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 Post subject: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:10 am 
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Progress when learning any musical instrument is typically a stepped series of alternating upward momentum and plateaus rather than a steady upward curve. Eighteen months in with flute and the last 10 days have been a surprise succession of significant steps forward in my playing. I wonder what were the points at which others can recall making significant progress off a plateau?


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:55 am 
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This is a maaajor simplification but I can’t help but think that a lot, not all but a lot, of this is all the head. There is a definite ’learned panic’ with some instruments: the black keys on a piano, crossing the break on a clarinet, moving between octaves on the flute, etc. Once you just see all piano keys as equal, the F sharp major key isn’t any harder than the C major. Change your mindset and the other instrument ’problems’ aren’t that bad either.

My plateaus have more often than not been a result of self generated drama. I actually think that the notes immediately above the stave aren’t that hard to reach on the trumpet. Why? Because I didn’t have anybody to tell me they were hard. I just open my throat, push my tounge up and forward, and, as they say, hit it hard and wish it well.

With age I’ve learned that as long as you’re not trying to break the laws of nature, then it’s just a question of time and effort. I’ve got good method books for my instruments and I keep a video of every tune: progress can’t hide behind the daily grind that way.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:28 am 
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Took me a while to get a reasonable embouchure, some days I still lose it, but just knowing that I've done it before takes away the slight frustration of not getting it right some days, so I come back & try another day. 8)

Happy that you are progressing on your flute journey. :thumbsup:

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 1:09 pm 
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Thanks Keith :)

Just for clarification - I'm not defining a plateau period as a 'problem'. It's just that natural (for me anyway) stage where we steadily practice what we've learned but don't make the the significant progress that is noticeable at other 'step up' times.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 1:27 pm 
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mendipman wrote:
Thanks Keith :)

Just for clarification - I'm not defining a plateau period as a 'problem'. It's just that natural (for me anyway) stage where we steadily practice what we've learned but don't make the the significant progress that is noticeable at other 'step up' times.


How can you make progress if you practice what you’ve learned?

What does your practice routine look like?


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 1:50 pm 
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I work from home and am fortunate to be able to practice for around an hour to an hour and a half every day. Usually in three 20-30 minute stints. For the first 18 months I was also having a weekly lesson, last month I changed to a lesson every two weeks as my teacher and I agreed that this is a better fit for me now I'm beyond the complete beginner stage.

One 20 minute stint might focus on a recap playing some of the previous tunes we've covered to keep them fresh and hopefully improve my playing of them. Another 20 minutes might be working on the current tune and any newly learned technique from the last lesson. Another 20 minutes will often be concentrating on specific aspects of my playing that my teacher has suggested I work on (at the moment that is rolls and phrasing and improving breathing, it has included practice patterns shifting pitch from the lower octave note into the second octave note and back etc). In each 20 minute stint I'll usually warm up holding long notes, low D and look at tone control.

This gives me plenty to do, and keeps me interested and motivated. Yet despite the solid discipline of structured lessons and practicing every day I still experience distinct points when my playing will progress noticeably and significantly compared to equally focussed but plateau periods.

I'm puzzled by the comment questioning the purpose of practising what we've learned. Being shown how to do something and 'getting it' is not the same as then being fluent in producing it. We have to practice the application of what we have just learned to become adept and for it to become second nature.


Last edited by mendipman on Fri Oct 04, 2019 2:23 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 1:56 pm 
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bwat wrote:
mendipman wrote:
Thanks Keith :)

Just for clarification - I'm not defining a plateau period as a 'problem'. It's just that natural (for me anyway) stage where we steadily practice what we've learned but don't make the the significant progress that is noticeable at other 'step up' times.

How can you make progress if you practice what you’ve learned?

It's part of the advancement process. You tread newly-gained ground until it's so familiar that you start thinking you suck all over again, and ideally this motivates you to move onward and upward.

I've seen it a million times, and been in it myself in various disciplines.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 2:11 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
bwat wrote:
mendipman wrote:
Thanks Keith :)

Just for clarification - I'm not defining a plateau period as a 'problem'. It's just that natural (for me anyway) stage where we steadily practice what we've learned but don't make the the significant progress that is noticeable at other 'step up' times.

