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Research shows that rest and breaks and even short naps probably are as important as practice time when learning new material.

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I agree! I’ll often find that something clicks after a day off.


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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Research shows that rest and breaks and even short naps probably are as important as practice time when learning new material.

I find that as I get older - something I seem to be quite adept at doing - my short naps get longer!

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A fascinating discovery!

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In language learning we call it "spaced repetition". You give your brain downtime in between and repeat the material to reinforce learning.

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An interesting start, but they need to move to real world trials.The study consisted of 10 seconds of "practice" and then a 10 second break, repeated for a total of 35 times. If the study were being done at the piano, they'd probably be dealing with repetitive stress issues! The synopsis doesn't actually mention short naps. It does state "... the gains were greater than those made after a night’s sleep."

My own real world (though useless) example of the benefit of breaks is doing crossword puzzles. If I get stuck and put the puzzle down for a time and then come back to it, the answer often pops up immediately, suggesting my brain has been working on it during the "rest" period.


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I’ve found learning a tough passage just before bed time, then again early next morning works amazingly well. It’s like my brain is processing new stuff overnight.

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Originally Posted by RubberFingers
I’ve found learning a tough passage just before bed time, then again early next morning works amazingly well. It’s like my brain is processing new stuff overnight.

Yes, this is a method of practice. Some people swear by it. I recently came across this idea and keep forgetting to practice the most difficult parts of pieces right before bedtime, but the only two times I have the next day they felt a lot better. If there is a particular passage that's tripping you up, right before you go to bed, work on it solidly and deliberately for five or so minutes (try your absolute best to not make any mistakes), and when you practice the next day recognize how it feels.

As for frequent breaks...I take them a lot! I'm not a professional pianist or anything, but I will often find there is only so much practice I can handle before I feel I'm going crazy. If I'm learning a new passage and my hands find it tricky and I sit there hammering it out over and over again, even for only five minutes, at the end of it I will feel "fried" and go lay down on my bed, pet my dog, grab a drink of water, anything that lasts a minute or two. Then I will come back more refreshed. Sometimes very intense, deliberate focus can be absolutely exhausting and two or three minutes can feel like ten. I practice about three hours a day, and over those three hours I would guess maybe 20-30 minutes of it is taking breaks...I'm sure everyone is different, but however my brain works means I really have to take that time. If I brute force anything my technique and patience wear down to the point I make far too many mistakes and it's a bad spiral.


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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Research shows that rest and breaks and even short naps probably are as important as practice time when learning new material.

Exactly! After having read a similar report, I started with five minutes rests on the couch after each practice session. Eyes open or closed, whatever I feel like. I am not allowed to check my iphone, or to talk with my husband. Most of the times, it is lovely. Sometimes, boring.
It doesn't have an immediate effect but I do have the impression that my memory skills are slowly improving. Could be wishful thinking though. wink


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When I practice a tough passage just before sleep, I wake up thinking about them the next morning. Strange but effective.

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Isn't it obvious that most people can't practice effectively more than x minutes without taking at least a little break? Isn't that what everyone experiences?

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Isn't it obvious that most people can't practice piano or anything else effectively more than x minutes without taking at least a little break? Isn't that what everyone experiences?

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Yes. The point of the research is that breaks provide more than just something you do because your practice session has reached its limit of sharp focus, so that a greater number of shorter sessions scheduled in a given day may be better than fewer, longer sessions even if the latter don't extend beyond the point of maintaining sharp focus.

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I'm afraid some of us could miss the point of this extremely important article. It's not about taking a break or a nap after learning something. In fact a nap is never mentioned there. Nor the focus. It's about taking very short breaks while learning something (a motor skill), because these short breaks are required by the brain to build more advanced neural pathways. The fascinating discovery of this article is that these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than during repetitions. Also these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than after repetitions.

So, according to the article, if we need to learn to play some difficult place, the most efficient way to do it is to play it several times non-stop, than to rest for 10 seconds, than to play it several times again, than to rest for 10 seconds again, and to repeat this cycle many times. The research data shows that 6 first cycles is where progress is most rapid and where about 60% of supposed daily maximum is reached. And 10 cycles is a point at which about 80% of daily maximum is reached. After that the progress slows down significantly. Certainly the chosen motor skill in the article is much simpler than real piano playing, so some numbers may be different for piano playing, but the principle remains the same.

Full text is available at Biorxiv for free.

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I have a feeling that when people know that they are under test, they will concentrate more. Also when people knowingly use a certain strategy or any kind of 'plans', they will also concentrate more (making their brains thinking about it even in their sleeps).

In this case, if you don't rest enough you get tired and it's not surprising you will not get the best possible results.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I'm afraid some of us could miss the point of this extremely important article. It's not about taking a break or a nap after learning something. In fact a nap is never mentioned there. Nor the focus. It's about taking very short breaks while learning something (a motor skill), because these short breaks are required by the brain to build more advanced neural pathways. The fascinating discovery of this article is that these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than during repetitions. Also these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than after repetitions.

So, according to the article, if we need to learn to play some difficult place, the most efficient way to do it is to play it several times non-stop, than to rest for 10 seconds, than to play it several times again, than to rest for 10 seconds again, and to repeat this cycle many times. The research data shows that 6 first cycles is where progress is most rapid and where about 60% of supposed daily maximum is reached. And 10 cycles is a point at which about 80% of daily maximum is reached. After that the progress slows down significantly. Certainly the chosen motor skill in the article is much simpler than real piano playing, so some numbers may be different for piano playing, but the principle remains the same.

