New research shows that the key to learning a new motor skill, like a new instrument or playing technique, is not how many hours you spend practicing, but the way you practice. By subtly varying training, you can keep your brain active throughout the learning process and can halve the time it takes to get up to scratch.
“If you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more, and much faster, than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row,” says lead researcher Pablo Celnik, from Johns Hopkins University. Scientists believe it has to do with reconsolidation, the process whereby existing memories are recalled and modified with new knowledge. The goal is to develop novel behavioral interventions and training schedules, which give people improvement for the same amount of practice time. The research also has strong implications for rehabilitation.