learning an instrument efficiently

To learn an instrument efficiently it helps to understand what you are trying to achieve. Playing the ocarina is ultimately a series finger movements and breath changes. In fact if you could exactly copy the actions of another player using the same instrument you would sound indistinguishable.

When you first try to play the instrument everything requires conscious effort. Many people give up at this first hurdle, but it does not always remain difficult. This is because your subconscious mind loves to automate the things that you do frequently. When this happens playing the ocarina becomes second nature, like walking or talking.

What causes this transition from conscious to subconscious? Practice. Repeating the same task highlights it above the other things you do in a day. When you sleep your mind has chance to sort through all of this information. It notices an action that you've been doing a lot, so it starts to automate it.

Because task automation happens when you sleep it is essential to stick with an instrument for a few days. Don't expect immediate results and allow yourself to suck. One day you'll wake up and it's magically become easier.

Unfortunately your subconscious is not smart, it will automate bad practices just as readily as good ones. Consequently it is vital to be aware of counterproductive playing techniques so you don't build bad habits. Execute the task as accurately as you can.

This is best achieved by practicing very slowly, it is just fine if you need to take the speed down to 10 bpm. As you do this you will feel a desire to back off or speed up, don't! stick with this tension. Practicing fast results in sloppy playing. By practicing slow and refined actions your subconscious begins to automate these. Soon you will be able to crank up the speed without loosing control.

Due to the spacing effect it is best to practice in short sessions. This should be music to your ears considering how time pressured people tend to be. When you identify something that you find difficult focus on it in your practice session. Play slowly and focus on accuracy rather than speed. Even during the break between two practice sessions the subconscious can do it's thing and the task gets easier.

It is important to practice every aspect of playing the ocarina which includes breath control and intonation. Practicing without being in active control is practicing bad habits. Don't ignore things that you find difficult. Avoiding something is actively condemning yourself to be bad at it. You cannot learn when you have no input. The sooner you start to work on something the sooner you will be good at it.

It is very helpful to use tools to give obvious feedback when you are making a mistake. This includes using a mirror to see what you are doing, practicing with a drone and using spare fingers to limit your finger movements. Any time you notice a mistake make an effort to correct it.

If you are interested in learning more about effective practice I recommend reading some of the modern research on learning. The book 'how we learn' is an approachable summery. You should note that the ideas shared above are experience from self study. I advise that you do the same. Pay attention to how you learn things. It may be different from my experience.

Exercises