Full text is available at Biorxiv for free.
Repeatedly typing a five-digit code with the left hand is far different from learning a piano piece. Extrapolating the results of typing the code to learning a piano piece might be valid, but a healthy dose of skepticism is in order, as it is any time an extrapolation is made.

I'm a show-me-the-data person. I'd want to see the experiment repeated using the piano. smile


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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I'm afraid some of us could miss the point of this extremely important article. It's not about taking a break or a nap after learning something. In fact a nap is never mentioned there. Nor the focus. It's about taking very short breaks while learning something (a motor skill), because these short breaks are required by the brain to build more advanced neural pathways. The fascinating discovery of this article is that these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than during repetitions. Also these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than after repetitions.

So, according to the article, if we need to learn to play some difficult place, the most efficient way to do it is to play it several times non-stop, than to rest for 10 seconds, than to play it several times again, than to rest for 10 seconds again, and to repeat this cycle many times. The research data shows that 6 first cycles is where progress is most rapid and where about 60% of supposed daily maximum is reached. And 10 cycles is a point at which about 80% of daily maximum is reached. After that the progress slows down significantly. Certainly the chosen motor skill in the article is much simpler than real piano playing, so some numbers may be different for piano playing, but the principle remains the same.

Full text is available at Biorxiv for free.
For drilling purely finger memory I like to use what I call "change of context". You choose two different passages and drill each one for a few repetitions then switch to the other one. After you switch to a different context you have to work harder to get back the finger memory of the passage. It achieves the same effect as a rest but lets you work on two passages at once.

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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I'm afraid some of us could miss the point of this extremely important article. It's not about taking a break or a nap after learning something. In fact a nap is never mentioned there. Nor the focus. It's about taking very short breaks while learning something (a motor skill), because these short breaks are required by the brain to build more advanced neural pathways. The fascinating discovery of this article is that these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than during repetitions. Also these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than after repetitions.

So, according to the article, if we need to learn to play some difficult place, the most efficient way to do it is to play it several times non-stop, than to rest for 10 seconds, than to play it several times again, than to rest for 10 seconds again, and to repeat this cycle many times. The research data shows that 6 first cycles is where progress is most rapid and where about 60% of supposed daily maximum is reached. And 10 cycles is a point at which about 80% of daily maximum is reached. After that the progress slows down significantly. Certainly the chosen motor skill in the article is much simpler than real piano playing, so some numbers may be different for piano playing, but the principle remains the same.

Full text is available at Biorxiv for free.
Repeatedly typing a five-digit code with the left hand is far different from learning a piano piece. Extrapolating the results of typing the code to learning a piano piece might be valid, but a healthy dose of skepticism is in order, as it is any time an extrapolation is made.

I'm a show-me-the-data person. I'd want to see the experiment repeated using the piano. smile
A valid demand! smile But, please, note that not only they have collected the experiments' data but they have also discovered the principle behind their findings, they have discovered what exactly happens in the brain in-between repetitions. I think it is extremely likely that this kind of neurological activity lies behind all motor skills learning from typing to basketball.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
For drilling purely finger memory I like to use what I call "change of context". You choose two different passages and drill each one for a few repetitions then switch to the other one. After you switch to a different context you have to work harder to get back the finger memory of the passage. It achieves the same effect as a rest but lets you work on two passages at once.
Yes. What you describe is called 'varied practice'. I use it, too. Great method! It would be tremendously interesting and useful if someone scientifically compared the effect of varied practice to the effect of the method described in the article. I hope this team of scientists will not stop their research in that field, too, and we will see new, more detailed experiments in the future.

But maybe we could combine the effect of this method with varied practice? What if we practiced two passages alternately with 10 seconds pause before each set of repetitions?

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I'm afraid some of us could miss the point of this extremely important article. It's not about taking a break or a nap after learning something. In fact a nap is never mentioned there. Nor the focus. It's about taking very short breaks while learning something (a motor skill), because these short breaks are required by the brain to build more advanced neural pathways. The fascinating discovery of this article is that these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than during repetitions. Also these pathways are built greatly faster in-between repetitions than after repetitions.

So, according to the article, if we need to learn to play some difficult place, the most efficient way to do it is to play it several times non-stop, than to rest for 10 seconds, than to play it several times again, than to rest for 10 seconds again, and to repeat this cycle many times. The research data shows that 6 first cycles is where progress is most rapid and where about 60% of supposed daily maximum is reached. And 10 cycles is a point at which about 80% of daily maximum is reached. After that the progress slows down significantly. Certainly the chosen motor skill in the article is much simpler than real piano playing, so some numbers may be different for piano playing, but the principle remains the same.

Full text is available at Biorxiv for free.
Repeatedly typing a five-digit code with the left hand is far different from learning a piano piece. Extrapolating the results of typing the code to learning a piano piece might be valid, but a healthy dose of skepticism is in order, as it is any time an extrapolation is made.

I'm a show-me-the-data person. I'd want to see the experiment repeated using the piano. smile
A valid demand! smile But, please, note that not only they have collected the experiments' data but they have also discovered the principle behind their findings, they have discovered what exactly happens in the brain in-between repetitions. I think it is extremely likely that this kind of neurological activity lies behind all motor skills learning from typing to basketball.
Yes, but they really have to extend their experiments to show more general applicability. I was happy to see some real, hard data collected. But I do always look with skepticism on publicity department press releases--which is what the original link led to--where "might" and "could" are used for extrapolation purposes, but where the authors of the paper would be more cautious.


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