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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 7:09 am 
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I agree with the punctuated equilibrium idea.

My equilibrium of the last year or so has been breath control, and the breakthrough is actually applying the techniques without thinking. I heard for a long time from my teacher and other excellent players to focus on breath control. This includes posture (sitting out from the back of the chair), diaphragm breathing, and just-right air pressure. Less air (usually more pressure) is way better tone, better jumps across the octave and better jumps in the myriad rocking notes in ITM reels. Actually accurate pressure says it all.

There it is, a year's lessons in one paragraph.
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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:18 am 
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Benign trickery is better than malignant trickery!

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For example, some people are visual learners, others are conceptual, and others are more mathematical.


Not to mention verbal & auditory learners.

That may be true in some sense, but in the end, all people are kinesthetic learners. IOW, your brain-nerves-body is what you are actually training via practice and repetition. You may desire the comfort of receiving information in your preferred mode, but that might be more about communicating ideas than actually learning. I find it fascinating that something super difficult, like say the first time you try learning a Paddy Fahey tune in the key of F, eventually becomes easy and intuitive. It is magical that at some point, your fingers just "know" what to do.

Embouchure development is similar, to be sure. Man, talk about plateaus... and sudden cliffs! 9 months in, and you have a breakthrough... then lose it. 18 months in, a new breakthrough and plateau. I'm at 3 years on flute, and just had another breakthrough. The embouchure is a pure case of you-can't-explain it, you-can't-force it, all you can do is try it, then adjust, play long-tones, fine-adjustments, more long-tones, slow-tunes.

I've taught dance, and I've seen a similar thing. A wise dance teacher once told me, it is mostly up to the student: You can't take credit for the good ones; you can't be blamed for the bad ones.

In the end it really IS up to the student. I've noticed a couple of important triggers for improvement:

(1) A crisis, or failure, or some other negative inspiration, is often necessary to transition from satisfied-mediocre-competent to "oh my god, I've really got to buckle down and get it right."

(2) It may be necessary to go through a period of fanatic effort, like 4 hours a day 7 days a week for a Summer (or stretch of unemployment :D ) to make the transition.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 10:08 am 
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I like and can relate to the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’.

Also agree that improving some aspects can’t be forced, only practiced and developed until that breakthrough moment. I guess what has value is worth hard work and patience. So far no cliff falls here, but I have lost my foothold and been caught by the rope a few times and face-planted the rock face as I’ve swung back in. :D


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 11:29 am 
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I'm not sure a series of plateaus punctuated by rapid advancement would describe my progress on flute going on 4, almost 5 years now. With off-and-on amounts of serious practice, currently in serious mode. I think the progress has been fairly steady without any sudden jumps except one (noted below).

Maybe it seems more like a plateau in retrospect? I'll get a little frustrated about not making any perceived day-to-day progress, and then I realize much later that the problem has resolved. It might just be that feeling of "hey, I remember this used to be a problem!" that makes it look like a plateau in retrospect. Anyway, here are a few of those episodes, for what it's worth:

* Getting dizzy after playing for a few minutes. Lasted just a few months when I first started.

* Minor aches, pains, and clumsiness when holding the flute. After about a year, I developed a very comfortable flute hold and I don't think about this any more.

* Difficulty getting clear notes in the second octave. There was some steady improvement after a couple of years, but the sudden jump was buying a new flute that just played more easily in the second octave. Nothing else changed, just the flute. I guess that illustrates what Terry has said here about how you have to find the flute that suits you. The first one was very high quality, a known name and pricey, but it didn't "fit me" as well as the current one.

* Breathing problems: not always finding the right place to take a breath, which can interfere with maintaining a good rhythm pulse. <--- This is one I'm still working on. I'm not at a point yet where I can just instinctively know when to take a breath without thinking abut it too much. At some point in the future (I hope), when I suddenly remember that this used to be a problem, maybe it will look like a long plateau period.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 12:05 pm 
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Conical bore wrote:
* Breathing problems: not always finding the right place to take a breath, which can interfere with maintaining a good rhythm pulse. <--- This is one I'm still working on. I'm not at a point yet where I can just instinctively know when to take a breath without thinking abut it too much. At some point in the future (I hope), when I suddenly remember that this used to be a problem, maybe it will look like a long plateau period.


