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Thinking and Playing Music

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Thinking and Playing Music – Intentional Strategies for Optimal Practice and Performance by Sheryl Iott.

Paperback; 286 pages; copyright August 2021

Thinking and Playing Music: Intentional Strategies for Optimal Practice and Performance distills cutting-edge teaching and learning methods for musicians of all levels, investigating topics in cognitive science that apply directly to musical development. Containing over one-hundred musical examples, many from the standard piano repertoire, Sheryl Iott uses accessible language to impart practical suggestions that anyone can incorporate into their practice.

Sheryl Iott is an active solo and collaborative performer, speaker, and adjudicator.  Iott is on the faculty of Interlochen Arts Camp and has served on the faculties of Grand Rapids Community College, Hope College, Michigan State University, and Calvin College. She is also a member of the College of Examiners for the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto. Frequently published in music education and piano pedagogy books and magazines, Iott’s current research is focusing on music cognition and cognition-enhanced practice strategies.

Maximizing efficiency and effectiveness while cultivating an observant, experimental approach can help musicians make the most of their time and potential while avoiding tension, injury, and burnout. Aligning efforts with inherent mental processes can make learning faster, deeper, and more secure while freeing up attentional space, allowing for creative, personal expression in performance. The book addresses:

  • Beginning musicianship, covering relevant cognition topics such as language acquisition, aural processing and development of audiation while cultivating a playful, relaxed approach to the instrument
  • The intermediate musician, presenting more advanced cognitive topics such as visual processing, chunking, and early problem solving
  • The advanced musician, addressing increased demands on working and long-term memory, how to maximize transfer, a creative approach to problem solving, and strategies to tackle the most difficult repertoire

Also included are sample lesson plans, workshop templates, and sample practice assignments.



1 The Beginning Musician: Practice Is Play Music and the Brain Aural Cognition, Language Acquisition, and Musical Processing Music Perception and Preparatory Audiation Optimal Teaching Strategies for the Young Beginner Whole-Part-Whole Aptitude


2 The Intermediate Musician: Fluent Music Reading and Early Problem Solving From “Beginner” to “Intermediate” Visual Processing Beginning Music Reading: Bringing Meaning to the Score [Long-Term] Working Memory, Chunking, and Template Theories Execution, and Benefits, of Mental Practice “Theory”-When, How, and Why More Relevant than Learning Styles: Personality, Character, and Motivation

3 Practice Strategies for Musicians of Burgeoning Independence If You’re Not Thinking, You’re Not Practicing Don’t Do It Again Until You Know Why Audiation Pause = Learning Pause Hands Together! Patterns and Mental “Chunking”

4 Specific Practice Strategies for the Intermediate Musician Preparatory Practice Strategies Chunking Strategies Tempo and Rhythm Facility Think It Then Play It Structural Lines Contrapuntal Music Benefits and Challenges of These Types of Practice Strategies for the Intermediate Musician


5 The Advanced Musician: The Cognition of Expertise Toward “Expertise” Mindful Practice and Avoidance of Excessive Automatization Knowledge Representation, Working Memory, and Skilled Visual Processing Long-Term Memory: Retention and Retrieval Multiple Intelligences and Rule Learning (Creative) Problem Solving Impact of Mood on Problem Solving and Success Motor Control and Development, and the Risks of Excessive Automaticity Multimodal Imagery and Musical Memorization Deliberate, Distributed, Interleaved Practice Self-Monitoring and Self-Evaluation

6 Conceptual Solutions to Technical Problems (They Are All Technical Problems) Practice Tools and Strategies for More Challenging Problems Layers What to Think About When Think It Then Play It Scaffolding and Hypermeter Mental Practice, Mapping, and Memorization

7 Practice Strategies for Solving Physical Problems Physical Practice: Chunking, Gestures, The Chart, and Fingerings Chunking Gesture Gesture Detail To the Thumbs The Chart Hands Alone Fingerings and How They Help Form Meaningful Units Above Strategies in Sequence and Combination


8 How Intentional Practice Benefits Performance

APPENDICES Appendix A: Sample Lesson Plan and Practice Sheet: Beginning Musician Appendix B: Sample Practice Assignments: Intermediate Musician Appendix C: The Integrated Lesson Appendix D: Practice Strategies by Category and Figure Numbers Appendix E: Areas of the Brain Involved in Language and Music Production and Comprehension Appendix F: Workshop Templates Bibliography Index About the Author

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