I was asked about how the brain creates memory links with the pieces we are playing, and what that means for learning how to remember music even better.
Some people call this practicing
When we practice our flute it’s best if we have mapped out the special skills or parts that need the most help.
I talk about ‘repetition’ quite often in my teaching. This isn’t a concept I made up.. it’s called practicing. The memory links I’m referring about here happen in the practice room every day.
First things first: 🙂 Your brain will shut off after about 10 times of repetition so after that, practicing won’t be as effective without a break. It makes the most sense to practice a difficult passage 10 times in a row, no faster than you can play it perfectly (it doesn’t matter if it is so slow you could take a nap between each note, it is more important that your brain remembers playing it correctly more times than not), then take a break by practicing something that’s a little easier and a maybe even a little more fun.
Some people like to copy the piece of music they are working on it, and cut the measures apart and separate them into three categories. 1) Easy and familiar 2) Passages that need some work 3) Difficult parts. Then you can tape or glue each of the measures onto different pieces of paper that represent each category so when you go to practice, everything is broken down into little bits that your brain can easily chew.
Second: Once you have started to create muscle memory through healthy repetition, you need to sharpen your skills by finding out where the weaker parts are in the harder parts. Sometimes will be the fingers, or the air, or the tone color, but it will always be a specific note or interval.
For example: Let’s say you have a run that has a C# in the staff in it. So all the notes sound good, but the C# always stands out because it’s sharp, or has a hollow sound that doesn’t match the notes around it. So instead of playing the run over and over, look for all the other places where a C# is written in the music, or in your scales or in your exercises and practice the C# there. This helps the piece and those runs stay fresh and comfortable, because you’re brain recognizes what is has to do from all sorts of angles. It’s like instead of spreading your effort around a bunch of pieces or scales, you focus your attention on one technique and practice it in a bunch of different ways and in different pieces.
Third: Remember that muscle memory is not just physical, it is also emotional. The attitude you have when you practice is really important. What you believe about yourself while you are practicing will encode in your brain just as much as what your fingers are doing.
If you’re scared or frustrated or annoyed when you practicing, sometimes it’s best to take a minute to relax and think about the good things you already know how to do the on the flute, because forcing your brain to create a memory link will have side effects. Your brain wants to help you, and it is doing all it can to take care of you.
Remember, the most important thing about playing the flute is how it helps you to grow. Practicing can be fun, helpful, and even a bit of an adventure!