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How long do you spend on one thing?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Garagiste, May 17, 2020.

  1. Garagiste


    Feb 16, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    I’m about 8 years in, have a pretty steady practice routine of 1-2 hours per day which I organize into 15 or 20 minute chunks. I’m curious about the efficiency of spending too much time on one thing versus not enough. For example, I’ve been working on Simandl exercise in 4ths on page 58 for several days. I’m 40 minutes into it today and can almost make it through the whole thing without mistakes, but could easily spend another 60 minutes or more. But I also want to work on some repertoire, which presents the same challenge with respect to “how much time to devote to this one thing before it’s time to move on, even though I don’t have this under hand yet”. How do you organize your practice time so that you are meeting whatever your milestones are but not spending too much time on one thing to the exclusion of other aspects of your practice agenda?
    Tyler L and AGCurry like this.
  2. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Excellent question.

    I have yet to master any piece in my "practice repertoire." My teacher and I simply move on to something else. I think if we waited for me to master something, my progress would slow considerably.

    What is gratifying is how much better I can play something that I had real trouble with two months ago.
    equill, Tyler L, The Biz and 2 others like this.
  3. oldNewbie

    oldNewbie Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2016
    Recent-ish learning research shows that 5 minutes is about as long as you can spend reliaby at peak concentration. Intersperse with breaks with breathing, streetching, and body-awareness checks . The way you make five minutes work is to break the execution problem down into bits small enough to solve in that time., which also makes a specific enough item that you can remember and review it later in the day and the next day, after sleep. Committing a specific item you have learned during the sleep after acquisition makes retention a lot more effective. Learning to zero in on small specific problems and solve them is essential. Learning how to change what you are doing, and especially how to change your self-evaluation is essential to the process.

    Dennis Whittaker's Incredibly Useful Exercises for Double Bass series on YT and books at Amazon include these methods in practice sessions.

    A couple years ago, after an almost thirty year break, I started playing again, with the intention getting good enough to play chamber music. About a year of ineffective 1-1.5 hr/day practice, I decided to get serious, get a teacher and apply the Ericsson deliberate practice methods. Modacity says I've got about 500 hours in since July , progress has been steady and rapid. Application of the practice methods is up to me : lessons are entirely about the results. Presently, my practice assignments come from the Joel Qarrington eBook and a few in IUEfDB - [edit : long tones! Clarke thumb drills ] the Bradetich progressive scales, crab frame, vomits. Two octave scales in the middle of the fingerboard. A one hour chunk starts with silence and body-scans , interrupted by stretching - especially a rigid foam roller - and quiet. Ending with review and yeah, OK, affirmations. An hour of rep/solos has maybe a little less beginning and end like above, but it does.

    Two more areas of recent research inform my practice , and they help a lot as well.
    One, careful work on body mechanics with a physical therapist working around old injuries greatly helps understanding the complex mechanics of playing , and years of working with her have provided routines that put me into a composed and relaxed state, with clear connections from feet to hands. For instance being able to identify how much the external obliques drive the bow in both directions and then give up the motion towards either end of the bow, to outer lats, greatly reduced slip tones and also enabled better phrasing with "putting the weight into the note" .
    The second is that playing music is just like speaking a language for your brain, and learning tp play is a whole lot like speaking a second adult-learned language, only using the whole body, not just the muscles of the head and breath.

    good luck !
    Last edited: May 17, 2020
  4. Garagiste


    Feb 16, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    This is fantastic. I’ve also been checking out Dennis Whitaker’s videos and find them very “useful”. I’m doing his long tones at the top of every practice. Thank you.
  5. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    I think we need to be a little more specific here...If spending time learning a piece, then to my mind we are also addressing some of the techniques within the piece - eg string crossing, slurs, dynamics, bowing etc.
    Within this then there may be an area to be identified as being weaker than others.
    Then the next piece should need to have more focus* on slurs (if this is an area of weakness), as opposed to jumping to a piece that is different, focusing more on dynamics, or the key used, for example. (* And this may well be how you and your teacher are approaching it AGCurry!)
    Without mistakes maybe a an outcome but it is somewhat alone without companionship from interpretation - and this alone can take several forms and months/years of practice!!
    Garagiste likes this.
  6. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I find I make more progress if I work on multiple things in a rotation. When I work on one thing for too long I tend to get mental blocks and stop making progress. I may even regress if I keep pounding away.

