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Interleaved practice #2812601
02/09/19 07:28 AM
02/09/19 07:28 AM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 104
Cumbria, England
elenmirie Offline OP
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My teacher has organised a performance workshop for what she kindly refers to as her "younger grade" students, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. I'm concerned because I know my playing has a tendency to deteriorate when under a little bit of pressure, such as in lessons. I can play something the best I can several times during warmup, but as soon as my teacher is in the (virtual) room it slips back a notch or two so that I feel I'm not playing my best. Usually I can do it a second time better in my lesson, but that doesn't cut it for performance.

So as a result, I've been delving into performance psychology in hopes of finding some strategies for dealing with this. I came across an idea which was new to me - interleaved practice.

The theory is that what you get when you sit down and play something for the first time is more or less what you're going to get in performance, and that the fact that you can play it over and over in a practice session and have it sound better in that session doesn't really help much. Apparently that repetition is putting things into short term memory more than into long term memory (or something like that.)

So the idea is to use a practice technique that will make it necessary for your brain to put what you're learning into long term memory.

So the exercise suggested is to take three different pieces to work on over a period of 45 minutes. But instead of what most people would normally do, which is spend 15 minutes on each piece, do three sets of 5 minutes on each piece.

The idea is that by interrupting yourself and forcing your brain to retrieve the piece again for the second and third sets, it has to handle it differently and you'll be more likely to retain the progress that you make.

A couple of additional points: you can do smaller chunks of time, 3 or 4 minutes. The important thing about the exercise is the three sets of three short practices, there's nothing magic about 5 minutes. It will feel more difficult than normal practice and may be hard on the ego. Don't try to replace all your practice with this, just take a chunk of it and try it once per day. And it may take a few days of doing this before you see results.

I have tried it once so far (yesterday) and here are my observations:

I used three pieces - a Bach minuet that I'm working on memorising (this is my piece for the performance workshop), Clementi Sonatina in G (Op 36 No 2), first page of the first movement that I'm just learning, and Tchaikovsky's Morning Prayer that I'm working on polishing.

It felt very frenetic - like I was under the gun all the time, and like I was racing the clock to get something done in the five minutes I had. So generally, more intense than normal practice. The 45 minutes were over in a flash.

It was easy to get disorganised - even if I had made a mental note of what I wanted to do next on one of the pieces, by the time I came around to it again, the mental note had faded. I got better at that by the end of the session, I think.

I'm going to do it again daily, and see how my in-lesson playing fares in my next lesson on Monday.

The point of this post is, I'm interested in whether anyone has tried this practice technique, and what your experience has been. And if you haven't tried it, maybe you would like to give it a go and discuss on here.


Q: Am I late beginner, or early intermediate? A: Yes!

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke
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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812611
02/09/19 08:05 AM
02/09/19 08:05 AM
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New York City
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I would put this idea pretty low on a list of how to improve a performance of a piece. Much more important, I think, are things like:

1. What went wrong on the last play through of the piece or passage and how can I try to correct it?
2. What techniques have I used to memorize a piece?
3. Am I following all the notations in the piece about fingering, phrasing, dynamics, etc.?
4. How is my concentration during practice?

Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812633
02/09/19 09:29 AM
02/09/19 09:29 AM
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Other people seem to think Interleaved practice is beneficial.


It’s never too late to be what you might have been. -George Eliot
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812643
02/09/19 10:10 AM
02/09/19 10:10 AM
Joined: Apr 2018
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content
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Originally Posted by elenmirie
My teacher has organised a performance workshop for what she kindly refers to as her "younger grade" students, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Haha... Is that a new term for studio recital that is supposed to make it seem less intimidating? smile Because it's not working for me, my pulse immediately increased when I read those words smile


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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2812655
02/09/19 10:45 AM
02/09/19 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by elenmirie
My teacher has organised a performance workshop for what she kindly refers to as her "younger grade" students, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Haha... Is that a new term for studio recital that is supposed to make it seem less intimidating? smile Because it's not working for me, my pulse immediately increased when I read those words smile


Every year, I consider hosting a Recital Redemption so people could play their pieces in a less formal setting.

For background, the venue is a hard rectangle with folding chairs and a sort of stage, there are huge vases of plastic flowers that have seen a few decades of better days, next door is a music store (well stocked with LDS choir music, NTTAWWT), and the studios are upstairs. The whole place would be an anachronism, except that it is here.


Learner
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2812657
02/09/19 10:49 AM
02/09/19 10:49 AM
Joined: Oct 2018
Posts: 430
India
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by elenmirie
My teacher has organised a performance workshop for what she kindly refers to as her "younger grade" students, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Haha... Is that a new term for studio recital that is supposed to make it seem less intimidating? smile Because it's not working for me, my pulse immediately increased when I read those words smile

It got my pulse up too eek! I've started doing two things recently which are helping somewhat.

