The Laws of Brainjo ("the Art and Science of Effective Practice") series describes the theoretical foundation for the Brainjo Method, a system of musical instruction that integrates that science of learning and neuroplasticity specifically designed for the adult learner.
Episode 6: When Should You Practice?
by Josh Turknett (breakthroughbanjo.com)
This time, we’re shifting our attention to a different but related question:
When during the course of the day should that practice take place?
What's Your Chronotype?
In this modern, newfangled world of ours, with all manner of artificial light sources at our disposal, we're free to set our days and nights according to whatever schedule we please. And if we wish, we can divorce our "daily" routines entirely from the rise and fall of the sun.
Yet, the time that's passed since the invention of the incandescent bulb represents only a tiny blip in the total swath of our history on this planet.
So even though technology affords us the opportunity to escape our ecological niche, our biology remains inextricably linked to the rhythms of nature. Which means that every cell in our body, including those in our brains, still cycles through changes on a 24 hour schedule. These are our "circadian rhythms."
Translation: we operate differently in the morning than we do in the evening, and we're better suited towards doing certain things at certain times of day.
Last episode, we discussed the essential role that attention plays when it comes to learning new things. Attention is the means by which we signal our brain that whatever activity we’re engaged in, like banjo playing, is worth learning.
And research shows that most humans are able to maintain their sharpest focus in the late morning to early afternoon. This is the time when those attentional circuits so critical for facilitating neuroplasticity are typically at their best. Not surprisingly, given our discussion in the last episode, this is the time of day when we tend to perform best at learning new things.
But this window won't be the same for everyone. Your ideal time for practice, the time of day when you're at your sharpest, will in part be determined by your own personal "chronotype," which is just a fancy way of describing whether you're a morning person or an evening person.
As you might imagine, the larks among us are best suited for practice sessions during the early part of the day, while the owls are capable of keen attention far later into the evening.
You likely already have a pretty good idea of which chronotypic camp you fall into. But if you want to get more specific, there's even a quiz you can take to precisely quantify your degree of morning or eveningness.
Also, if you start paying attention to the way you feel during the course of the day, the times when you feel your most alert and productive, and the times when your energy starts to wane, you'll realize pretty quickly that this pattern remains pretty consistent from day to day.
Which brings us to Brainjo Law number 9:
Brainjo Law #9: The meat of your practice sessions should occur during the time of day when you’re at your sharpest (for most, this will be late morning to early afternoon, though this can vary further according to your chronotype).
On a related note, it turns out that our creativity peaks when we’re a little bit tired, during periods when our attention tends to wander a bit. This is your best time for free-form noodling, when your random and uninhibited meanderings around the fretboard might lead you to a serendipitous discovery or two that you can add into your bag of tricks.
A Word About Sleep
As you may know from previous articles in the Laws of Brainjo series, the whole point of our practice sessions is to provide our brain with the inputs it needs to wire up new circuits and forge new pathways. And the bulk of that rewiring and path forging occurs during sleep.
Sleep is the time for growth and restoration, both physically and mentally.
And there is some evidence that the brain, when it triages the events of the day, gives priority to the activities performed closer to sleep. So, all other things being equal, you may be able to get a little more bang for your practicing buck closer to bedtime.
So you night owls are in luck. While the logistics of society in general may not be set up in your favor, this is one instance where your contrarian chronotype works to your benefit.
For you larks, who can't imagine mustering the requisite focus for an extended nightly practice session, even just a brief, 5 minute session to reinforce anything you'd practiced earlier in the day should allow you to still reap the benefits from this phenomenon. Here, all you're trying to do is convey to your brain that you consider that banjo practice from earlier to be a worthwhile thing for it to work on while you snooze.
And you don't really even need your banjo in hand for this condensed, pre-slumber practice. Simply visualizing a brief practice session before you hit the hay should be enough for our purposes here.
If you're not too familiar with the idea of visualization, fear not! It will be the subject of the next installment in the Laws of Brainjo series. It's a cheap, efficient, and suprisingly effective tool that definitely belongs in your practice arsenal. See you then!
Wanna find a prior episode? Check out the Table of Contents below:
About the Author: Dr. Josh Turknett is the creator of the Brainjo Method, the first music teaching system to incorporate the science of learning and neuroplasticity and specifically target the adult learner (more at aboutbrainjo.com)
Lew H Says:
Saturday, June 6, 2015 @10:37:28 AM
Josh, This is a fabulous way to look at practice and noodling. I'm a great fan of noodling as a way of being creative, but learning a lot of stuff to noodle with is good too. Thanks for your work and thought in all of these blogs.
Josh Turknett Says:
Sunday, June 7, 2015 @5:02:44 AM
Thanks so much, Lew.
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