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Practicing vs Playing

Randy Stein

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I have a couple of students who play a Jackie EC. In order to get them to build good knowledge of the key board (buttons) we play tunes that offer accidentals, arpeggios, and scale runs. One recent lesson with a student was  a real struggle with a tune they received over a month ago. My student commented 'I played it much better before my lesson.' To which I responded that playing it and practicing are two different things.

One can learn a tune and competently play it by just sitting down and playing it over and over again. One can also learn to develop fingering and muscle memory by practicing difficult phrases and fingering over and over. When I speak to a prospective EC player who wants to take lessons, I always ask what do you have difficulty with and what do you hope to accomplish. Almost always one of their answers is to hit the correct button for the right note. That is, get to know and learn the button layout (key board). 

Just playing tunes will accomplish this over time or one can really dedicate some time, effort, and practice to accomplish this quicker and better and benefit overall. 

Just saying...



Edited by Randy Stein
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Consistent with what Randy is talking about is this website by music psychologist/violinist Noa Kageyama who teaches at Julliard. Essentially, he explains the difference in practice methods between top performers (in music, sports, etc.) and the rest of us. It offers best practice practices. I have read and later reread the free sections and it has helped me practice much more efficiently—learning more in less time—and enjoying it more.



Edited by Jim2010
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I have recently been reading the 'Brainjo' book on 'Deconstructing the Art of Practice'.  While it is ostensibly about learning to play banjo, it very rarely talks specifically about the banjo and is a neuroscientist's very practical ideas about how humans learn, especially as to how they learn aural skills like language and playing a musical instrument.  It is an easy read and is applicable to the concertina.


"The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Molding a Musical Mind" by Josh Turknett


I do have his book but he is quite open about his technique and I think that all of the book is actually at this web address: https://clawhammerbanjo.net/the-immutable-laws-of-brainjo-deconstructing-the-art-and-science-of-practice/


He also has many Youtube videos about Banjo playing, but this one is a summary of his practice advice, again it is not specific to the banjo:


To bring this back to Randy's original question about his student who can play something when practising but not when performing, I think that Josh would say that he had not fully/properly 'automatised' his piece.  During practice, he can focus his mind on playing it correctly but during performance all sorts of other thoughts are distracting his mind and he cannot give the piece the needed focus.  Automatising a piece means that it can be played without the conscious mind being involved.  He addresses this issue and suggests a tool to use to test if a piece has been automatised.

Edited by Don Taylor
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13 hours ago, Steve Schulteis said:

I spent some time practicing with this app: https://completemusicreadingtrainer.com

Wow!  Thanks for this, Steve. 


I just spent 30 minutes playing with this and it is the most useful sight-reading app that I have tried - by a long way.  You can enable microphone input and it then recognises what notes you are playing on your concertina. So instead of an abstract memorization exercise in remembering where notes are on the stave, you are learning the sounds of the note and the fingering needed to make that sound.


It warns that microphone input mode may not work well, but it worked flawlessly for me.  I did find that the low notes needed to be sustained a wee bit longer than the higher notes for it to make the recognition, but that was not a problem once I realised what was happening.



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Behaviour and the environment are intertwined. We can unknowingly take a lot of "contextual cues" from the environment we practice in if we always practice in the exact same location/environment. Then when you take the player out of that environment - such as going to play the tune in at their instructor's studio, playing at a session or performing in a venue etc. things can fall apart, a tune played easily at home suddenly starts tripping us up. Even if your instructor comes to your home, and you're in the same environment, as soon as the instructor enters your home the environment has changed and similarly it can result in stumbling over notes that usually come easily. So part of that "automatising" of a tune mentioned above also involves playing the tune in different environments so that the player gets used to tuning out whatever distractions those other settings may hold and also doesn't unknowingly rely on contextual cues that are only present in the location where they regularly practice. 

Edited by Jillser Nic Amhlaoibh
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I don't think automatizing a tune is enough.  What to do if you get lost or hit a wrong note?  I play several instruments but none will produce the level of consternation a concertina will elicit if you suddenly find yourself in the wrong row.  Playing harmonies helps if only slight touches and improvising on the fly with small variations does as well.  One needs to know the instrument on a deeper level to play with confidence when out and about.

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