    If I put several things in a rotation I can practice one thing until I start to get frustrated, then set it aside and work on something else. When I finally come back to the original item in my rotation, my competency level may have fallen off a bit from where I stopped, but it will be higher than where I previously started. Usually by the time I reach frustration and decide to move on again, my competency level has increased beyond where I stopped in the previous cycle. So basically it's 1 step back; 2 steps forward (=) 1 step of progress.

    As far as working on one Simandl exercise long term. I am with @AGCurry , I would not say I have ever mastered anything, but I have learned to play some things fairly well. I tend to put Simandl exercises in a different type of rotation as well, and I may take a break from Simandl for awhile. When I decide to pick Simandl up again, I go back to previous exercises and work my way forwards beyond where I previously was. Same idea, 1 step back; 2 steps forward (=)1 step of progress.

    I have a fairly short attention span so what I have described above works for me. If I kept pounding on just one problem I would become frustrated and demotivated. Each of us has a unique learning style, so you need to find out what works for you.
    Garagiste likes this.
  7. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Usually when I am learning a piece I play through and identify the parts that need extra work. Then I put those sections in a rotation as I described in my previous post. Sometimes figuring out the best fingering has to be done over series of rotations.

    If a piece is technically beyond me to the point that it may not be ready in time for performance. at some point I may need to figure out how to simplify and fake it. It may come as a surprise, but there have been a few times when I have picked up a piece of music a few weeks after the performance, and to my surprise I could play everything as written to tempo, even thought it was not possible during the performance.

    The mind is mysterious and much of what we do is subconscious. When you have a problem you can't figure out and set it aside, your mind continues to work on it. Also I believe our mental process can become locked if we try too hard, so that we may not be able to do something that we have "mastered." Setting something aside can allow our minds to unlock so performance is possible.
    Andy Mopley and AGCurry like this.
  8. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    As you suggest, every piece that my teacher assigns me focuses on one or more technical aspects. I have currently in my "rotation" four etudes and three musical pieces, as well as the long-tone warmups. A practice session involves playing through each piece twice or more.

    Many times I will also play a couple of familiar tunes by ear.
    Garagiste, Andy Mopley and Wasnex like this.
  9. Garagiste


    Feb 16, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    The Dennis Whitaker long tones thing is really gratifying, perhaps because it’s so simple, yet it allows for real engagement with the instrument and opens everything up so nicely. Can’t remember if that’s the long tones drill you are doing.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    In my experience it's more about the quality of the time spent on any given thing and the type of mental focus and attention maintained than the amount of time itself.

    If I only have a few things on the docket to work on, then the 24 minute multi-key warmup, short break, and one or two other things is great because a deeper dive can be taken into those one or two other things. If there's a whole set of music to prepare for an upcoming performance (remember those days?), then the time needs to be divided between the most challenging parts of that set, in order from most to least difficult.

    In any case, experience points to the importance of finding the balance point of current ability to actually be in technical and musical control of any given thing being practiced; this can be entire pieces, but is more often the more challenging excerpts from them. Balance point here means tempo. In the most superficial level of practice, which may be largely technical physical choreography, the tempos are often insanely slow. Once past that, my best teacher advocated always thinking and practicing as musically as possible even if at 1/4 tempo to reinforce the point of the whole thing from the beginning. Better to spend 10 minutes practicing a piece or excerpt cleanly at 8th note=60 than spend 30 minutes careening sloppily through the same thing repeatedly at Q=240.
    Andy Mopley, jheise, Wasnex and 3 others like this.

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