When less of the same is more: Benefits of variability of practice in pianists

Marc Bangert, Anna Wiedemann, Hans-Christian Jabusch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPublished conference contribution


Variability of practice has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects for motor skill acquisition, transfer, and retention. This study extends the line of research to musical practice. Pianists were trained to perform a wide interval leap on the piano with their left hand. Performance at the target distance was tested before and after a 30-minute controlled training. One group (FIX) practiced the target interval only. The other group (VAR) received variable training on four different intervals including the target. Transfer was tested on an interval novel to either group. Retention was assessed in a retest 24 hours later. Leap Distance Error (LDE) and Leap Execution Time (LET) were measured. After training, LDE improved non-significantly in both groups. In the VAR group significant improvement was seen on the next day. This was not the case in the FIX group. In contrast to the FIX group, the VAR group showed significantly faster LET after training compared to baseline, which was stable at retention. The findings are discussed with regard to predictions made by theories of motor learning and implications for musical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the International Symposium on Performance Science 2013
EditorsAaron Williamon, Werner Goebl
Place of PublicationBrussels, Belgium
PublisherUtrecht: European Association of Conservatoires (AEC)
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9782960137804
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

The authors wish to thank Sebastian Peter Zippel for his contributions to data
collection, Christoph Lehmann for discussion of statistical issues, and the IMM seminar class on systematic musicology (summer 2012) for inspiring discussions.


  • variability of practice
  • piano
  • motor skill acquisition
  • musicians
  • schema theory


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