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PRACTICE & PERFORMANCE
During every stage of study and practice the primary essential for fruitful results is the frustratingly paradoxical concept-concentration. "If one thinks about concentration (or lack thereof) instead of the work at hand, one is in fact not concentrating. If one's concentration is successful, there will be but dim awareness of this fact while the work goes on."12
Thus one has to approach the act of concentrating somewhat obliquely. Consider these suggestions for creating conditions conducive to good concentration:

1)

The environment in which you practice is of great importance. The practice room should be quiet and comfortable, the acoustics should be pleasant, and we should be undisturbed.

2)

Realize the necessity of freshness during the practice period. Close observation of your daily 'highs' and 'lows' can help in planning your practice schedule. Use your peak efficiency hours for tasks requiring greater concentration. Practicing while tired, either mentally or physically, is wasted practice.

3)

Plan regularly scheduled periods of work so that your entire psyche is eventually programmed into a cycle and into anticipating periods of concentration.

4)

Time spans of effective concentration will vary from person to person of course, but "most people are not able to maintain an effective concentration span of more than 35 to 40 minutes at a time."13

5)

A timer is a valuable tool for measuring your practice time and allowing different amounts of time for different tasks. You might buy an inexpensive clock, christen it your Practicing Clock, and use it for that purpose alone. A stopwatch works even better for this purpose since it may be stopped and started easily. You might try a couple of the charming old-fashioned timekeepers, say, a half-hour glass and a ten-minute glass. You may lay them flat if the phone rings and continue after the interruption without losing a grain of time.

6)

A record book for planning and keeping track of your practice is also beneficial. Although a large variety of different types of graph paper and statistical record sheets are available and adaptable for this purpose, I have found that a teacher's roll book is my preference. It will last for one year and has squares available for marking titles or exercises with their respective time allotments and tempos each day of that year. Marking in this record book may act as a form of positive reinforcement, thus encouraging practice and improvement. It will also allow for the formation of additional performance confidence by reviewing this record before a recital, the more work you 'see' you have done the more confidence you will have while performing. In addition, it will also help you plan for future recitals by giving you an idea of your average learning rate for various levels of pieces. You will discover, of course, many other benefits if you stick to it.

7)

One's attitude toward the matter of concentration is particularly important, because a belief in the fact that one has poor concentration results in exactly that poor concentration. As simplistic as it sounds, practicing the reverse also works. Thus a paraphrase of the well-known quotation attributed to Emile Coue can be very helpful: "Every day in every way my concentration gets better and better."14 You will find Coue's formula of autosuggestion helpful if you will repeat it to yourself on rising in the morning and on going to bed at night, which is what he recommended.

8)

Concentration may be aided through 'intent to learn.' This does not mean an occasional or sporadic intention but a firm decision to give continuity of effort until mastery is attained. Similarly, where there is little motivation, there is little concentration. It should be remembered, however, that some things are learned for their own sake, and others (for example: scales or slur exercises, etc.) are pursued as tools for attainment of higher things

9)

Seldom practice more than four (possibly five) hours a day. Don't think that by practicing six or seven hours a day you will become a greater artist than he who practices four hours a day. Most great teachers from Leschetizky to Segovia follow and recommend similar advice. A student who cannot accomplish much in four hours, will not in six.

10)

Few people realize what a vital factor health is to a musician. We would be wise to follow the advice of the well-known Spanish piano virtuoso, Alberto Jonas, who devoted much of his time studying the physiological aspects of performance: "Get the best book you can upon diet and eating, the right selection of foods, etc., and then use all of your will power to create habits of correct eating. This may show in your playing and study."15

11)

"Practice sessions are facilitated by comprehensive statements of objectives and models."16 It is easier to concentrate and practice if one knows for what he or she is practicing. State daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, etc., clearly and with practicality so that your practice has 'direction'. Form 'mental models' (aural pictures) of your desired goals to act as the criteria against which you measure your progress.