This is a challenge that I've been working on recently too. I have found Conal O'Grada's "Irish Traditional Flute Technique" tutorial to
be extremely helpful in this regard (and others). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It is the best tutorial I've come across,
by far, and I've looked into quite a few. I think the reason it is so effective is that his whole approach essentially centers around rhythm,
be it with respect to breathing choices or the application of ornaments. Once you have worked through it, it all seems obvious in
retrospect, but the structured approach and the selection of tunes to work on, incrementally adding new techniques, is masterful.

I have definitely experienced the feeling of making sudden breakthroughs in my playing while working through this book, and
that has been a combination of suddenly being able to do something that I couldn't before, and suddenly (finally!) recognizing
some things that others perhaps thought obvious all along. I suspect that I had such a positive experience with it, in part, also
because I worked through it "at the right time" in my development as a player. As others have described earlier in this thread,
you have to be ready in order for each breakthrough to occur.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 1:06 pm 
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bwat wrote:
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.

It seems to me that you and I are going by different definitions of the concept of "plateau", and we may possibly be talking past each other. For one, the arising of increased awareness marks, to my mind, a formative point or node, if you will, where one has perceptually outgrown an extended period of consistency, and the potential to advance is there where it wasn't before, simply by virtue of the fact that without the advanced awareness, improvement is inconceivable. That extended period of consistency, with or without any new awareness, is what I am referring to as "plateau". I regard this consistency as neither good nor bad in any ultimate sense; it is, however, natural, and it is simply the level you're at, but if improvement is the goal, then subjective concepts like "bad" will intrude. Whether one will rise above that level is another matter.

bwat wrote:
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.

I would refer to the fear as a roadblock, not a plateau. Again, definitions. But I am beginning to grasp that where you say "plateau", I would probably say "rut", if I'm understanding you correctly. I don't regard the plateau stage as a rut unless improvement is the goal and a certain amount of time has elapsed. But how much time characterizes a "rut"? Some people simply take longer at some things than others, but the why of it may not be a matter of talent, but inner obstacles. This is why I've only used the term "rut" as applied to myself. From an outside standpoint such as a teacher, applying it to others is only helpful when kept to oneself, because it's awfully subjective in its value. Still, I am prepared to admit that a rut may be considered to to exist once the advanced awareness has taken hold, but one does nothing with it.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:09 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
bwat wrote:
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.

It seems to me that you and I are going by different definitions of the concept of "plateau", and we may possibly be talking past each other. For one, the arising of increased awareness marks, to my mind, a formative point or node, if you will, where one has perceptually outgrown an extended period of consistency, and the potential to advance is there where it wasn't before, simply by virtue of the fact that without the advanced awareness, improvement is inconceivable. That extended period of consistency, with or without any new awareness, is what I am referring to as "plateau". I regard this consistency as neither good nor bad in any ultimate sense; it is, however, natural, and it is simply the level you're at, but if improvement is the goal, then subjective concepts like "bad" will intrude. Whether one will rise above that level is another matter.

bwat wrote:
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.

I would refer to the fear as a roadblock, not a plateau. Again, definitions. But I am beginning to grasp that where you say "plateau", I would probably say "rut", if I'm understanding you correctly. I don't regard the plateau stage as a rut unless improvement is the goal and a certain amount of time has elapsed. But how much time characterizes a "rut"? Some people simply take longer at some things than others, but the why of it may not be a matter of talent, but inner obstacles. This is why I've only used the term "rut" as applied to myself. From an outside standpoint such as a teacher, applying it to others is only helpful when kept to oneself, because it's awfully subjective in its value. Still, I am prepared to admit that a rut may be considered to to exist once the advanced awareness has taken hold, but one does nothing with it.


