Bringing Novelty into your Practice

This blog post is a small sample from Chapter 11 of PracticeMind: The Complete Practice Model by Hans Jensen and Oleksander Mycyk

The ability to seek out and appreciate novelty is a deeply ingrained human trait. Many decisions you make in daily life are driven by a desire for novelty on both a conscious and subconscious level. The popularity of travel, the allure of new things, and the addictiveness of social platforms reveal this deep human desire to experience novelty.

The side effects of novelty-seeking behavior range from destructive (compulsive shopping, addiction) to highly beneficial (scientific discovery, artistic creativity). Recent studies have shown that the search for novelty can have a positive effect on the learning process.2 When you encounter a novel stimulus, a cascade of brain responses is activated that has a wide range of positive effects on cognition, perception, and motivation.

Experiencing something new has a greater personal impact when connected to topics that align with your own interests and curiosities. Dr. Judy Willis, a leading neurologist in education, explains in her book Research- Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning, “Chemicals or electrical signals pass from neuron to neuron across synapses in our brain in normal thought processing. During a surprise or unexpected event, an extra dose of dopamine is released in our brains, creating stronger connections that lead to long-term memory.”

Dopamine is also called the pleasure drug, but most recent research disputes that claim.3 Many research studies show that it is the motivation toward the behavior that is influenced.4 The feeling of pleasure does not come directly from dopamine itself but from other neurotransmitters related to dopamine, which are released at the same time. Humans have an innate drive to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, and push the boundaries of scientific and technological limits. Using that part of the imagination when practicing can be helpful when learning new works and looking for new ways to solve problems.

Practicing a piece of music is comparable to going on a journey into a new and exciting world. People are generally most excited when starting a new piece. Then, after a few weeks, the initial excitement wanes, and the continuing work tends to become tedious. What was once fresh and new is now boring and uninspiring. The solution to overcoming this tedium is to change the way you perceive the journey.

Imagine being an explorer in a foreign country. Think about the hard sections of the music that give you trouble as if you were a mountain climber trying to reach the top of K2. Think about all the problems in the piece as if they were challenges you would inevitably meet as you climb the mountain. Search for new ways of solving the problems in the piece and see what kind of creative solutions you can come up with. Finding new methods of practicing brings greater motivation and excitement into your daily practice, along with increased efficiency and effectiveness. Progress demands novelty!

Seeking Novelty in Practice

It is easy to fall into a daily routine where the repetition of doing the same thing every day creates a feeling of complacency and a loss of motivation. Developing innovative ways of using novelty in your practice session inspires a more stimulating and effective learning experience. Given the unlimited ways of using originality and novelty in your practice sessions, it is crucial to find the methods that work best for you and the specific goals you are trying to achieve. You must set clear goals and a plan for what you must accomplish in each session and then use imagination and creativity for solving problems and accomplishing your goals.

One of the ways we help students change their mindset is by telling them, “It is not that you are getting tired of the old piece; rather, it is the old piece getting tired of how you treat it. Changing how you approach a piece by coming up with new concepts and ideas will help solve this problem and bring back the feeling you initially had when you first started the piece.” This usually brought back the fire to the students’ practice and helped them finally conquer the aspects that were subconsciously bothering them.

While novelty can energize your practice sessions through a fresh repertoire or new ways of tackling old problems, novelty is not a replacement for patience. A delicate balance exists between patience and novelty. Strive to ensure that these concepts work together rather than against each other. When you are feeling impatient is not always the right time to incorporate a new or novel technique—in those cases, persistence and patience may be required more than novelty. Through experience and mindfulness, you will acquire the ability to recognize when and how to apply novelty in your practice. 

Mixing novelty with routine

As advocated in the PracticeMind chapters on goal setting and practice planning it is important to follow a daily practice plan. However, it is also important to avoid practicing the same way every day. Injecting novelty and imaginative creativity into your daily practice routine makes practicing fun and interesting and something that you can look forward to every day. 

Some practical examples for changing your normal routine.

There are an unlimited number of ways that we can practice and not knowing exactly which method we will choose for our next practice session adds exactly that freshness and crispness to our mind that is needed for a great practice session. 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Switch the order of your normal routine but make sure to give the same amount of time to each topic.
  2. Start every piece you practice today by playing it through twice before starting to practice it. After the first playthrough spend 5 minutes thinking about what aspects you were not happy with and try to change those when playing through the same piece a second time.
  3. In this practice session use mental practice for fixing all the technical problems that you are not happy with. As you practice and come to a problem:
  • Visualize exactly how you want the specific passage to sound. At first, try not to think about the problem but visualize and imagine yourself playing the passage how it should sound and what you want to do with your fingers and arms.
    • Play it again exactly how you imagined it. Amazingly, very often the problems have disappeared and are no longer there. When that happen, visualize it again and play it again a couple of times to help make it stick.
  • If the problem did not go away, play the passage again in your mind but this time, make sure that you visualize it with the problem.
    • Identify the problem and try to find the reason for the problem and come up with a creative way of fixing the problem.
    • If needed, practice it a few different ways in your mind to eliminate the problem.
  • Now go back a play the passage again first in your mind and then with the instrument. 
  1. Changing your environment can offer a huge number of novel stimuli for your brain. If possible, experiment with changing the room you practice in each day to experience new acoustics, lighting, and a new environment.
  2. If you can’t change the room, turning your chair or music stand in a different direction in the room can also impart similar results. Changing what you look at creates an element of freshness. You can also select 4 different directions and 4 different topics to practice when facing in the 4 different directions. Try to change direction every 15 minutes and as an example follow the four directions below. 
  3. Post signs in different places on the wall with the few things you must fix in this practice session. 
    1. Write the goals very short like: 
      • Page 5 - Technical perfection-half tempo     Or:
      • Page 4 - Perfect Rhythm with the metronome Quarter= 120
    2. Take the paper down every 10 or 15 min and change it with a new paper and new goals use a different color.
    3. Use this technique perhaps 3 times in a row but then switch to something else to keep it fresh.
    4. Do this perhaps once a week and always use a few colors and never the same color combinations. By using different colors and combinations each time maintains an element of novelty in the sessions.

We hope this short article will inspire you to start using more novelty in your daily practice. Happy Practicing!

“Bringing Novelty into Your Practice1 Schomaker and Meeter, "Consequences of Novelty," 268–279

2 Schomaker and Meeter, “Consequences of Novelty,” 268–279.

3 Bressan and Crippa, “The Role of Dopamine,” 14–21

4 Bressan and Crippa, “The Role of Dopamine,” 14–21.