This weeks I've got two great articles on how to practice/study more effectively. With as hard as it is to squeeze in practice time, getting the most out of this time is important to every musician.
From Jonah Lehrer:
"A great deal of previous work has shown that simply presenting the stimuli to the participant is usually not enough. They actually have to do the task. This is where our group comes in. Basically, what we say is, yes you do have to do the task, just not for the whole time. The main result is that if you practice for 20 minutes, and then you are passively exposed to stimuli for 20 minutes, you learn as if you have been practicing for 40 minutes. You can cut the effort in half, and still yield the same benefit. This finding could be important for clinical training programs, such as the ones that attempt to treat language-based learning disorders."
From NPR's Piece:
Test yourself: Doing practice quizzes can help you retrieve information on test day. "Tests have a very bad rap as a measurement tool," Carey says. But psychologists have found self-tests slow down the forgetting of material you've studied. "If you study something once, and then you test yourself on it," Carey says, "you do better than if you study it two times over." (Practice playing your parts unaccompanied, then try writing out the tabs/notation of the part without touching your instrument, mentally rehearse fingerings when you're bored waiting in traffic. I practice right hand dexterity drills using a the side of a pen to mimic my strings)
Move around: Changing up where you study can help you retain more information. "If you move around and study the same material in several places," he says, "you may be forming ... multiple associations for the same material, the same words and so on. So it's better anchored in your brain, and you can pull it out easier."
Mix it up: Think about a football player who does strength training, speed training and drills. Carey says alternating between different facets of a subject in a single sitting can "leave a deeper impression on the brain." For example, when studying French, do some verbs, some speaking and some reading. Spending your time in deep concentration on just verbs, say, isn't as effective. (For musicians, practice scales, warmups, technical exercises, soloing, improv, music writing etc to keep your skills well rounded.)
Space it out: Information learned in a hurry is lost just as fast. Carey likens cramming your brain to speed-packing a cheap suitcase — it all falls out. So if you really want to learn, space out shorter, hourlong study sessions. "There's no doubt you can cram your way through an exam," Carey says. The problem is that it's so easy to forget what you just crammed — and once it's gone, Carey says, "It's gone. You're not getting it back." (One 3 hour practice session a week is nice, but not as long-term effective as six 30-minute practice sessions.)