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Send for Reinforcement! How to make your music practice more rewarding

In our last blog, we looked at improvement through practice. Today we are checking out the concept of Reinforcement

Reinforcement can be categorised as the embedding of expression, musicality and technique in your playing. This can really help you to apply the information that your teacher gives you in lessons, and set you well on the way to discovering your inner artist.

So how does it work?

Humans learn in really complex ways, and there are a variety of inputs that help that process using reinforcement:

  1. Trial and Error: we learn by trying out different methods and assessing the outcomes. Finding a method that works for you is key when working out how to use your practice time to best effect. Your teacher can really help with this, but ultimately people learn in different ways and we all know ourselves best!

  2. Feedback and Rewards: We all love a compliment, don't we? Feedback comes in the form of rewards or penalties for our actions. Positive outcomes, such as achieving a goal or receiving praise, are the rewards that reinforce our methods. Negative feedback discourages us to continue with that course of action.

  3. Reinforcement Signals: An important part of this is our own emotional response to practice. Say you finally nail that section at the end of the piece - what a feeling! This sense of achievement really encourages us to continue

  4. Cognitive Processes: Past experiences often guides our actions. In other words, you can literally practise practising! As you discover what works best for you, this experience will lead to faster progress and more fun!

  5. Social Learning: We can learn a huge amount via imitation, observation, discussion and general social interaction. Even the young JS Bach is known to have copied out whole works of other composers to learn the style. Similarly, get yourself into an orchestra, choir or band and see how much you learn from the others. You'll be amazed!

Structured practice can embed these concepts, without even trying, and lead to an increasingly good experience as you progress. The more advanced your technique, the more music is available to you to learn, and the more fun you have playing it.

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