Jun. 15, 2016

Practicing And Memorizing, Part II

(con't from Part I)
Everything in organ playing is balance [See blog, Balance in Organ Playing, Parts I -III], and biology is a factor in the organ practice equation; this is especially evident when there are imbalances between work and rest.
The picture of a passionate, driven musician furiously working away all night long at the keys may be a romantic image, but, the hard truth is, we'll need regular and adequate sleep to get the most out of our practice sessions.
Research tells us that the amount of sleep we get directly correlates to how effectively we learn, and the lack of it affects learning by slowing down acquisition, consolidation, and recall (7-1/2 or more hours per night is recommended for adults).
It's a fact that a sleep deprived musician has a limited ability to focus and maintain the attention needed for acquisition of new skills and facts, that sleep itself plays a role in the consolidation of memory [See blog, Practicing And Memorizing, Part I], the essential step during which acquired memories become stable, and that only memories that were successfully acquired and consolidated are available for recall.
If we're sleep deprived, then worthwhile practice sessions will be a mental workout where we won't be prepared for massive acquisition of information; we may have worked very hard getting certain facts and skills into our short term memory, but if we burn the midnight oil too long, if we don't get to sleep, our brain will struggle to lock it away for the long term; also, when we're low on sleep, our overworked neurons struggle to coordinate information properly.
Therefore, some time when we're wide awake and our ability to focus is stronger, we need to make the choice to get practicing done, possibly just before bedtime.
Deliberate practice requires sharp focus to constantly evaluate our performance and set micro-goals for making consistent improvement; an hour of sloppy practice is less valuable than 10 minutes of super-focused practice.
We need quick communication between our brain and body to read, interpret, and play new music; when we just can't seem to get our brain to communicate with our fingers, it's usually because the neurons connecting them are begging for a rest.
Our mood will also be affected by sleep deprivation; if we're hoping to use late night hours for deliberate practice, it's going to feel like work and is likely to be frustrating, challenging, and demanding; it's better to put ourselves through such trials only when we have the energy to keep our mood positive.
Our general health and immune system both suffer from sleep deprivation; that extra hour or two gained each day by cutting back on sleep won't seem like such a bonus when we're forced to spend a whole day in bed feeling sick.
With people who go for an all-nighter, all of the negative effects of sleep deprivation come into play and linger for the entire following day or longer; we should definitely NOT plan any important performances for the day following an all-nighter; a short morning nap can help us muddle through recovery day, but we will certainly not be ready to perform; we should definitely not pull an all-nighter before an important audition.
Instead, we need to plan a regular sleep regimen with at least 7 hours/night and schedule practice time so it won't interfere; this way, we'll be our best musical self and get the most from our practice time.
(con't in Part III)