Success = How Many Hours?

Fox’s Fireside article for adult learners

 

What Does It Take to Master Your Craft?

Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours. — Leopold Auer

Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes. Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others — it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it. — Yo-Yo Ma

If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it. — Louis Armstrong

It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied. — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

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How much practice is enough? 2 hours? 4 hours? More or less? What constitutes too much practicing?

To grasp this essential question, a tug-a-war of time vs. attentiveness, Noa Kageyama quotes Arthur Rubinstein, Leopold Auer, Jascha Heifetz, Donald Weilerstein and others in his article “How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?” He centers around the basic premise that deliberate practice is more efficient, engaging, and builds self-confidence.

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain — and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.Kageyama

recycle-1000785_1920_johnhainThe famous “10,000 Hour Rule” was described in the book Outliers: The Story of Success written by Malcolm Gladwell, Based on studies in elite performance, Gladwell contended that it’s “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields… you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”

Gladwell’s message — “people aren’t born geniuses, they get there through effort” — was seized upon by popular culture.

There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grand-master. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.Gladwell

View his explanation on YouTube about his “metaphor for the extent of commitment that’s necessary for cognitive-complex fields” (how long mastery takes) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uB5PUpGzeY.

nikola_tesla_napoleon-sarony-public-domain-via-wikimedia-commonsThe 10,000 hour rule was also cited in a book by Sean Patrick: Nikola Tesla – Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century:

The rule’s premise is that, regardless of whether one has an innate aptitude for an activity or not, mastery of it takes around ten thousand hours of focused, intentional practice. Analyzing the lives of geniuses in a wide range of intellectual, artistic, and athletic pursuits confirms this concept. From Mozart to Bobby Fischer to Bill Gates to the Beatles, their diverse journeys from nothing toward excellence in their respective fields shared a common denominator: the accumulation of ten thousand hours of unwavering “exercise” of their crafts. — Patrick

 

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To be fair, many have taken exception to the 10,000 hour rule, in articles like “The Great Practice Myth: Debunking the 10,000 Hour Rule” by Michael Miller.

According to Ryan Branstetter in his November 2019 “The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Habits of Mind,” creating or reforming “patterns of thinking” and habits may instead take anywhere from 21 days to a year:

Have you ever heard someone tell you that it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit? Well, scientific studies have found that to be unfounded. When it comes to something easy, such as grabbing a coffee at your local Starbucks on your way to school, it might take only a few days for a habit to form. But if it is a habit that is challenging, studies have shown that the 21-day myth may actually more like 66 days. Or for very challenging habits, it could take up to a year!Branstetter

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How about translating this prescription of 1-10 years to a weekly figure of five hours? With reading being the major focus for any stellar success in a profession, review the blog-post by Michael Simmons in Accelerated Intelligence: “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah All Use the 5-Hour Rule”

If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?

…I’ve explored the personal history of many widely-admired business leaders like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg in order to understand how they apply the principles of deliberate practice.

…Many of these leaders, despite being extremely busy, set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning. Simmons

piano-286036_1920_crystalleHere are the “three buckets” (principles) of Simmon’s 5-hour rule:

  1. Read
  2. Reflect
  3. Experiment

Specific to number one above, apparently billionaire entrepreneurs like to read a lot, quantities of time, frequency, and number of sources (quoted in the article):

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By the way, how many books do YOU read a month? What publications do you have sitting on the coffee table or bed stand awaiting to be started/finished? A quick glance at my own collection of recent nonfiction acquisitions includes these titles:

  • Fewer Things Better – The Courage to Focus on What Matters Most by Angela Watson (Due Season Press and Educational Services, 2019)
  • UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borna (Touchstone, 2016)
  • The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott (Bloomsbury, 2016)
  • The Microbiome Solution – A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out by Robyn Chutkan (Penguin Random House, 2015)
  • The Weekend Effect – The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad (Harper Collins Publishers, 2017)

(You see, I do not exclusively survey the current best-sellers or today’s fads/trends… ideas, insights, and innovations can come from anywhere and any time frame. Now that I am retired, I can “catch-up!”)

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Back to musical preparation. You may have heard that saying “practice makes perfect,” generally debunked in several of my “Fox’s Firesides” for music students. I revise this concept to “perfect practice makes perfect performance” promoting “the ten times rule” in applying focus, problem solving, and repetitive drill. Check these out:

Finally, citing the initial reference in this blog-post by Noa Kageyama, here are five tips for deliberate practice by which we should all abide:

  1. Keep practicing limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused.
  2. Utilize times during the day when you tend to have the most energy.
  3. Write down and keep track of your performance goals and what you discover during your practice sessions.
  4. Work smarter, not harder.
  5. Apply various techniques of problem-solving to practicing.

