It's not how much; It's how: Characteristics of practice behavior and retention of performance skills

  • Duke R
  • Simmons A
  • Cash C
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We observed 17 graduate and advanced-undergraduate piano majors practicing a difficult, three-measure keyboard passage from a Shostakovich concerto. Participants' instructions were to practice until they were confident they could play the passage accurately at a prescribed tempo in a retention test session the following day. We analyzed the practice behaviors of each pianist in terms of numeric and nonnumeric descriptors and ranked the pianists according to the overall performance quality of their retention tests. Results indicated no significant relationship between the rankings of pianists' retention test performances and any of the following variables: practice time, number of total practice trials, and number of complete practice trials. There were significant relationships between retention test rankings and the percentage of all performance trials that were performed correctly, r = -.51, the percentage of complete performance trials that were performed correctly, r = -.71, and the number of trials performed incorrectly during practice, r= .48. The results showed that the strategies employed during practice were more determinative of performance quality at retention than was how much or how long the pianists practiced, a finding consistent with the results of related research.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Motor skill learning
  • Music learning
  • Practice

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  • Robert A. Duke

  • Amy L. Simmons

  • Carla Davis Cash

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