1) I play my previously learnt pieces, when my husband is on phone (or his mike is on while playing PUBG). I've gotten quite used to this by now, because it's nearly all the time.

2) A lady visits us some mornings to help us with some of our household chores. I push myself to play a little during her visits. This I find very very difficult! Thankfully, she's very kind and doesn't comment on it at all smile


Think Twice, Play Once
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812697
02/09/19 12:19 PM
02/09/19 12:19 PM
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Midwest USA
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There have been some earlier posts on interleaved practice that included citations for studies showing it to be beneficial (at least in training for a sport). I'm too lazy busy to look it up right now.

At any rate, I think the key is to make interleaved practice something manageable without too much fussing or watching the clock or shuffling of books. With so many methods or practice routines, the problem is sustainability. If you can't keep up the routine, it will fail for you at some point in the near future.


A modified (and perhaps more sustainable) version of interleaved practice a lot of people probably use is to practice a chunk for a few repetitions or length of time and then move on to another and then back to the first at some point. Mix it up and don't do endless repetitions of just one thing.


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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812731
02/09/19 01:48 PM
02/09/19 01:48 PM
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Sweden
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Originally Posted by elenmirie
It felt very frenetic - like I was under the gun all the time, and like I was racing the clock to get something done in the five minutes I had. So generally, more intense than normal practice. The 45 minutes were over in a flash.

Hi Elenimirie! I never play just five minutes, but I have experimented with ten minutes (instead of unlimited time). When playing like that, I also have a tendency to race the clock, and rush through the slow practise in order to have time left for the quicker practise. But just like you said - there is nothing magic about five minutes or ten minutes either. So I allow myself to play up to fifteen minutes, just to keep myself calm. I have done this for less than a week, but so far, I have never played fifteen minutes. But the idea is relaxing.

Good luck on the performance workshop!


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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812737
02/09/19 01:54 PM
02/09/19 01:54 PM
Joined: May 2001
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Victoria, BC
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Originally Posted by elenmirie
[...] I'm concerned because I know my playing has a tendency to deteriorate when under a little bit of pressure, such as in lessons. I can play something the best I can several times during warmup, but as soon as my teacher is in the (virtual) room it slips back a notch or two so that I feel I'm not playing my best. Usually I can do it a second time better in my lesson, but that doesn't cut it for performance.
[...]


Have you tried recording your performances when you are practicing alone? Playing for the recorder often raises the similar apprehensions that live performances do, but it gives you more chance to practice under those very circumstances.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: John305] #2812764
02/09/19 03:11 PM
02/09/19 03:11 PM
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In the Ozarks of Missouri
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Originally Posted by John305
Other people seem to think Interleaved practice is beneficial.


Thanks for posting. Very useful!


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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812788
02/09/19 04:07 PM
02/09/19 04:07 PM
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Southeast USA
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I am well acquainted with those performance feelings. I have had some success improving my playing for my Teacher and did invite 6 neighbors over for a 9 song Christmas 'recital'. It feels to me like it is a matter of focus and concentration. Interleaved practice sounds interesting as I am currently experimenting with practice techniques. Wouldn't be surprised if it works for some people. Interested to hear your findings.


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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: John305] #2812793
02/09/19 04:17 PM
02/09/19 04:17 PM
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Manchester, UK
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Originally Posted by John305
Other people seem to think Interleaved practice is beneficial.


Great link thanks.

Re: Interleaved practice [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2812996
02/10/19 05:38 AM
02/10/19 05:38 AM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 104
Cumbria, England
elenmirie Offline OP
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by elenmirie
My teacher has organised a performance workshop for what she kindly refers to as her "younger grade" students, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Haha... Is that a new term for studio recital that is supposed to make it seem less intimidating? smile Because it's not working for me, my pulse immediately increased when I read those words smile


Yes, I think it is. smile Every time she talks about it, she emphasises that it's a workshop. We'll see how it goes. Apparently she's got one that's been going for a while with her more advanced students, and everyone loves it.


Q: Am I late beginner, or early intermediate? A: Yes!

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2812997
02/10/19 06:01 AM
02/10/19 06:01 AM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 104
Cumbria, England
elenmirie Offline OP
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So, I've been doing this kind of practice for 3 days now, and I'm starting to like it. Today I did it in my morning session, which I normally use for learning new material (because I'm at my best in the mornings). Up till now I didn't think it would work for learning new things - more for polishing things that I can already play. I'm just starting to put hands together for part of the Clementi G major sonatina (movement 1) so I threw that into the mix. I thought it would be too fragmented for anything to stick, but it worked surprisingly well.