He also recommends this 6-step general “problem-solving model” as adapted from various problem solving processes online:

  1. problem solving chart
    asq.org

    Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)

  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)

More ideas can be researched by reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle or The Practice of Practice by Andrew Mason, or visit these links for further study:

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The bottom line? Working “brainlessly” does not promote significant improvement. However, use of sufficient repetition, exploration, problem solving, and mindful and deliberate practice will stimulate your success in the pursuit of anything worthwhile… especially the self-realization of creative self-expression.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Daily Ten Minute Warmups

The Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

foxsfiresides

Just like an athlete’s regular workout to achieve specific goals for improvement in form, strength, and stamina, musicians need to adopt consistent practice habits, and apply a daily routine of the Three T’s:

  • Tuning and slow/long-tone warmup
  • Three Scales a Day
  • Technical Etude or Study

Even if time is very limited, the music directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra recommend that, at a minimum, every musician spends at least ten minutes a day on a regime of playing scales and at least one technical exercise or etude (usually prescribed by a private teacher) to “maintain their chops,” increase flexibility and resilence, and further their technical proficiency.

The TECH TIP #1 outline below provides a suggested framework to follow (especially suitable for violin, viola, cello, and string players, but adaptable to any instrument).

This involves the following approach:

  • Consistent drill (ten minutes a day, seven days a week)
  • Focused drill (no distractions or interruptions, or it doesn’t count)
  • Repetitive drill (many revolutions and repeats)
  • Creative drill (innovative and inventive: new keys, articulations, rhythms, etc.)

 

How to Practice: “Variety is the Spice of Life!”

Key to this formula is venturing out of your “comfort zone” and exploring the entire “Circle of Fifths” – different key signatures (don’t just play in the same key every day), 400px-Circle_of_fifths_deluxe_4.svgMajor and minor scales, and numerous varied patterns:

  • Repeated notes
  • Unique rhythms
  • Slow to fast tempos
  • Slurs
  • Bowings (strings)
  • Intervals (e.g. scales in thirds, etc.)
  • Arpeggios
  • Dynamics and other expressive markings

Other practice strategies have been previously shared here (click on the “fireside” menu above or go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/), and offer a host of problem solving techniques suitable for instrumentalists of any age and abilty level.

In addition, here are a few more tips for effective practice:

  1. Play your instrument every day, at least 5-7 times per week. Practicing in short amounts daily is more preferable than “cramming.” Developing technique is much like an exercise workout. Teach your muscles by doing a little bit daily.
  2. Set regular time(s) to practice. Consistency is the key to success.
  3. Find a comfortable, well-lit, quiet place to practice.  No television or telephone interruptions!
  4. Practice standing up, not sitting (except cello players). Remember to keep muscles relaxed and loose.  Relaxation and breathing exercises prior to the start of a practice session can be especially helpful.
  5. Use a mirror to visually check your form and technique. Use a recorder to aurally check your playing.
  6. When trying to improve intonation, play SLOWLY. Try to memorize your music or passage, close your eyes or play in the dark.  By restricting visual input, you may help enhance your aural ability, becoming more sensitive and “attuned” to tuning.
  7. Experts say “start slow and small.” After sight-reading (without stopping) your new selection, break it down into “practice goals” and “problem solve.” At each session, focus on a small section or difficult passage(s). Gradually increase your tempos or add more difficult fingerings/positions/bowings. As you learn each section, overlap your practice goals into repetitive longer “run-throughs” of the music.
  8. Test yourself performing “ten-times-in-a-row” with 100% accurate notes, rhythms and articulations.
  9. LISTEN!  If you are having trouble with an orchestra piece, or a new solo work, buy a recording, research it on YouTube, or try to get one from the library. Even better, get multiple recordings of it so you can hear different interpretations. Then, listen to it a lot.  Listen to it in the car, on your headphones while taking a walk, as background music while talking to a friend, during dinner, etc.
  10. seriestoshare-logo-01Don’t forget that the ultimate goal is not to produce the notes you see on the page as you would type in words on a keyboard—the goal is to produce beautiful music.  Listen to yourself and “make music” as you practice.

