Title

Breaking Old Practice Myths

Poster Number

11a

Lead Author Affiliation

Music Education

Lead Author Status

Masters Student

Introduction

The intent of this study was to discover the effects of taking periodic breaks over the course of practicing. It has long been rumored that this is helpful to one’s musical endeavors, yet there is little available research which proves such. The limited resources that are available upon this topic pertain to individual musician’s own accounts of themselves utilizing breaks during their practice, and their own perceived benefit upon the effectiveness of their practice session due to the break. Additionally, I do find personally that after a certain period of time practicing, I tend to need to take a break from the music. This relates to the self reported effect by other musicians of taking a break. I do it in order to relax the muscles associated with playing, and to revive my own personal concentration ability. This is due to the fact that one’s attention span is a limited and valuable resource which depletes over a period of time which is spent concentrating on a single activity, no matter how engaging that activity is or is perceived to be.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to shed light onto the belief by many musicians that taking a break while practicing makes for a significant difference in the effectiveness of one’s practice session. This study’s participants were trumpet players from the University of the Pacific Bands (n=7). Each participant was given the same excerpt to practice, and dictated to practice five times within 7 days. 4 participants were prescribed a break during each one of their practice sessions, while the other 3 participants were ordered to not take any breaks during their practice sessions. The participants’ performances of the excerpt were recorded at 3 separate instances during the study, and were analyzed to find non-subjective musical errors within the performance. The results of the study did not provide notable evidence as to the effect of breaks upon practice, possibly due to certain limitations of the study. However, notable implications for future research in the fields of sight-reading were established.

Method

This study was composed of 7 participants, 6 of which concluded the study. Individuals were recruited from the University of the Pacific Bands’ trumpet sections, and their participation had no affect on their grade in any of their classes at UOP. The reason behind all individuals being trumpet players was to lessen the effect of differing pedagogical challenges between instrument types. All participants signed a waiver to participate in the study, and were able to start the study at their leisure. When participants chose to begin the study, they had 5 to 7 days to complete the required parts of the study. The study required each participant to conduct five practice events, each occurring on a separate day, within the confines of 7 days. 3 of the 6 participants who completed the study were instructed to practice for 7 minutes straight without taking a break and were told to make music for the entirety of the time which they were practicing, and to spend minimal time not playing music or performing an action not directly related to the music. The other half of the participants were instructed to practice for 4 minutes in the same fashion as the control group above. They were then instructed to take a 3 minute break, and were instructed to perform any task other than performing or studying of music either directly or indirectly related to the study. They were then instructed to practice for 3 more minutes, in the same fashion as before. Participants were not assigned a specific method in which to practice (chunking, playing at tempo, mouthpiece buzzing, etc), but were rather instructed to practice in whatever method they felt will make them successful. All participants practiced the music in the study for 35 minutes over the course of the week. The music utilized in the practice situation was an original composition by me, utilizing technical facets found in the technical etudes found in the back of the Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet by J. B. Arban. These facets were utilization of multiple meters of time, inclusion of accidentals and harmonic modal interchange within a short passage, a wide range of tessitura, and multiple articulation responsibilities. The composition can be found below in figure 1. (Unable to attach) Participants were recorded at 3 separate events over the course of their practice events. They were recorded using digital audio recording device on their first sight-reading of the piece, approximately 30 seconds after receiving the material and being given a chance to review accidentals, key changes, time changes, articulation patterns, etc. The next recording occurred after each participant completed their first practice event. The final recording occurred after each participant’s last practice event. Every recording event was recorded with a metronome at 140 beats per minute, and participants were instructed to try to stay with the metronome as best they could, and to stop and restart at the best section they could muster if they found that they needed to reset.

