One characteristic that is often overlooked in practice is the notion of care. Daniel Levitin tells his students “if they want to do well on a test, they have to really care about the material as they study it.” (1)
If you care about something, whether it is a test, an exercise, or a 2/4 march, you will tend to execute the task much better.
Consider, for example, an exercise that you might execute as part of your daily practice. It might be doublings on B from all notes; it might be taorluaths to low A going up the scale. If you go through the motions, in an emotionless fashion, you may complete the exercise, but you may not complete it correctly.
As Levitin notes, memory strength is “a function of how much we care about the experience. Neurochemical tags associated with memories mark them for importance, and we tend to code as important things that carry with them a lot of emotion, either positive or negative.” (2)
Caring about the experience is a start. It can help to move beyond the “going through the motions” stage. But, if you step back and pick music about which you really care, you will be two steps ahead in the long run. Pick pieces that really trip your emotional triggers. If a piece really moves you, really sets you off emotionally (makes you feel sad, happy, it really doesn’t matter) learn to play that piece of music.
Levitin states “if I’m playing an instrument I like, and whose sound pleases me in and of itself, I’m more likely to pay attention to subtle differences in tone, and the ways in which I can moderate and affect the tonal output of my instrument.” He adds that “it is impossible to overestimate the importance of these factors; caring leads to attention, and together they lead to measurable neurochemical changes. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with emotional regulation, alertness, and mood, is released, and the dopaminergic system aids in the encoding of the memory trace.” (3)
It is not the case, though, that we can sit down and tell our selves that “I’m going to make neurochemical changes to my brain and encode this memory trace.” We can only do that indirectly by attaching emotion to the task we are undertaking. If we really care about a piece that we are playing, the neurochemical changes and encoding of the memory traces will take care of themselves. If we care, if we connect emotionally with what we are doing, we will do better.
Don’t fall into the trap of “just going through the motions” when you practice. Attach some emotions to the music that you are practicing. If you are practicing exercises or 2/4 marches, it doesn’t matter, if you care about it, you will do better.
(1) Levitin, Daniel J. (2006-08-03). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (p. 197). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(2) Levitin, Daniel J. (2006-08-03). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (p. 197). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(3) Levitin, Daniel J. (2006-08-03). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (p. 198). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.