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Two of my teachers recommended me to practice something like speed or a certain repetitive technique, e.g. drum double strokes, while listening to music, watching TV, paying attention to something else.

How badly does not being fully present affect your practice quality for repetitive techniques?

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    Worked for me with violin vibrato, to a point. Time spent doing it outweighed not doing it.
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 8 at 13:58
  • Being able to execute phrases while distracted by something like TV is valuable. It helps you to internalize the skill to the point that you don't have to think about it. In a performance situation, there can be distractions.
    – Kaz
    Jul 8 at 22:25
  • Very similar to: music.stackexchange.com/questions/7923/…
    – Dahn
    Jul 8 at 23:14
  • You can also count aloud the beat or sing the song while drumming to divide your attention and work on subconscious/reflexive playing. Jul 9 at 13:07
  • Some exercises are close to muscular workout at some point, if you are just working on that and not "improving a technique" I guess it's fine to be distracted, once you have spent enough time doing something the right way (you always need attention at first to perfect your technique/control/motion)
    – ymoreau
    Nov 5 at 13:46
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Well, the problem is that as you practice, your subconscious mechanism picks up repeated tasks. If you are still "fully present" (I'd call it "trying hard") once your subconscious develops capability, you end up with two brain systems struggling for control of the muscles of the body.

You can see this clearly when you start learning a new technique. There's usually a period when the technique starts improving quickly-- as you get a conscious grasp of it over a short time. But then it gets worse again, and you wonder how you lost the magic. My theory is that this is because of the conflict I mentioned.

The next stage, where I think most people either fail or take too long, is to let go of conscious control on the physics of playing-- you have to have faith in your body to do it. You should be "fully present" for performance variables-- new rooms, new sounds, the mood of an audience, getting to know new bandmates, etc. You shouldn't be projecting your ego and soul into just your hands.

You aren't "fully present" when you walk. Try it-- "Left leg-- push it forward. . . right leg. . .move it now. . . oops forgot about the left leg." It would be a disaster!

That's what your teachers are trying to do-- engage your conscious mind on an external stimulus so that you can't be "fully present," which in the end is another way of saying "not trusting the subconscious, so keeping a conscious death grip on the body."

You can use ANY kind of distraction-- watching a movie, meditating on the breath coming in and out of your nose, reading a magazine. You can even try falling asleep. If you can fall half-asleep but be JUST conscious enough to keep playing, you turn into a music god. It's hard to achieve though.

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  • It reminds me of how I sometimes do things instinctively without even realising I just did.
    – Clockwork
    Jul 8 at 13:36
  • 2
    I feel this is one of the biggest benefits of music, actually-- it's a very narrow-scoped process, but if you can figure the process out, it applies to a lot of things in life. I'm a programmer by trade, and even there, learning not to fight with your subconscious saves huge amounts of energy and time and makes the task more enjoyable. Jul 8 at 21:21
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    Exactly. Being used to be distracted while performing is also great since when you perform where it really counts (with an audience), and something distracts you (by a well timed cough or the light going out unexpectedly etc.) or your mind starts wandering or any other number of accidents, you can simply continue playing like nothing happened...
    – AnoE
    Jul 9 at 13:07
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As a teacher, I don't expect blind, unquestioning obedience from students. However, when two different teachers recommend something, maybe you don't need a third opinion whether "it's OK"!

No, I wouldn't recommend making a habit of watching TV while you practice as your default way of practicing. And yes, there can be danger in excessive mindless repetition (like, hours). But it's important to practice in different ways for different purposes. You practice slowly to master technique. You practice at performance tempo to work on expression and timing. Early in the process of of learning a particular piece, you should always stop and fix mistakes. As the performance gets close, you should include some run-throughs in which you play as you will in the performance, never stopping for anything. It can be useful to play through after doing a few pushups or running a lap, to emulate the effect of nerves on your muscles. It can be useful to practice in different acoustic spaces.

Assuming that these two teachers are experienced enough to be trusted, give their recommendations a try.

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