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Mere Exposure Effect

Posted by AndyW on Thursday, October 26, 2017

Only 15 minutes banjo for me yesterday. I couldn't quite go with absolutely no banjo even though I have taken a couple of days off.

I have been doing some reading though. I was intrigued by something mentioned in 'Practice of Practice' regarding familiarity. A bit of digging on the internet has shown there is something called the 'Mere Exposure Effect'. Apart from explaining why advertising works, and why crap pop songs sell,  it has great bearing on us listening to and practicing banjo.

Basically, evolution has taught the brain to be comfortable in familiar situations, and uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations.


Like most people I am comfortable with songs featuring lyrics. The fact many banjo fiddle tunes have no lyrics is still troubling to me, and I know Lynda has mentioned lyrics too. I think this might change over time and I will get used to tunes with no lyrics.

A couple of months ago I downloaded 'Clawhammer Banjo vol 1/2/3' which features many old 'masters' of clawhammer such as Kyle Creed, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Wade Ward etc etc. When I first listened to it I was really disappointed as I just didn't like it. But, that was just unfamiliarity. After a few takes, I now enjoy listening to the albums.

I remember to my youth buying new albums of bands I liked. First listen I'd often be thinking the band had went 'off the boil', only to think the album excellent after multiple plays. 

I spent 20 years learning/playing guitar and did not progress much at all considering the length of time. The reason was I stayed in the safe familiar zone for most if the time, playing stuff I had learned already over and over again. It was extremely enjoyable, but not very productive for learning.


My brother told me years ago he had trained himself to eat new foods he had previously disliked. He also contested that they had become enjoyable. 

What he had actually done I now think, is engage a bit of mind over matter. The foods he thought he 'disliked' were just unfamiliar. When he repeatedly exposed himself to those foods he made them familiar. Once they became familiar they became enjoyable. 


I think to progress we need to be constantly on the lookout for familiarity, and when we languish in it engage some mind over matter to break new ground.

 I think the easiest way to constantly push on is by the regular setting and reviewing of goals.


My hope is there is a bit of a vicious circle effect(in this case beneficial). The more we constantly engage in deliberate practice improving our playing, the more familiar we will be with the concept, and the more likely we are to engage in it.


Anyway, just some musings... 

3 comments on “Mere Exposure Effect”

WayneConrad Says:
Friday, October 27, 2017 @9:49:46 AM

I was hoping, after you mentioned it in a comment, that you'd explain the "Mere Explore Effect." Thanks!

I don't know if it's true, but it's plausible.

Fiddle tunes all sound the same to me. Might be that I haven't had enough exposure to them.

AndyW Says:
Friday, October 27, 2017 @9:57:47 AM

I think part of the trouble with fiddle tunes is they are played in limited keys, all using mainly the first 5 frets. Some parts even switch between tunes, and it's inevitable they should get samey with a limited amount of notes.

My favourites to listen to are those with accompanying lyrics, and I prefer the sound of a string band as opposed to solo banjo.

WayneConrad Says:
Friday, October 27, 2017 @1:53:49 PM

I like a good string band too. It makes sense what you say about fiddle tunes. You left out that they're all seem to be played in cut time. I like what a fiddle adds to a string band, but the old time music that's led by a fiddle doesn't take me anywhere.

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