12)

"Stimulation of our mental processes by changing our focus frequently regenerates mental interest." 17 Whether this requires a refocusing of our listening to, say, inner voices or countermelodies for a while; or to the practicing of an entirely different piece or exercise; we must realize that once concentration begins to wane, we must either change our focus to some other aspect of practice or stop entirely. We must avoid at all times practice lacking in concentration; the worst kind of practice is perfunctory practice.

13)

It is always advisable to mix a little physical activity or exercise with long periods of sedentary mental work. Often a quick walk around the block, interspersed with good deep breathing restores concentration. Some type of daily exercise or yoga will surely prove beneficial.

14)

For those of an experimental nature, it may be worthwhile to read a book or two on self-hypnosis. It may be very helpful in studying and learning. "Concentration, ability to absorb new material, recall ability, and performance are much unproved under hypnosis."18

15)

One would be well advised to purchase a "Negative Ion Generator" for their practice room. What's that? You have probably experienced negative ions before-a walk in the woods, a day at the seashore, and the air after a thunderstorm-all of these invigorating environments is naturally enriched with negative ions. The atmosphere that you are living, working, and practicing in is starved of negative ions. Modem environments with air conditioners, electric heaters, pollution, and even little gadgets like your electric metronome, strip the negative ions out of the air. The results-you are breathing dead air, and that is how it makes most people feel. Ion generators are basically little black boxes (about the size of a metronome), which you plug into normal house current and out the other end come trillions of negative ions into the air.


The scientific literature on this subject is profuse with upwards of 1000 papers in the past 50 years. Most research confirms that ion generators will:

a)

Remove dust, smoke, pollen, bacteria, and smog from the air.

b)

Return altertness that heaters, air conditioners, appliances, etc., take out.

c)

Replace stuffiness with pure freshness;

d)

Remove odors from the air.



The list goes on as research continues but, in short, they provide an environment which is much more conclusive to concentration and practice-a major concern of not only musicians, but also other people as well.

One research report by Minkh in Russia showed that male subjects after nine days of exposure to negative ions increased their capacity for static work by 46%, for dynamic work by 59.5%, and was further augmented by 87% by the 25th day. He also reported motor reaction tune was continually shortened during exposure and was reduced by 22 miliseconds at the end of the experiment.19 While I am not sure of the validity of this experiment, it does deserve investigation because all musicians are concerned with motor reaction time.

When looking for an ion generator keep four points in mind:

a)

Beware of large fancy boxes with fans inside. The majorities of these are based on early designs and produce little or no ions, and may produce excessive ozone.

b)

Look at the manufacturer's specifications for the number of ions at one meter from the machine. These range from 7500 to over 500,000 ions per cubic centimeter. Obviously the higher the better.

c)

Well constructed machines will have an ozone level of less than. O2ppm (FDA maximum is .05 ppm).

d)

Units designed with modern technology can operate on very little power, costing about four cents per week to run continuously, and produce high ion outputs for a relatively low purchase price.



It seems that space-age technology has finally invented something to benefit the musician by adding vitality to the practice room.

16)

Last but not least-"Slow-motion" practice is a definite aid to concentration. It enables us to grasp, mentally digest, and physically execute each individual movement that goes to make up the whole. An important point to remember is brought to light in a quotation by Egon Petri, "Slow practice does not guarantee concentration, but concentration-especially on problems to be solved-necessitates slow playing."20 (Slow-motion practice will be covered in more detail in a future article.)



Of all the intellectual processes none is more helpful in learning and memorizing music than concentration. Concentration is, so to speak, the vertebrae of musical success. And yet, there are no patent rules for concentration-only suggestions which may aid, promote, and create conditions conclusive to it.

Perhaps we can conclude, that the formation of a 'system of practice' will be the one overwhelming contribution to good concentration. Most of the fore mentioned suggestions point to this conclusion. Pederewski once stated, "System is perhaps the most essential thing in practice. We must have some design, some chart, some plan for our development." However, he ads, "the system must be elastic so that it can be adapted to changing needs."21

Though many aspects of a system have already been brought forth here and in the first two articles of this series, the actual processes for optimal learning, memorization, and retention will begin in the next issue.