Yes. My plateau is your rut. I also agree that it’s hard to define because we have no metric to measure progress so we can’t really define a lower limit below which progress could be considered to have stopped. This is why I only recognise self inflicted mental roadblocks to be the cause of my plateaus. Everything else is just slow but sure progress.

My musical ability is so lacking that I am always trying to improve, and identifying weakness is quite easy. Improvement is my only goal.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:18 pm 
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paddler wrote:
Conical bore wrote:
* Breathing problems: not always finding the right place to take a breath, which can interfere with maintaining a good rhythm pulse. <--- This is one I'm still working on. I'm not at a point yet where I can just instinctively know when to take a breath without thinking abut it too much. At some point in the future (I hope), when I suddenly remember that this used to be a problem, maybe it will look like a long plateau period.

This is a challenge that I've been working on recently too. I have found Conal O'Grada's "Irish Traditional Flute Technique" tutorial to
be extremely helpful in this regard (and others). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It is the best tutorial I've come across,
by far, and I've looked into quite a few. I think the reason it is so effective is that his whole approach essentially centers around rhythm,
be it with respect to breathing choices or the application of ornaments. Once you have worked through it, it all seems obvious in
retrospect, but the structured approach and the selection of tunes to work on, incrementally adding new techniques, is masterful.

I haven't read O'Grada's tutorial, but I've heard similarly enthusiastic opinions of it as well. Even if you don't read it, all you have to do is listen to his playing, and you come to realize that his breath points aren't so much instinctual as intentional. Tactical, you could say. Another player of this type would be Marcas Ó Murchú. He incorporates his breathing as a rhythmic, punctuating component integral to the tune's performance. The important thing, though, is that there be variation to when one intentionally takes one's breaths, otherwise the result is monotony. Once breath is taken as an artistic possibility, doors open, and breath isn't a demon to outfox but a steed to saddle and ride at will.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:10 pm 
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tstermitz wrote:
Embouchure development is similar, to be sure. Man, talk about plateaus... and sudden cliffs! 9 months in, and you have a breakthrough... then lose it. 18 months in, a new breakthrough and plateau. I'm at 3 years on flute, and just had another breakthrough. The embouchure is a pure case of you-can't-explain it, you-can't-force it, all you can do is try it, then adjust, play long-tones, fine-adjustments, more long-tones, slow-tunes.

If it's any comfort, it was only after almost 20 years that I felt I could, with any justification, say that I finally had a real grasp of embouchure. Then again, it could be that I'm a dolt.

Back on the topic of plateaus, it's generally noted by teachers and experienced players that advancement tends to be more frequent and dramatic at the beginning levels, but the further you go, plateaus become longer and longer, and improvements are harder-won and more minute. This would be true of any discipline. It's something to keep in mind.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sat Oct 05, 2019 4:53 pm 
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bwat wrote:
Yes. My plateau is your rut. I also agree that it’s hard to define because we have no metric to measure progress so we can’t really define a lower limit below which progress could be considered to have stopped.

I think my definition could be acceptable:

Earlier, I wrote:
Still, I am prepared to admit that a rut may be considered to to exist once the advanced awareness has taken hold, but one does nothing with it.

Works for me.

bwat wrote:
This is why I only recognise self inflicted mental roadblocks to be the cause of my plateaus. Everything else is just slow but sure progress.

At this point I would encourage you not to automatically equate plateaus with ruts. "Plateau" is a neutral term meaning a consistent, working level prior to advancement, whereas "rut" is a negative term meaning being stuck. Level, vs stuck. Each has its place. Now admittedly, everyone else in this thread is using "plateau" from the standpoint of rising above it, and that is usually the context in which the word is used, but neither have they given it any overtly negative overtones beyond voicing frustration in the matter of advancement. That's a different matter, and nothing to do with the plateau itself. The plateau is just a jumping-off point, whether high or low. But you're using "plateau" to mean "rut", so considering that your definition doesn't match anyone else's in this discussion - indeed the two are not co-equal by any standard definition - you might think to change it, if for no other reason than to avoid misunderstanding. You'll recall that I've had a hard time understanding you, myself.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:35 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
At this point I would encourage you not to automatically equate plateaus with ruts. "Plateau" is a neutral term meaning a consistent, working level prior to advancement, whereas "rut" is a negative term meaning being stuck. Level, vs stuck.