In that article that John305 kindly provided the link to, the author says that practicing this way lets you pick up where you left off - this kind of learning sticks. This I am finding to be the case, at least so far.

As for the Bach for the studio recital performance workshop, it's coming along pretty well. This morning I focused on getting the tone of the opening phrase the way I want it the first time. The thing that bothers me is I am still getting the occasional memory slip. This interleaved practice lark isn't going to help that, i don't think, so I need to find a way of solidifying the memory. The muscle memory is there (but we all know how flakey that can be) and I'm using the structure of the piece for a more intellectual memorisation. But that's still not providing consistency. Hm, what do?


Q: Am I late beginner, or early intermediate? A: Yes!

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2813024
02/10/19 08:11 AM
02/10/19 08:11 AM
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Posts: 178
England
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I like this, thank you smile

Richard (rtzf90) on the Clementi thread suggested learning/practising it by taking on a measure/couple of measures at a time, dotted about the work, instead of the usual Start at the beginning, make a mistake, start over, which gets tedious and doesn't prove to be that effective.

So I'm also using this approach with the other pieces I'm working on, and apart from making the sessions more interesting (you never know what will pop up next ) a couple of minutes at a time, then move on, does seem to make mastering it easier. Of course it's early days.

But the theory does seem to make sense too.

Last edited by Lillith; 02/10/19 08:13 AM. Reason: typos :(

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Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2813068
02/10/19 10:50 AM
02/10/19 10:50 AM
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Ireland (ex England)
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Originally Posted by elenmirie
So as a result, I've been delving into performance psychology in hopes of finding some strategies for dealing with this. I came across an idea which was new to me - interleaved practice.
This is really for memorisation and efficient learning rather than for performance. Practise for performance is about preparing the music for a flawless realisation and yourself for working around mistakes.

There are a number of things that will improve recital performance. For me, first and foremeost, is that the music is memorised in deliberate memory as well as finger memory. I need to be able to play slowly and clearly enough that muscle memory ins't engaged. I practise the four ways: with the score, at the piano and away from it, without the score, at the paiono and away from it. It's personal but for me, if I don't need the score then it's a distraction and if I do need it then I've no business performing the piece.

There will be mistakes in performance and in order to get the confidence to work through them you need the ability to work around them. Practise every phrase, period and section as a unit. Get an idealised version of each then practise playing through each piece, as a whole, at the beginning of your practise sessions. When playing without a warm-up you are more likely to make mistakes. Use these to improvise your way to the end of each cadence. The more you do this the easier it gets. If you don't do playing by ear or improvising, maybe it's time to start.

Play with others - I know it's not easy with piano - but playing with others forces keeping up and forcing your way through mistakes. It's not an impossible skill and once you have it performance anxiety changes completely from fear to anticipation. You still get the adrenaline but you don't get the dread.

It's calming to know that most audiences forget the mistakes and remember only how well you play when you're playing well. No-one that isn't in the business of finding errors will pick out more than a quite small percentage. Audiences listen for recognisable patterns. They ignore what doesn't fit musically - it's too much to digest. They might register a wrong note but they don't pay attention to it if you don't.

Originally Posted by elenmirie
The point of this post is, I'm interested in whether anyone has tried this practice technique, and what your experience has been.

Originally Posted by elenmirie
I have tried it once so far...
This is a bit like trying a marathon for twenty minutes. smile

I've been using interleaved practise for some years now. It took a couple of years to adopt as I kept wanting to go back to my familiar ways - it's a tough discipline - but once the results started coming there was motivation enough to stick with it.

I had to make a few changes to accommodate it. I no longer have large scores on the rack but practise from printouts from scanning and editing. I couldn't work with only three pieces, either, but include new material, consolidation of recent pieces, pieces moving from phrases to sections and pieces being relearned as well as memorised repertoire. I go through the rack several times each session, starting each day where I left off the previous session.

I use a Fitch/Westney style cycle: read it, memorise it, imagine it, play it, review it (five or six repeats to one play through, if you like). I don't work to the clock, either. Once through, on new pieces, then it's moved to the back of the rack. More familiar pieces get less preparation and more plays through but I get repertoire in deliberate memory before I allow the repetitions to come up. When I move from phrases to sections the repetitions might go up to three or four and once the sections are memorised I might get in five or six at various speeds and styles, though I tend to bypass those pieces on my subsequent passes through the rack.
__________________

Hi, Lilith! smile <waves>


Richard
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2813076
02/10/19 11:17 AM
02/10/19 11:17 AM
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Posts: 104
Cumbria, England
elenmirie Offline OP
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thanks for that post, zrtf90. Lots of good ideas in there.

"Trying a marathon for 20 minutes" - hah, I think I'm still on the couch to 5K program. laugh

How many pieces do you usually have on your rack? How long are your practice sessions typically?

