Category Archives: Learning and memory

Exercise and memory

Buffalo Valley Rail Trail

Buffalo Valley Rail Trail

There is a beautiful 9-mile trail that runs between the town I live in and a nearby town.  The trail is constructed from a former rail bed and is extremely popular with walkers, joggers, and bicyclists.  It’s an idyllic place for an early morning walk, and I try to walk some portion of it several times a week.  We all exercise for a variety of reasons: to get out and enjoy nature; to burn calories in order to lose weight; to spend social time with friends; to keep ourselves healthy. But now, as musicians, we have another reason to exercise – it actually improves memory. Continue reading

Amsterdam and pianists

As musicians, we often talk about connections:  connecting emotionally with certain pieces of music;  connecting (or sometimes not) with the audience; connecting with one another when we perform 2015EPTAtogether; and about connections, or networks, within our profession.  And on this blog site I have often written about music and brain connections.

So I was delighted to be invited to give a presentation this past October at the 37th conference of the European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA).  The conference theme was Key Connections, and it was hosted by EPTA Netherlands and held at the Amsterdam Conservatory, which as you can see in the photo, is housed in a beautiful new building (opened in 2008).   Continue reading

Practice, learning and memory, part IV

And continuing our practice strategies to ensure effective learning and memory:

Sitting on an outdoor bench in a scenic spot may not be your idea of practicing, but it depends on what you’re thinking about while you sit there.

7) Reflection.  Psychologists speak about reflection as a learning strategy – thinking about what you have learned and asking yourself questions to solidify Silhouette of an anonymous male alone on a bench at sunsetwhat you know. Find a quiet place to sit away from your instrument and quiz yourself on what you know about the piece or about the segment you just learned.  What are the key relationships, what’s the structure, where are the sections, patterns, motifs? The more you have to struggle to remember or perhaps check the score to verify, the more your brain fills in the missing information, consolidates, and makes the neural networks stronger. Continue reading

Practice, learning and memory, part III

And a few more practice strategies to ensure effective learning and memory:

Abby Whiteside5) Practice extremely slowly.  There has been a controversy for some time about whether slow practice is beneficial for learning fast music.  Many of us were told early in our musical lives that in order to play a passage of music that is very fast, we should practice slowly and build up speed.  But not everyone agrees.  Influential pedagogue Abby Whiteside  (1881 – 1956) declared that “Slow practice can establish habits that are completely unrelated to the coordination demanded for speed.”  Abby Whiteside on Piano Playing
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Practice, learning and memory, part II

Chopin_Prelude_7Almost everyone who plays the piano has, at some point in his/her study,  learned Chopin’s Prelude in A Major, Op. 28. Only 16 bars and lasting a bit less to a bit more than a minute (depending on the performer), the Prelude is deceptively simple. A few repetitions and it feels as though we have it “under our fingers;” a few more repetitions and hey!  we’ve memorized it!

But wait – leave it for a couple of days, and all of a sudden, you begin to wonder: Continue reading

Practice, learning and memory, part I

None of my teachers ever spoke with me about how to practice.  They didn’t suggest strategies or give me tips.  I guess they assumed, since I memorized so easily, that I didn’t need any help.   I had what’s called a “good ear,” and I could hear the piece in my mind.  By the time I had developed the motor skills to play a particular piece, all of the melodies, rhythms, and harmonies were in my head, and I counted on that when I performed.  I assumed that good auditory memory was all I needed.   But after a couple of bad experiences following grad school, I decided that I needed to develop a more secure system for learning and memorizing.

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