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#056: Learning versus Practice: Which End of the Binoculars Do You Use?

I love silly jokes, and I hope you do too, because I’m going to share one with you now.

Here goes: 

How do you catch an elephant?

You hide in some tall grass and make a sound like a peanut. When the elephant comes by you look through the wrong end of your binoculars, pick him up with a pair of tweezers and put him in a pickle jar.

Silly joke, right? But it’s appropriate for our show today. We are going to be talking about how we learn a piece or how we practice it, which may be slightly different. Then we’ll look at our music learning through the lens (hopefully through the right end of the binoculars) of big picture practice and little picture practice.

Let me ask you a question: if I asked you to tell me how you practice, what would you say? You’d probably describe your practice plan and if you begin hands separately or hands together, how many times you repeat a passage and how long you practice. 

But if I asked you to describe how you learn music, what would you say? Would your answer be different? I’m guessing it would. Maybe you wouldn’t even be sure how to answer the question. 

I believe we think of practice and learning as two separate things. Learning somehow sounds more cerebral, more about gaining understanding and knowledge. Practice is the physical work of practice, the rote repetition, drilling the notes into our fingers. Clearly we need both of these elements if we are going to play our music well. We need to blend them into a single process that will allow us to learn the notes and the music beyond the notes. 

That’s where big picture and little picture practice comes into our discussion. They are the two ends of the binoculars, if you like. And that was the topic I chose for my first Harp Mastery blog post 10 years ago this week. 

Today, I’ll go much deeper than I did in that blog post. I’ll talk about the techniques of each kind of practice - big picture and little picture - how they’re useful and when they aren’t. Then I’ll show you how to create a balanced practice strategy so you won’t find yourself looking through the wrong end of the binoculars.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]


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