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Frequency Is The Key

I ran across a forum post a couple of years ago and was so influenced by it that it informed much of my contribution to Sugar Surfing. After you read this you'll probably nod your head like I did and say of course that's how it works.

My challenge to readers of the Sugar Surfing blog is to comment with your comparisons to the gentleman's description of how music is learned but in the context of managing diabetes. For example, Bob talks about study sessions. Some people study or practice 5 days a week for say an hour each day. Well given that t1d is a full time non-stop requirement, how might you implement the notion of 'study sessions' as a way to adopt a new method of managing diabetes (ie - Sugar Surfing). Keep in mind that Bob's students would likely blow us away as masterful musicians but in their humble approach to perfection even they know that they still need to study and work at getting better.

An excerpt from Bob's post:


College math and physics students are expected to learn huge amounts of complicated new information over relatively short periods of time. It may be less true today than years ago when I was teaching, but many of my students were married, paying their own expenses, and had to work evenings or weekends to be able to afford college. Full-time students taking rigorous courses with the handicaps of family and employment obligations had to make the most of available study-times. Teachers soon learn the importance of frequent reviews. If students learn something new and a lot of time passes before reviewing what they learned, it often is necessary to re-teach previously-learned information almost as though it had never been presented before, because most of it will have been forgotten. Knowing that, I proposed a home-study-efficiency experiment to students in my classes. Some of them worked evenings, but were able to study several hours on weekends. Some worked weekends, but could study short periods each evening. Others were neither married nor employed and could study whenever they weren't partying. It was agreed that everyone would keep careful records of home study times. I agreed that grades would not be influenced in any way by reported home study, but only by test scores and other indicators of learning. The results were dramatic. On average, students who studied short periods each evening fared far better than those who studied similar total amounts of time on weekends. That was true in most cases even where nightly study times totaled significantly less than weekend study times. Students who studied nightly were able to rehearse what they had learned earlier in the day before it was forgotten. That reinforced the information in their memories and made it much more likely that they would be able to remember it in the future. Those who studied only on weekends had forgotten much of what had been covered days earlier and had to spend large portions of their study times just getting back to where the nightly-study-group started. Though they were learning mathematics and physics, rather than to play guitar, I think the same principles apply and that the results from a similar guitar-practice experiment would be similar. If you learn a new falseta, play it again from memory a short time later before you have forgotten it, and then repeatedly play it again from memory over short time intervals after that, you will be much more apt to still be able to play it weeks later than if you learn it today, relearn it a week from now, and then relearn it again a week after that. Exposure frequency is very important to memory reinforcement. Total practice time is not nearly as important as practice frequency. The past couple-years I have kept a guitar on a stand next to my desk while I am writing computer code. Whenever I am temporarily stumped by a programming bug, undecided about the best way to proceed, waiting for someone to call with information needed to proceed, or simply needing a break, I pick up the guitar and play something I am learning. I rarely play very long, but I play frequently. My rate of improvement has been much greater playing frequently like that than it was before when practicing longer periods of time, but much less frequently. As to the issue of having to spend practice time "warming up" before being able to play very well and benefitting much from practice, I find that frequent playing eliminates the need to "warm up." I am already "warmed up," because I was playing a short time ago. Whether guitar playing is a break from work, or work is a break from guitar playing, is simply a matter of perspective. When professional performers take breaks, they generally don't need to "warm up" when they start playing again, because they are already "warmed up." The breaks serve to refresh and make them able to play better again, much as coffee breaks refresh workers and help restore their productivities. It generally wouldn't be acceptable for most people to take frequent guitar-playing breaks at their places of work, but I think those who telecommute or run their own businesses from home should consider it as way to both greatly accelerate playing improvement and to refresh themselves from the boredom of work and make their work-times more productive. The "bottom-line" message is simple. If someone wants to become good at something, they should practice it frequently. -Bob

Image attribution - By Connormah - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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