Monday, January 19, 2009

Tonight I submitted the first exercise for my Intro to Linux course. The instructor expects us to practice, so that's what I'm doing. I used an editor I'd never heard of before, called joe, but I'm thinking about doing the next entry in emacs instead. joe seems very user-friendly, a lot like pico, actually...but I have the feeling that using an intuitive editor like joe or pico marks me as something of a n00b.

I've been thinking a lot about practicing lately. X, my husband, bought me a digital piano for an anniversary present, which is an extraordinary gift and out of which i hope to get as much as I can. When I was in high school, I was a competent pianist, but not a really good one, and it strikes me now that perhaps part of the problem is that I didn't really know how to practice. Practice, for me, used to consist of simply going over and over a piece from start to finish and hoping that the difficult passages would sort themselves out. I don't think that's really very productive. So I went looking for some tips for effective practice and came up with these methods from a music professor at Missouri Western State College. He suggests a lot of different techniques, many of which involve mixing things up (practicing at different volumes, tempos, playing everything staccato or legato, stopping abruptly after each measure, etc.) but the thing that really sticks in my head is that if you play something seven times perfectly, you've committed it to physical memory: neurologically speaking, seven is apparently a magic number. (Which means you have to get it right from the first--erasing that stimulus and replacing it with something else takes five times as many correct attempts.)

And so I tried it with some passages from Debussy's Clair de lune that involved some complicated fingering. Practiced these passages up and down, over and over, refusing to go on until I'd mastered them, and although I haven't quite got them perfect, I can already feel my fingers automatically depressing the right keys, and doing so in a manner more agile and flowing than I can ever remember.

So. Practice is key. Once isn't enough. Even if you think you've grasped something from reading it through the first time, it doesn't mean you've mastered it. And mastery is what I'm going for here. I want to make these commands automatic. I used to watch my husband or my co-workers working in UNIX/Linux and marveled at their ease and fluency with commands that I had to piece together from online help pages. Now, I can start to imagine being like them.

I'm starting to understand what that means now.

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