Results

According to the results in the table on the previous page (Unable to attach), we have one outlier, and no discernible non-subjective error correlation between those who took a 3 minute break and those who did not. This could be due to a multitude of factors pertaining to the study. First off, the study was completed over a short period of time. Perhaps the excerpt was not long or challenging enough to the majority participants in this study, and that their individual musicianship was enough to enable them to all reach similar performance scores. Possibly the chunk of time allotted was not enough for a break to really be necessary. Musicians often will note that they take a short break after about 15 to 20 minutes of practice, when they are more mentally and physically fatigued, rather than after 4 minutes of practice. Perhaps a break is not necessary at all for consolidation, since this study cannot prove or disprove this. A way this study could be improved upon would be to have a larger pool of participants from a wide range of ability levels. They would be given two separate exercises, much longer in length than the one composed for this study, composed in a similar fashion to one another. The parts could be more or less challenging than the one composed for this study, and cover a broader range of musical qualities to be expressed in the performance of the composition. The composition must be challenging and intriguing enough to engage the participants, but not to challenging as to discourage them from practice. The study would require participants to practice for a longer period of time with a shorter amount of practice events. The first half of the study, one half of the participants would practice the first excerpt with a break, and the other half would practice the first excerpt without a break. Recordings would take place in a similar fashion to this study; during the first sight-reading, after the first practice event, and after the final practice event for that half of the study. After the first half of the study has concluded, the participants would move on to the next excerpt, and they would switch their break responsibilities. The recordings would take place at the same points during this half of the study as the first half of the study. This improvement upon the study would take more time on everyone’s behalves, but may lead to some more conclusive data about if taking a break actually makes a significant difference. Additionally, each participant’s scores from the first half of the study could be compared to the second half of the study, to see if between the two scores a significant difference is discoverable.

Significance

Separate Implications of the Study Despite this study not shedding any light whatsoever upon the effects of taking a break during a practice session, there is an interesting finding in the area of sight-reading. According to the results, each trumpet player, aside from the outlier, began with noticeable differences in the numeration of non-subjective errors, and the non-subjective errors differed greatly between players. However, after the first practice session of 7 to 10 minutes each participant’s non-subjective errors were more similar to one another. Additionally, the numeration of their non-subjective errors was similar, that being either 5 or 8 errors. The participants seemed to eliminate rhythmic and tempo errors first, followed by notational errors, and then by articulation errors. This could possibly be due to the fact that they all study with the same teachers and are given similar advice on how to excise errors in their playing. However, the fact that the number of errors in the initial recording varied greatly, and the number of errors in the second recording did not vary nearly close to as much as the initial recording seems to be significant. The amount of errors in which the participants ended with in the study had similar variation as well. Overall, there was no correlation in the amount of sight-reading errors to the number of errors in the final reading. The one who scored the highest in the sight reading actually ended up with 0 non-subjective errors, whereas the one who scored the lowest in the sight-reading ended up with 4 errors, the highest amount of errors among the non-outlier trumpet players. This could have great implications upon the reliability of sight-reading in determining a musician’s true musical ability in terms of music literacy potential, and musical ability. However, after the 7 minutes of practice, each participant, including the outlier, showed their relative musical ability and foreshadowed at their potential future performance of the excerpt (Researcher’s caveat: Participant 7 subjectively sounded the best in terms of tone quality, musical expression, and technique on the trumpet, but did not display those attributes until the second recording, after the first practice session. Participant 4 had the greatest subjective growth in terms of tone quality and musical expression between the sight-reading and the final recording. This was foreshadowed in the second recording.). A final thought upon this implication would be as to why many official auditions include a sight-reading as a part of an audition, if, according to this study, it is not a great predictor of future potential playing ability on a specific selection. Would it possibly be more beneficial to have the sight-reading be distributed to the musician prior to their audition, allow them to have a short designated period of time to practice the excerpt, and then have them perform what they have accomplished after the short practice? Unless the audition committee is testing a musician’s specific ability to sight-read, if that will be a significant part of their position, is it truly necessary to have a sight reading excerpt be a part of an audition? Or would the practiced sight-reading excerpt suffice? I was unable to find any compelling studies addressing this particular concept, so a future study addressing these questions may provide insight in this field.

Location

DeRosa University Center

Format

Poster Presentation

Poster Session

Morning 10am-12pm

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Apr 28th, 10:00 AM Apr 28th, 12:00 PM

Breaking Old Practice Myths

DeRosa University Center

The intent of this study was to discover the effects of taking periodic breaks over the course of practicing. It has long been rumored that this is helpful to one’s musical endeavors, yet there is little available research which proves such. The limited resources that are available upon this topic pertain to individual musician’s own accounts of themselves utilizing breaks during their practice, and their own perceived benefit upon the effectiveness of their practice session due to the break. Additionally, I do find personally that after a certain period of time practicing, I tend to need to take a break from the music. This relates to the self reported effect by other musicians of taking a break. I do it in order to relax the muscles associated with playing, and to revive my own personal concentration ability. This is due to the fact that one’s attention span is a limited and valuable resource which depletes over a period of time which is spent concentrating on a single activity, no matter how engaging that activity is or is perceived to be.