Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The balance between assimilation and reinforcement (the 2 key components of practice).

I find that a lot of the blog entries I make here are born of the things I frequently find myself saying to my students on a number of topics. When they speak of their aspirations (which sometimes begin quite positive and optimistic, but often have limits imposed on them), I often find myself asking, “Why don’t you want to take the instrument past where you’ve found it?”

These are not students who are taking lessons to guide their first steps on the instrument; they are serious guitar students who have been playing for many years. At this point I often try to explore the honest balance between assimilation/development of new ideas, and reinforcement that has occurred within their practice over a long period of time.

If you’ve been playing for 10 years, it’s worth considering how many of those years were you developing ideas and concepts on the instrument and for how many years you were reinforcing them? Remaining conscious of a healthy balance between assimilation/ development and reinforcement within practice can be immensely beneficial here, although an initial exploration of what has really happened to some peoples guitar playing over a period of 10 years (or more) can be quite alarming. In some cases it can be a matter of 3 years development, followed by 7 years of reinforcement! Effectively, these students are playing the same things that they could play after they had been playing the guitar for only 3 years! They had actually just reinforced those ideas over the next 7 years! While reinforcement had a value in as much as it served very well to prevent the first 3 years of development being lost, without stopping to actually analyze this situation properly, they could easily find themselves doing exactly the same things for the next 7 years too!

I’m of the strong opinion that in 10 years playing, a healthy balance of development and reinforcement is (and needs to remain) at the core of progress with guitar playing skills and knowledge. Without it, it’s very easy to learn a little, and then reinforce a little in a totally disproportionate timescale to the way in which you would actually approach the instrument if you were more aware of the roles that assimilation and reinforcement actually play in the evolution of your knowledge and playing skills. In the end, success is born of the level on which you think, not the level on which you work, so how we look upon and consider these topics has a significant bearing on progress and development as a musician.