Category: Practice and Performance
A study released in April 2013 found that the performance of a musical task improved among pianists whose practice of a new melody was followed by a night of sleep.
Studies have found that the areas of the brain involved in practicing a motor skill can be activated for 4-6 hours after the activity was performed. These same areas of the brain are activated again during sleep. Sleep has been found to enhance and reinforce motor skills learned during the day, essentially making them more permanent. This means that if you practice a piece today, you could be better at it tomorrow, if you catch a few zzz’s in the meantime.
But its not quite as simple as that, unfortunately. The study also found that if the subjects learned 2 melodies – one immediately after the other – they did not experience any performance gains on the first melody the next day. Practicing a second melody interfered with the learning of the first melody.
This could have interesting implications on our understanding of how we should practice the piano to get the most bang for your buck. Suddenly, I’m looking smart for suggesting short practice sessions every day rather than long ones a few times a week. Perhaps one could go so far as to suggest keeping practice sessions short and focused on one piece or one skill, rather then practicing a broad repertoire during one session.
See what works for you.. perform your own n=1 experiments. Hack your piano practice!
(… in the meantime, I will continue to update you on studies that are over a year old… you’re welcome.)