Thus far I have found that I get fatigued after about 45-50 minutes of working in this style, which is ok if it's more efficient learning.


Q: Am I late beginner, or early intermediate? A: Yes!

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2813077
02/10/19 11:23 AM
02/10/19 11:23 AM
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I think this thread and some others on the adult beginner's forum miss the forest for the trees and overthink practicing. IMO such a detailed oriented approach to practicing is of very minor importance to knowing what one should be doing during practicing from both a technical and musical aspect. If one has excellent instruction appropriate to one's level then one will know what one should be doing, learn how to diagnose some problems before the next lesson, and one will progress no matter what practicing system, if any, one uses. But without that knowledge any practicing system will be only peripherally beneficial to the final result.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 02/10/19 11:25 AM.
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: pianoloverus] #2813104
02/10/19 01:08 PM
02/10/19 01:08 PM
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Posts: 104
Cumbria, England
elenmirie Offline OP
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think this thread and some others on the adult beginner's forum miss the forest for the trees and overthink practicing. IMO such a detailed oriented approach to practicing is of very minor importance to knowing what one should be doing during practicing from both a technical and musical aspect. If one has excellent instruction appropriate to one's level then one will know what one should be doing, learn how to diagnose some problems before the next lesson, and one will progress no matter what practicing system, if any, one uses. But without that knowledge any practicing system will be only peripherally beneficial to the final result.


You say "overthinking", I say "intellectual curiosity".

I have long believed, based on some considerable evidence, that the psychological aspects of music are the difference that makes the difference between a musician that is technically good and one that is compelling (technically good plus). Now, in piano I am a beginner, so maybe those who are ahead of me will heap scorn and say that there's absolutely no point in worrying about these things, when you're still working on beginner repertoire.

I happen to believe that this is not the case. It's never too early to start building the mental aspects as well as the technical aspects of making music on any given instrument. Of course, I have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be. But if I can experiment with ideas that are out there, from respectable, evidence-based sources, that will make that work more efficient, possibly more enjoyable, and more rewarding, why should I not try them?

The idea of applying sport psychology to musical learning and performance is hardly new; it was floating around out there 25 years ago when I was in music school. Books like "The Inner Game of Music", "A Soprano on Her Head", and "The Performer Prepares" were around then, and helped me a lot. All of them had to do with the psychological aspects of music making. Now, there has been another 25 years for the thinking to develop, and I found some new, research-based and evidence-based ideas that I had not come across before.

So I'm trying them on for size, and talking about it on here in the hopes that more experienced people will tell me about what they've done with them, and maybe others will get inspired to try them too. So far, that seems to be happening. There will always be nay-sayers; that's a given.


Q: Am I late beginner, or early intermediate? A: Yes!

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. ~ Henry Van Dyke
Re: Interleaved practice [Re: elenmirie] #2813126
02/10/19 02:34 PM
02/10/19 02:34 PM
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In the Ozarks of Missouri
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Originally Posted by elenmirie
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think this thread and some others on the adult beginner's forum miss the forest for the trees and overthink practicing. IMO such a detailed oriented approach to practicing is of very minor importance to knowing what one should be doing during practicing from both a technical and musical aspect. If one has excellent instruction appropriate to one's level then one will know what one should be doing, learn how to diagnose some problems before the next lesson, and one will progress no matter what practicing system, if any, one uses. But without that knowledge any practicing system will be only peripherally beneficial to the final result.


You say "overthinking", I say "intellectual curiosity".

I have long believed, based on some considerable evidence, that the psychological aspects of music are the difference that makes the difference between a musician that is technically good and one that is compelling (technically good plus). Now, in piano I am a beginner, so maybe those who are ahead of me will heap scorn and say that there's absolutely no point in worrying about these things, when you're still working on beginner repertoire.

I happen to believe that this is not the case. It's never too early to start building the mental aspects as well as the technical aspects of making music on any given instrument. Of course, I have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be. But if I can experiment with ideas that are out there, from respectable, evidence-based sources, that will make that work more efficient, possibly more enjoyable, and more rewarding, why should I not try them?

The idea of applying sport psychology to musical learning and performance is hardly new; it was floating around out there 25 years ago when I was in music school. Books like "The Inner Game of Music", "A Soprano on Her Head", and "The Performer Prepares" were around then, and helped me a lot. All of them had to do with the psychological aspects of music making. Now, there has been another 25 years for the thinking to develop, and I found some new, research-based and evidence-based ideas that I had not come across before.

So I'm trying them on for size, and talking about it on here in the hopes that more experienced people will tell me about what they've done with them, and maybe others will get inspired to try them too. So far, that seems to be happening. There will always be nay-sayers; that's a given.


I like your thinking and logic!


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Faust Harrison 100+ Steinway pianos
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