How can you make progress if you practice what you’ve learned?

It's part of the advancement process. You tread newly-gained ground until it's so familiar that you start thinking you suck all over again, and ideally this motivates you to move onward and upward.

I've seen it a million times, and been in it myself in various disciplines.


Is the progress there not working with better feedback due to improved awareness? Trevor Wye discusses this in his first flute book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wye-Trevor-Pra ... 158&sr=8-1


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 2:15 pm 
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whenever i learn something i need breaks without practice: i practice regularily and the progress is minimal. then i make a break (not too extended, but significant) and afterwards things slip into position. its like my brain needs the break to organize the new input, more like a subroutine than an active programm.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 2:37 pm 
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bwat wrote:
Is the progress there not working with better feedback due to improved awareness?

I'm not sure what you mean by that wording, but I'll try to work with what I think you might mean:

I've been not only a student, but a teacher as well, and I've seen the process. In performative pursuits - be it a musical instrument, dance, sports, martial arts, voice, the visual arts, what have you - few people, if any, do not undergo it. The plateau phenomenon is normal, and I think even essential, to retention and a more intimate mastery of what has been learned. However, it must be said that some people do not advance beyond a certain point, but there could be any number of reasons for that, and I suspect it's really more often about fear in some form, rather than a talent issue. You can hand all the feedback you like to them on a silver platter, but it won't make any difference until the time is right, if that time ever comes. But you give feedback anyway, because when the time does come for the student to advance - they can only do it for themselves - they will say, "Aha! That's what the old goat was talking about."

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 3:08 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
bwat wrote:
Is the progress there not working with better feedback due to improved awareness?

I'm not sure what you mean by that wording, but I'll try to work with what I think you might mean:

I've been not only a student, but a teacher as well, and I've seen the process. In performative pursuits - be it a musical instrument, dance, sports, martial arts, voice, the visual arts, what have you - few people, if any, do not undergo it. The plateau phenomenon is normal, and I think even essential, to retention and a more intimate mastery of what has been learned. However, it must be said that some people do not advance beyond a certain point, but there could be any number of reasons for that, and I suspect it's really more often about fear in some form, rather than a talent issue. You can hand all the feedback you like to them on a silver platter, but it won't make any difference until the time is right, if that time ever comes. But you give feedback anyway, because when the time does come for the student to advance - they can only do it for themselves - they will say, "Aha! That's what the old goat was talking about."


Not quite what I was getting at but you raise interesting points, especially the fear, and the student has to be ready to process the feedback (actually I suspect the problem in this case is a lack of imagination or fantasy which is needed to ’see’ the options that can get the student closer to his/her goal - classic search space model of problem solving).

My point is that our change in awareness means we perceive different things. For example I learn to play a B on the flute. As Wye points out, it us not unusual for us to think our tone gets worse when we spend a period of time practicing long tones with this B. What we learned in the beginning is no longer valid in our new world (relatively speaking it is a new world if we perceive it differently). Our idea of B has had its basis in perceptual experience changed, the old B was heard with old hearing. There is no plateau here, there is in fact real progress being made even if the student thinks otherwise.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 3:39 pm 
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bwat wrote:
My point is that our change in awareness means we perceive different things. For example I learn to play a B on the flute. As Wye points out, it us not unusual for us to think our tone gets worse when we spend a period of time practicing long tones with this B. What we learned in the beginning is no longer valid in our new world (relatively speaking it is a new world if we perceive it differently). Our idea of B has had its basis in perceptual experience changed, the old B was heard with old hearing. There is no plateau here, there is in fact real progress being made even if the student thinks otherwise.