:thumbsup: That's exactly where I'm coming from. No negative connotation at all. A plateau as just a seemingly natural (maybe inevitable?) level where we consolidate within an overall pattern of improvement and progress.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 2:33 pm 
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mendipman wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
At this point I would encourage you not to automatically equate plateaus with ruts. "Plateau" is a neutral term meaning a consistent, working level prior to advancement, whereas "rut" is a negative term meaning being stuck. Level, vs stuck.

:thumbsup: That's exactly where I'm coming from. No negative connotation at all. A plateau as just a seemingly natural (maybe inevitable?) level where we consolidate within an overall pattern of improvement and progress.

Right. It's the compass of abilities and understanding that you are able to work from at a given time. We call it a plateau because it is consistent and it lasts until the next improvement occurs.

Once you are at a new level, it doesn't mean you have necessarily mastered it; you've merely arrived through the door. The plateau is the time spent at consolidation and mastery of that level; without it you may not achieve coherency. It's a necessary stage in the process of learning.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 3:14 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
bwat wrote:
Yes. My plateau is your rut. I also agree that it’s hard to define because we have no metric to measure progress so we can’t really define a lower limit below which progress could be considered to have stopped.

I think my definition could be acceptable:

Earlier, I wrote:
Still, I am prepared to admit that a rut may be considered to to exist once the advanced awareness has taken hold, but one does nothing with it.

Works for me.

bwat wrote:
This is why I only recognise self inflicted mental roadblocks to be the cause of my plateaus. Everything else is just slow but sure progress.

At this point I would encourage you not to automatically equate plateaus with ruts. "Plateau" is a neutral term meaning a consistent, working level prior to advancement, whereas "rut" is a negative term meaning being stuck. Level, vs stuck. Each has its place. Now admittedly, everyone else in this thread is using "plateau" from the standpoint of rising above it, and that is usually the context in which the word is used, but neither have they given it any overtly negative overtones beyond voicing frustration in the matter of advancement. That's a different matter, and nothing to do with the plateau itself. The plateau is just a jumping-off point, whether high or low. But you're using "plateau" to mean "rut", so considering that your definition doesn't match anyone else's in this discussion - indeed the two are not co-equal by any standard definition - you might think to change it, if for no other reason than to avoid misunderstanding. You'll recall that I've had a hard time understanding you, myself.


A plateau is a period of no growth. That’s the common definition of the non-geological usage of the word. I would venture that I’m not alone in considering finding oneself at a plateau to be negative. I do not progress by standing still.


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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:52 pm 
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Something I found when the mountain dulcimer was my primary instrument, was that progress wasn't entirely predicated on practice. I'd have a busy few weeks, come back, and found that I might have solved some execution issues, likely by unconsciously revolving them in my head.

The flute isn't like that.

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 Post subject: Re: Plateau and step up
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:47 pm 
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bwat wrote:
A plateau is a period of no growth. That’s the common definition of the non-geological usage of the word. I would venture that I’m not alone in considering finding oneself at a plateau to be negative. I do not progress by standing still.

Oh, I am quite confident that others must surely share your opinion. No question about that. It's a natural one. What I am suggesting instead is that an apparent cessation of growth may not be as cut-and-dried as you see it. Especially if the student is motivated, there's always stuff roiling and going on underneath, not unlike inside a chrysalis, if you don't mind the sappy analogy. I do think that the plateau period has its place in the process, and that is as a honeymoon period, if you will, where you really get to know what you've advanced to. You can't know all of what's new at the first handshake.

But I also think that seeing a plateau as something to get out of is necessary, too. Otherwise one will become complacent, and stagnate.

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