the benefits of time spent practicing
rather than spending “more time”practicing
One theory of education holds that “The subconscious works on
problems in the background while the conscious mind is occupied with
This theory posits that in order to properly digest any subject, it
is best learnt in small digestible “bite-size pieces”.
This refers not only to the size of the pieces but also the time spent
ingesting those pieces of information.
I was introduced to this concept by a high school teacher explaining
the best way to take tests:
Read every question on the test. Answer all the ones that are easy.
Don’t spend any time at all mulling over those that you don’t immediately
know the answer to. But be sure to read EVERY question.
When you get to the bottom, start all over again. As you go through
the second time, you’ll find yourself saying over and over again “Hey,
this one’s easy. Why didn’t I know that the first time through? Hey,
this one is obvious. Wonder why I didn’t see it right off the bat?”
The reason you know the answer NOW, and you didn’t know it the FIRST
TIME through, is because the subconscious has had a chance to work
on those problems while your conscious mind was occupied with reading
the other questions.
The same thing happens the third time through as well.
If you are studying a subject, read ONE paragraph, and then give it
a little time to digest before moving on to the next paragraph. You
really won’t retain very much if you attempt to learn/internalize
a hundred pages non-stop in a single sitting, but you retain an enormous
amount of information if you take it in in “bite-size pieces”.
The internalization process is greatly speeded along by this simple
yet incredibly effective technique.
A corollary to the above educational theory is: “The subconscious
mind is incapable of working on the problem while the conscious mind
is currently occupied with the self-same problem”.
If you find yourself at an impasse thinking “Damn, I’ve been practicing
this same damn thing forEVER and I’m not getting any better at. I
feel like I’m beating my head against the wall”.
Yes, you are indeed beating your head against the wall. That’s your
cue to back off and do something different, so the subconscious can
do its job.
The bottom line here is that ANY subject is learnt more quickly if
it is ingested in bite-size pieces followed by a change in activity
(or a period of rest). Realizing this and putting it into action takes
advantage of the way the human mind internalizes skills and information,
ie. the way we humans learn best.
So spend 10 or 15 minutes on an “exercise” and then leave it alone
for a while. It’s surprising how much easier it is when you come back
to it at a later time after having allowed it to “stew” in the back
of your mind.
In addition, you are much less likely to develop the debilitating
effects of repetitive motion injury that musicians are prone to due