Studying, Practicing, and Exercising are three very different behaviors with three very different goals…
Studying is the act of focusing ones attention on something with the goal of learning a fact, concept, principle, skill, and so on.
The learning goal is to store this information in long-term memory as a declarative memory (one that can be put into words). Studying reorganizes many cognitive electro-chemical connections in your brain and typically requires lots of mental effort.
Practicing is the act of repeating a complex motor activity until it becomes automatic.
The learning goal is to permanently store this information in long-term memory as a procedural memory (a sequence of motor actions that cannot be put into words). Practicing is accomplished by repeatedly moving you body until that particular motion becomes automatic. This process, where the motor pathways in your sub-conscious brain are reorganized, is called automatization.
Exercising is the act of imposing physical stresses on your muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, heart, and lungs with the goal of improving one’s performance in terms of strength, endurance, flexibility, stamina, blood flow, breathing, etc.
The learning goal is? (Frank can’t think of any and THAT is the central takeaway from this post!)
Repetitive exertions such as stretching, swimming, lifting weights, and logging miles will accomplish this goal. While there might be incidental benefits to your thinking due to increased blood flow to the brain and general well-being, the cognitive and motor pathways in the brain are not meaningfully altered by strength or endurance training.
Advice for Students
Alas, “practicing”, as “practiced” by most, is typically just doing something the wrong way over and over and over again hoping for a miracle that never comes.
If you want to play like an artist, do not succumb to the widespread fallacy that getting good is accomplished by doing exercises.
This is so important that it needs to be repeated: It is a huge mistake to believe that you need to do exercises in order to play the piano.
Because fluent piano technique is the achieved by bulking up your physical equipment. Fluent piano technique is achieved by changing the neural networks in your brain!
In fact, you control everything with your brain.
That includes moving your muscles!
That’s right. Your BRAIN moves your muscles. Your muscles do not move themselves.
In fact, the ability to move your body — to do things like walk, talk, write, eat, and drink — is the only reason for anyone to need a brain at all.
Fluent piano technique is not achieved by making your fingers stronger, faster, and more independent.
Never, ever practice anything without studying it first. Study first, practice second!
by ear, intellect, eyes, and muscles!