SHJO’s mission is all about supporting school music programs. (For more information, about the Southwestern PA community ensemble, please visit www.shjo.org.) Consult your band or orchestra teacher, as well as a private teacher (if you have one) for more detailed instruction on warmups, tuning, scale reading, and etude assignments.

 

Sample Scales

If you do not own a scale book, here are a few guides for string players:

Best wishes on setting up a daily ten minute PRACTICE PLAN!

PKF

Tech Tip #1

Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

  1. Tuning
  2. Three Scales a Day (two Major and one minor)
  3. Technical Etude or Study

What is needed?

  • SmartMusic, eTuner, or other standalone digital tuner
  • Lists of scales in different keys
  • Supplemental materials (such as Essentials for Strings or Essential Elements 2000 for Strings Book 2 p. 44-45)
  • Violin or Viola Etudes: VIOLIN/VIOLA: Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 1 or Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 2*
  • Cello Etudes: Sebastian Lee or Alwin Schroeder*
  • String Bass Etudes: Simandl*

Other instruments: any etude appropriate to your instrument *(ask your private teacher)

Recommendations

  1. Per daily warm-up, perform two Major scales and one minor scale.
  2. Play one scale slow with focus on natural tone production/vibrato and precise intonation.
  3. lay one scale fast with emphasis on articulation or bowing style.
  4. Play one scale using unique rhythmic, slurring, melodic patterns, shifting or in positions.
  5. Play at least one of the above scales in a flat key (Major or minor).
  6. epending on level of achievement, two octaves is the norm; one octave for novices or playing new keys starting on D (violin), G (viola/cello), A (bass) strings, C (all other instruments); three octaves for advanced string students.
  7. Check off the different keys you play on the Circle of Fifths. (The goal is that all string musicians should be able to play scales in keys of 1-5 sharps and 1 to 4 flats.)
  8. Vary your workout to include a range of expressive elements including articulations (staccato, marcato, legato, spiccato, hooked bows, pizzicato) and dynamics (forte to piano).

Definitions

  • Major Scale: Do-1 Re-2 Mi-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps between 3-4 and 7-8
  • Natural Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Te-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 5-6
  • Harmonic Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3, 5-6, and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor UP: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor DOWN (same as Natural Minor)
  • Speedy Rhythm Drill (looks like an upside-down pyramid): four sixteenth notes per scale note (up and down), three sixteenths, two sixteenths, and one sixteenth
  • Speedy Slur Drill (looks like a normal pyramid): one quarter note (once up and down), two eighth notes slurred played twice, three notes (triplet) slurred played three times, and four sixteenth notes slurred played four times.
  • Slow-Fast drills: four eighth notes followed by four sixteenths (or vice versa)
  • The 2 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 2): Triplets Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Fa, Sol-Sol-La, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.
  • The 3 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 3): Sixteenths Do-Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Mi-Fa, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.

 

For a printable copy of this TECH TIP #1, click below:

Music Tech Tips TEN MINUTES A DAY

 

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by Alexas_Fotos

 

Pizza, Batting Averages, and the “Ten Times Rule!”

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Sean Myers

More Practice Tools for Musical Preparation and Building Self-Confidence

foxsfiresidesInstrument lessons and orchestra practices provide opportunities for the music teacher to impart a few “tricks of the trade” in reading and then practicing music. I call these my “Craftsmen Tools” for successful musical construction… one note or one line of music at a time.

Take it from a world-famous maestro! According to Itzhak Perlman, practicing effectively “comes down to listening. What are you listening for when you practice?” He advises, “Just reduce it to small increments, two or three bars, and try to get a hold of everything at the same time… You can accomplish a lot more in less time. Practicing slowly is extremely important. Then you can figure out what’s going on. Nothing escapes you.”

You may have heard my reference to “cutting pizza” for the focus on a specific section, passage or “slice” in the music in order to repetitively drill to learn the notes. I suggest to my students that they should “take it small and take it slow,” and then gradually speed up the excerpt. Psychologists and education experts know that humans cannot absorb/retain/recite huge amounts of data at one time. (That is one of the reasons, for example, we separate long numbers with hyphens, like phone numbers, zip codes, and the social security identification. We CAN remember two, three and four digits at a glance, but most of us feel a little overwhelmed to memorize five or more numbers or places!)

