More on the contextual interference effect: A brainstorm

Part I: “Emphasis vs. Interrupters” 

After I had skimmed through the articles I mentioned in my last post here, I started thinking about if I were to try this in practice, how would I organise the practice sessions?  The object would be to “switch gears” enough times within a woodshedding session so that you wouldn’t get too comfortable and/or get too bored and decrease brain activity while learning new things or re-learning old things. Check the previous post for a little bit more concise explanation and links to articles that inspired this train of thought from and

Anyway, back to my own brainstorming about a practice schedule based on some of the principles behind the theory.  I tried to think of a couple of “Main Categories” that would be different enough from each other to get the most out of this sort of “planned interruption” and “organised randomisation” within a practice session.  I came up with these:

1. Technique

(More single note lines based, emphasis on right and left hand coordination)

2. Ear Training

3. Rhythm

(This could be thought of as “technique” as well in some cases, but more “rhythm based.” Duh.)

4. Improvisation/Creation

I also thought it might give me extra benefit if I chose one of these as my “Main Emphasis” in each session.  In other words, if I were to discipline myself to practice four days a week, the first day’s emphasis would be Technique, second day’s emphasis would be Ear training etc so each of the categories would be your emphasis on a different day.

So let’s say I would be starting a practice session on a day when technique would be my emphasis, I could try the following:

1. Focus on an exercise that’s gonna benefit your playing technique for 4 minutes.

2. Then interrupt this exercise, force your brain in another direction and do ear training exercises for 4 minutes.

3. Stop the ear training after 4 minutes and return to your emphasis of the day – technique – for another 4 minutes.

4. Interrupt the technique exercise and do 4 minutes of rhythm exercises.

5. Again return to your day’s emphasis for 4 minutes.

6. Stop and do an improvisational/creation exercise for 4 minutes.

7. Repeat for as long as you have allotted time for the session.  (At this point you would have spent approximately 24 minutes on this cycle. Preparation time excluded).

Your day’s emphasis would get trained more on that day, while the other categories would serve as “interruptors” in your session’s cycle. (Although you’d automatically be training those muscles as well, which is awesome).

As a disclaimer, I have no scientific or anecdotal evidence that this sort of “emphasis vs. interference cycle” would be more beneficial than just randomizing your categories evenly, but hey, it’s just something that came to mind.  I might even try it.

Part II: Going Deeper…

So, what if we wanted to go deeper and subdivide each above mentioned category further?  Well, why the hell not?!

I’ve divided each category into 6 subcategories that first came to mind.  Why six?  Well if we’re gonna get deeper into randomization, you could use a six sided dice to let the universe channel to you with which to go with every session, OF COURSE!  WOOOOOO….

Anyway, lemme just list the subcategories that I came up with here in list form.  I’ll elaborate on some of the possibly less commonly known terms and subcategories in Part III.


1. Legato (Left hand priority)

2. Alternate or economic picking (Right hand priority)

3. “Inside picking”

4. Sweep picking

5. String skipping

6. Come up with a hybrid exercise with two or more of the above


1. Chords

2. Intervals

3. Scales

4. Random melody, riff, progression

5. Solfege

6. Do as many pushups as you can within 4 minutes.


1. and 4. Metal syncopation

2. and 5. Clean chords, bigger motion of right hand than “metal syncopation”

3. and 6. Polyrhythms


1. Improv over a backing track.

2. Restricted improv over a backing track

3. Completely freeform improv

4. Restricted improv/creation (without a backing track)

5. Create a riff/progression.

6. Create a theme/melody.

These are the subcategories I picked for myself based on what I thought would benefit me the most. You should come up with your own according to your needs.


Part III: Organized Randomization

If you’re gonna go this far with this experiment, it would probably help a great deal if you had filed exercises in folders on your desktop (for example) for each of the main categories talked about in Part I: Technique, Ear Training, Rhythm, and Improv.  (Remember this is how I chose to divide my main categories up.  You can customize the categories as you like).

It would also help if you had a couple of exercises in folders for each one of your six subcategories.  Make preparations.  Once you’re ready to sit down and try this, make sure what your main emphasis is going to be during this session. Also, throw your dice (or whatever method you desire) and see which subcategory you’re gonna tackle for each of the main categories. Open the needed files on your computer or lay the required music papers in front of you.  I would imagine the sessions would be much more enjoyable when you don’t have to think about what you’ll have to do or grab next and when you can seamlessly move from one main category to another.

Lastly I’ll elaborate on some selected subcategories listed in Part II:

Technique: Subcategory 3: “Inside Picking”

This is a relatively new concept for me and is basically like breaking alternate picking into one of its most difficult elements: the times when your pick is between two strings and you have to pick them in succession in a way that is probably the most unnatural and unintuitive movement you can do with your picking hand when moving from a string to a string right next to it.

If you don’t know what I mean, perhaps I might be able to guide you to visualize it.  First, the easiest pick movement when alternate picking is picking down on a string and then picking up on the same string.  Not much harder than that is picking down on a string and then picking up on a string below (closer to your feet) the first string and returning to the downstroke position on the first string.  These are relatively intuitive movements.

Inside picking, however, happens when you have two strings and you start with an upstroke on the string closer to your nose and come down for a downstroke on the string closer to your toes and come back up to pick the string closer to your nose with an upstroke…. You’re basically “stuck” between the space between those two strings and don’t move beyond them.  This – some argue – is the hardest part of alternate picking and I agree.  That’s why I have a full subcategory dedicated to exercises that utilize only this awkward movement inside two strings.

Ear Training: Subcategory 4: Random melody, progression, riff

For example, enable shuffle in iTunes, hit play and hit the “next” button till you come to a song you genuinely don’t know how to play.  Pick a chord progression, a melody or a riff you’ll try to figure out within your 4 minutes.

Ear Training: Subcategory 5: Solfege

Pick a scale (or a part of a scale) or a melody (or a part of a melody). Play it on your guitar and try to sing/hum it without the guitar. If you’re having a hard time, try humming with the help of your guitar. If you’re more advanced, do this completely without the help of your instrument. (Editors note: For the record, I am f’king terrible at this).

Improvisations/creation: Subcategories 2 and 4: The use of the word “restricted”

What I here mean by the word restricted or restrictions is that it’s sometimes a great creative and/or technical tool to restricted yourself to only a few things.  These things can be techniques, theoretical concepts, harmonic concept or what ever.

What I would do (and haven’t done yet!) would be to come up with a list of these restrictions to pick from.  Try it. You’ll come up with tons.

Some that come straight to mind are:

-Only play major and minor 6ths

-Only play slides and with only one finger

-Only play octaves

-Never land on the root or 5th of the key or chord you’re playing over

-Never play two notes that are right next to each other in a scale

-Only play minor and major 3rds

-Only play perfect 5ths and perfect 4ths 

-Don’t play any string twice in a sequence

-Don’t play a string right next to another in sequence (ie. only string skip)

-Don’t repeat a note till you have used all the other notes in a given group (a scale, an arpeggio, or a group of notes defined by yourself.  

-and millions of others………….




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