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When Should You Be Practicing?

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

I am often asked for tips on how to practice most effectively. In my recent post entitled The Best Ways To Practice using the latest brain research, I showed that practice is most effective when we leave time in between our practice sessions for some forgetting to set in. After we forget something or forget parts of something, it feels more difficult to relearn it. And that difficulty makes us learn it better! But does the time of day that we practice matter?  Yes it does!
I have just finished listening to The Great Courses Lecture Series called Memory and the Human Lifespan by Professor Steve Joordens. Professor Joordens asserts:
Our circadian rhythms shift as we age–in adolescence and teen years we are more likely to be night owls, and as we age, we become morning people. We are alert earlier in the day and we get drowsy sooner in the day. Young people don’t start to feel really alert until lunchtime, then school ends just as they are starting to feel cognitively strong.
Dr. Joordens cites research by psychologist Lynn Hasher who studied memory retention in both younger and older people, both early and late in the day. When you compare young to old on memory tasks late in the day, the younger people scored much better. But when you compare young to old on memory tasks earlier in the day, the older people scored higher than the young!
Older adults will retain more information and skills if they practice earlier in the day! It would be great if they could fit in another short practice session just before going to bed, because sleep helps to embed new skills and concepts into long-term memory.
Children will remember more if they practice later in the day, preferably after having a healthy drink and snack (and washing their hands!) If they have the time, they too would benefit from another short practice session right before bed to let the magic powers of sleep do its mighty memory consolidation.
According to the National Sleep Foundation:
Sleep actually triggers changes in the brain that solidify memories—strengthening connections between brain cells and transferring information from one brain region to another.
We tend to focus on WHAT to practice – but as interested music teachers and students we also need to take into account HOW and WHEN to practice most effectively according to the processes of the brain. Have you found these parameters to be true for your practice?
With love and music, Gaili
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