In learning a new piece of music, the recommendation is to divide the work into segments. Our fast-paced life-style and hectic schedules do not usually allow for “gulping the whole thing” at one sitting (or playing through the entire folder of music, every note including the easy whole notes and rests). It is equally important to prioritize the “hard spots” in the music, and use slowed-down echo practice to our advantage. Labeling each section, and even going as far to marking the date each time it is practiced, will help our instrumentalists to focus on things that seem hard, logically plan (at first out-of-sequence), problem-solve, learn the day’s “goal,” and eventually put the pieces back together.

seriestoshare-logo-01At lessons, some music teachers refer to batting averages, and point out how a .333 baseball hitting average is outstanding in the Major Leagues (when big-league pitchers are throwing 90-mile hour balls at you), but terrible for a musician who plays one note right to two notes wrong. Since each practice session builds neural-connections across brain cells (physical “memory” to do the skill again), in order to “play it right” consistently, we have to repeat it accurately over and over again, thus “the Ten Times Rule.” Musicians have to achieve a .950 or better average, and practicing their challenging musical “slice” ten times in a row will do the most good. Cumulative effort over different sessions or days is also the key to success! If a hard passage is played 10-20 times today, repeated 10-20 times tomorrow, another set of 10-20 drills the next day, etc. until the part can be played perfectly “in a row” every time, the player will have NO WORRIES when it comes time to perform it at the concert.

Several months prior to my senior viola recital at Carnegie-Mellon University, I told my professor I was a bit nervous. He said I was not practicing enough (on the hard sections). What I did not understand at the time was I lacked this drill-method of practicing to build my self-confidence and improve my “batting average.” If nothing but perfect sounding or “reruns” of music comes from your practice session, you are not properly focusing on “one slice at a time” nor winning with “the ten times rule!”

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “a community orchestra for all ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Alexander Kalina

 

foxsfiresides

Tips on Developing Better Practicing Habits

Every good musician knows that regular practice is a must, but did you know that careless or inattentive practice can actually make you worse?

It is not necessary true that “practice makes perfect” – more likely that “perfect practice develops perfect playing.” Quality not quantity, you say? Your school music teachers will urge you to increase both the quality (focus, attention, goals/planning, etc.) as well as the number of minutes per week. Here are a few hints on improving practicing techniques. Read on… there are many additional resources for parents to guide their musicians to musical mastery!

  1. Designate a quiet place for practice at home
  2. Limit all distractions (TV, video games, computers, phones)
  3. Plan habits of consistent daily practice time(s) and weekly frequency
  4. Make practice goals (what do you hope to accomplish this week?)
  5. Take a few minutes to warm-up (scales, finger patterns, long tones, or lip slurs)
  6. Sandwich method (start at the bottom and work your way up)
    1. Review a song you already know (bottom slice of bread)
    2. Focus on a few “hard parts” (the meat in the middle of the sandwich)
    3. Sight-read something new (condiments, pickles or cheese)
    4. Review another well-prepared song (top slice of bread)
  7. Pizza slices
    1. Identify and prioritize the problems or hard sections
    2. Partition the entire song
    3. Focus on a “slice” of the music – a measure, phrase or line of music – at a time
    4. Drill (daily) on one or a few slices
    5. Next practice session, repeat then progress to next section
  8. Re-order the sections of a piece (scrambling)
  9. Target a difficult passage, play slow at first, then increase tempo gradually each time you play it
  10. Try patterns of instant slow/fast and then fast/slow
  11. Fire up different sections of the brain on a problem spot
    1. Say the letter names out loud (or sing them) – speech center
    2. Bow or tap the rhythms “in the air” – left-side psychomotor
    3. Finger the notes without the bow or mouthpiece – right-side psychomotor
    4. Combine a, b, and/or c on specific passages – all parts of the brain
  12. Create new rhythmic or articulation/bowing variations to challenge your playing of the passage
  13. To improve your musical batting average, implement the Ten-Times Rule (accurately in a-row)
  14. Always add expressive markings including dynamics, tempo and articulation changes, etc.

seriestoshare-logo-01Yes, practicing should be heard at home. It is NOT enough simply to play at school. The long-tested “success equation” is TIME + MAKING PROGRESS = FUN (encouraging more time, progress and fun). Practicing on a regular basis improves technique, musicianship, self-confidence, endurance, reading skills, and besides… playing better is a lot more FUN!

PARENTS: Here are several excellent websites on recommendations for developing better practice skills, but ask your school music director for more advice!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Please feel free to download a printable copy (CLICK HERE) and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.