10 Best Articles of 2016

For some reason, even as a little kid, the end of December always felt like a time to look back and be reflective.

A time to consider the things I’d learned. And to ponder those things that remained a mystery. Like, where the heck was Thor during Civil War? (here , as it turns out). And sheesh, who are Rey’s parents already? You know, the important things.

So in the spirit of reflecting on the past year, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the most read articles from 2016. My hope being, that you’ll find something in the bunch that will be especially useful to your performing and teaching in 2017.

So without further ado, here are 2016’s ten best articles:

The top 10

1. Why Some Musicians Seem to Be Memorization “Naturals” (and How to Become More of One Yourself)


If you’ve ever had a memory slip on stage, you know how mortifying an experience it can be. So it’s no wonder that for many musicians, memory is one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of performing. In this article we learn that this is partly because we rely on a risky memory strategy – “serial chaining” – which works terrifically well…except when it doesn’t and leaves us totally screwed. So what’s the alternative? “Content addressable access,” which is not nearly as complicated as it sounds, and sneakily embeds memorization into your day-to-day practice.

2. A Simple Practice Scheduling Hack That Couldn’t Possibly Be as Effective as It Seems

A Simple Practice Scheduling Hack That Couldn't Possibly Be as Effective as It Seems

In this article, we discover that working on new material at night, and reviewing/relearning that same material the next morning leads to superior retention as compared with working on new material in the morning, and then reviewing/relearning that same evening. I know…doesn’t seem like it should matter, right? This is one of those practice hacks that seems odd, but makes more sense when you take a closer look.

3. To Listen or Not to Listen: Does Listening to a Recording Help Us Learn Faster and Play More Accurately?


Some musicians take a score-first approach to learning new music, diving right in and getting a handle on the piece before listening to a recording. Others take a listen-first approach to music, developing a pretty good auditory model of the piece before starting work on the piece. One could put together a pretty good argument for either, but when it comes to learning new repertoire more quickly, one approach seems to work better than the other.

4. “Quiet Eye”: A Technique to Enhance Performance When You’re Nervous

Quiet Eye: A Technique to Enhance Performance When You're Nervous

It’s been said that your eyes are the windows to your soul. I must confess that I’m not entirely sure what this means, but it seems that there may be some truth to this saying – at least when it comes to performing optimally under pressure. “Quiet Eye” is a performance-enhancement strategy that has been studied in a variety of domains, from athletics to law enforcement, and involves learning how to control our gaze in the last few moments before performing a skill. Based on the results of this study of surgery residents, it seems that learning how to better control our eyes may be a useful way to enhance our focus, achieve a more Zen-like state before performances, and nail that scary exposed entrance that keeps us awake at night.

5. Adequate Learning Vs Overlearning: How Many Repetitions Is Enough?

Adequate Learning Vs Overlearning: How Many Repetitions Is Enough?

As a kid who didn’t want to repeat anything any more times than was absolutely necessary, I’ve always wondered what the minimum number of repetitions was for really solidifying a skill and making sure it would hold up under pressure. In this article, we look at a US Army study, as well as one on surgical residents, to get some clues on how many repetitions is enough.

6. Regular Memorization Works OK, but Here’s Why “Deliberate Memorization” Is Way Better

Mindless Memorization Works OK, but Here's Why Deliberate Memorization Is Way Better

We know that mindless practice is inefficient and does a poor job of building confidence in our ability to execute under pressure. So it’s probably no surprise that mindless memorization isn’t especially effective or conducive to building confidence either. In this article, we explore an alternate method for memorizing music that does admittedly require more work and active thought – however, it’ll help quiet your fear of blanking out or taking a wrong turn on stage.

7. Struggling to Get a Tricky Passage up to Tempo? Why “Perfect” Practice May Actually Be the Problem.

Struggling to Get a Tricky Passage up to Tempo? Try This Ingenious Practice Technique.

Do you hate slow practice? And prefer to play fast even if it means missing notes here and there? If so, I think you’ll like this article, which is perhaps my personal favorite of the year. Partly, because it was a collaboration with Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who walks you through a “note grouping” strategy that will help you play both faster and more accurately.

8. How Effective Is Mental Practice, Really?

How Effective Is Mental Practice, Really?

People say that mental practice is helpful, but what kind of tangible differences can you expect to see? In this article, we explore a study of pianists, which suggests that we are actually capable of learning music away from our instruments – to the degree where it’s possible to “catch up” to those who had the benefit of using an instrument, but in just a fraction of the time they spent. Of course, there are some guidelines we need to follow to ensure mental practice is effective; the researchers share 3 specific recommendations to help you make the most of your mental practicing.

9. Stress Impairs Memory…But Here’s a Way to Make Your Memory More Anxiety-Proof

Stress Impairs Memory...But Here’s a Way to Make Your Memory More Anxiety-Proof

It’s almost always the case that memory slips happen when we’re stressed out and anxious, not when we’re chill and relaxed. So for a while, it was thought that this is just what stress does – that it has a negative effect on our memory and there’s not much we can do about it. But in this article, we discover that it’s only weakly-encoded memory that degrades under pressure. When we use memory strategies that create stronger and more robust memories (like the “retrieval” practice strategy described in this article), our memory seems to be just as reliable even when we’re anxious.

10. The Surprising Truth about Learning Styles

The Surprising Truth about Learning Styles

We all have natural preferences for how we like to consume information. For instance, some of us might be considered “visual learners” while others may be categorized as “auditory learners.” And while this is a perfectly sound observation, it has led to the myth that if we receive information via our preferred style, we’ll learn better. Believe it or not, there’s not much actual evidence to support this. So if you’ve heard of learning styles theory and have wondered how to integrate this into your teaching, read this article first before making any major changes to your teaching style.

Last thoughts…

Happy holidays, and best wishes in 2017!

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


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