Aha. What you are describing is indeed part of the process, and I alluded to it when I said, "You tread newly-gained ground until it's so familiar that you start thinking you suck ...". To be quite frank, I think we're really talking about the same thing, and that is that moment where your perception rises above where it was, but it is usually ahead of your current abilities. Hence the "Jeez, I suck. How did that happen?" perception. It's actually a fortunate moment, because that is the opening for change, but it doesn't lessen the chagrin. You cannot develop a newly-formed poor opinion of your technique without prior familiarity, and by definition that means a certain amount of time has been spent before that opinion arose. That time spent, be it long or short, is your plateau. To say there's isn't one is perhaps a matter of perception, but I think it's a mistaken one. I sense that you are regarding the plateau stage as a fruitless spinning of wheels that we should hope to dispense with, whereas I see it as a necessary and even helpful period so long as it doesn't become a true rut, for as idle as it might appear to the onlooker. The student should be aware that the plateau is just that, and not be content to merely coast, but also be probing about in the meantime (I have called it banging my head against the wall at various spots until I randomly happen upon the doorway and fall through :wink: ). I have seen the rare creature shoot upward with almost no plateaus, but usually they burn out. Those who don't burn out are even rarer still, but I have never met one such, myself.

I haven't read Wye's book, nor am I familiar with his theories of the learning process. For that matter, neither do I have a degree in education, nor have I taught in an academic context; I have had what I count as the good fortune to work under less demanding time constraints. I have only my own experience, but I paid attention. Even if there are ways to shorten the plateau time, experience has told me that in the end, there's no magic bullet. Everyone's different, and some actually resist change - that would be one example of the fear aspect; another would be the belief they can't do it, and yet another would be the fear of thinking themselves incompetent. There are others, but those are probably the main ones, and I can tell you it usually doesn't help to point it out to the student, because it only makes them feel worse, and that is the last thing a teacher should do. In those cases, benign trickery is called for, and success at that is a pinnacle of the teacher's craft. I am convinced that even with the best teacher, the student holds all the cards when it comes to making their way, and it is the teacher's job, if they're worth their salt, to take advantage of their outside perspective and find out what makes the student tick in order to expedite the learning process as much as possible. If you're teaching yourself something, the catch is that your perspective may not let you know what holds you back when you hit a snag, and I've been there, too. I think it's unhelpful to try to speculate whether a person lacks imagination; it risks being a form of elitism that attempts to let the teacher off the hook. Better to find out what angle the student is coming from. For example, some people are visual learners, others are conceptual, and others are more mathematical. Sometimes all it takes is sweat. It depends, and we develop in our time. I don't think one can force the process, but I'd love to be proven wrong. If a student can't learn something, I count it as my failure, not theirs.

Come the day when we can plug flash drives into our skulls, this discussion will be irrelevant.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:56 pm 
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Firstly, I don’t want to misrepresent Wye’s books. They’re not heavy theoretical treatises. They are a good source of exercises for the Boehm flautist.

Secondly, I would say that many periods are misrepresented as plateaus. In the case we have identified - increase in awareness - this is only a plateau if the metric is some measure made by an external party that has no access to the mind of the student, i.e. only the heard music hasn’t changed. The student and the music form a unit - no student, no music - so the situation cannot be characterised by flatness; there is no plateau here. A real plateau would stem from the feeling of ”this tune is way to complicated for people like me”. Again back to your fear point.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:39 am 
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I can only speak from my own experience; neither ‘fear’ or over-confidence enter my flute thinking at all.

Instead I’m easy- going, enthusiastic, have trust in my ability to acquire new skills with good input and practice based on previous example, have a musical background proficient on other instruments, and the commitment and discipline to stick at what I want to do. That would seem to be a recipe of attributes for a consistent and smooth upward curve of progress if that existed. Yet what I notice (and am surprised and delighted by) are alternating sudden bursts of significant improvement following longer periods where my playing level remains more or less the same. Regardless of tuition time or practice time because these factors have remained a constant from the outset.

I can also relate that this pattern of stepped progress on flute mirrors my experience learning other instruments that I’m now proficient on and play fluently (and teach).

My curiosity is whether rapid progress relates to specific points of learning. Hence my original question: at what points did others notice those bursts or breakthroughs with the flute? Or not?


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 4:56 am 
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My experience has always been that musical progress takes the form of "punctuated equilibrium," where i work and work and seem to not improve and then suddenly something comes together. Just recently made big breakthrough on the flute and now I can actually make music on it. Not great music, but music


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