massed training" = longer practice sessions between rest periods
"spaced training" = shorter practice sessions between rest periods (but total amount of practice same)
higher bars = better performance
(even though the bars for the PM trained ppl (right side graphs) look a little higher than the bars for the AM trained ppl (left side graphs), the way the experiment is designed, you cannot conclude that PM training is better).


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Scott Maness
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« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2011, 04:44:09 am »

Well put Ubizmo!

Thank you for sharing this information.  It is easy to let your mind wander in a "practice" session.  Maintaining focus is very important to the learning process.

Quote
Otherwise you have to schlep the thing somewhere else.

This is why several of my instruments never leave the house with me.  I have gravitated toward smaller lighter instruments lately for this reason.



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Treblemaker
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« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2012, 06:55:46 am »

Hi Ubizmo,
I know this is an older topic, but I want to thank you so much for posting it. Such great information. And this was the perfect time to receive it. You give me hope!  LOL  Roll Eyes


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hoodsmom
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« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2013, 10:28:07 pm »

I was re-reading this thread (thanks for starting it, Ubizmo) and I thought I'd throw in some advice from Grey Larsen's Tin Whistle Toolbox book:

Effective practice is at least 90% attention, mental focus and listening. ...truly attentive, inquisitive listening is the cornerstone of effective practice. Physical repetition will not do you much good if you are not listening well and paying attention to yourself.  In fact, it may serve to reinforce bad habits instead.
...slow practice is the thing that will get you there sooner. When you play slowly you can much more easily notice and pay attention to the sounds you are making and the physical movements and positions that you are using to make them. How can you change and improve if you are not aware of these things?"


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Treblemaker
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« Reply #13 on: July 03, 2013, 01:34:01 am »

I was re-reading this thread (thanks for starting it, Ubizmo) and I thought I'd throw in some advice from Grey Larsen's Tin Whistle Toolbox book:

Effective practice is at least 90% attention, mental focus and listening. ...truly attentive, inquisitive listening is the cornerstone of effective practice. Physical repetition will not do you much good if you are not listening well and paying attention to yourself.  In fact, it may serve to reinforce bad habits instead.
...slow practice is the thing that will get you there sooner. When you play slowly you can much more easily notice and pay attention to the sounds you are making and the physical movements and positions that you are using to make them. How can you change and improve if you are not aware of these things?"


Thanks so much Hoodsmom, I've reached the point of becoming discouraged (not giving up tho') I've been playing for 14 months and I'm discouraged with my lack of speed and dexterity. Since I play the C MO and have small fingers-  I have trouble with covering the holes consistently. When I try to play fast. I always used to learn a new instrument fairly quickly tho' I never tried to play a woodwind before. I guess it's age  Roll Eyes  sigh.
Thanks for the encouragement!


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Pat Anderson
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« Reply #14 on: July 03, 2013, 04:58:24 am »

Inspirational for sure! I may or may not ever progress beyond "OK" but this spurs me on!  I now play other ocarinas besides my MOs, which I still play, but the fundamental proposition is still the same!


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