### Play It Forward Practice Strategy

Found in: Practicing & Playlists

#### Kym N., California

Dear Friends,

I am spending 1/2 of a class time to introduce all my students who enter level 3 to start splitting their practice time into 2 sessions: Current Project and Playlist Project. With the Playlist Projects, I am introducing the Play It Forward (from Mark Meritt).

I am wondering if I should start this even earlier, like after level 1 before entering level 2 when their playlist is still relatively short, so that they are not so intimidated by learning this “new” technique.

To those who are using the system on your students, could you share your tips on how to handle the days they don’t practice or when they have to skip a practice day? Transferring the codes to the next day would make the following practice day too heavy, right? Also, please share whatever tips you find it helpful.

I want to use very simple codes and I am using

W-weekly project

3-every 3 days (skip 2 boxes)

2-every 2 days (skip 1 boxes)

1- daily (thinking about using “a dot” instead)

#### Mark M., New York

I introduce Play It Forward right along with the Playlist itself, encouraging all my students to use it, but not requiring any. Pros of introducing it earlier — there is no separate technique, it’s just how you handle the Playlist, period — and it avoids the transition period from not-using to using, which can be rather bumpy, and is all the bumpier with a larger and larger Playlist. But it can be introduced at any time, if you just manage that transition.

I think it’s far simpler to just use numbers, period. Why have W or a dot when that’s more stuff to remember than just numbers that all mean what they mean? Why limit to only 1-2-3 and weekly when songs can go from 3 to 4, 5 and 6 before being reading for weekly, and when weekly songs can then go to 8 days, 9 days, 11 days, 21 days, 57 days, etc.? My daughter has songs in the 90s — and songs at just about every other numbers between 1 (current projects) and those 90s. Let every song have its own “right” practice frequency, and there is only a single idea to learn — pick a number, wait that amount of time, and try to keep the number going gradually up over time.

As for skipping/missing days, just remember, Play It Forward doesn’t actually force us to do anything above and beyond not using Play It Forward — it only brings to awareness that which is true about each piece whether we pay attention to it or not. If you weren’t using Play It Forward, and you skipped or missed one or more days of practice, what would you do? Well, you might just let everything slide and pretend it didn’t happen, but let’s just take for granted that that’s not a great idea. So what do you do? You say to yourself, hmm, I guess I’d better practice a bit more on some other days to make up for the practice time I’m missing. And that can be ahead of time, or it can be after the fact, or a bit of both. It’s your choice.

And it’s not different with Play It Forward. You simply have that much more visibility on the pieces that would have been worth practicing during the time that’s going to turn out to have no practice, so you know exactly which pieces to pick. It’s just up to you to decide which to do ahead of time or which to do after the fact. You can see how much “extra” there is to do, and come up with whatever plan makes sense to you, and plan to be caught up by whatever date makes sense given the practice time you have available and the amount of extra projects to catch up with from the time off.

#### Kym N., California

Regarding not using all the numbers, I guess it’s because my students are only entering level 3 and there are no pieces qualified for those numbers bigger than every 7 days. Just feel easier to pick from fewer choices like I listed in my first email for my students to begin with. Thinking about if I should pick a “3″ or “4″ may not be very significant and counting the boxes (1-99) to the next box can be very time consuming. When the students get better with the songs, I would consider weekly, biweekly, or every 3 weeks or every month, or every 2 months, or every 3 months so that they can mark the boxes quickly. At that stage, I feel that there’s no difference if it is every 20 days or every 3 weeks.

I think Play It Forward is such a great idea. Thank you for sharing this method, Mark. I am going to start when it’s towards the end of level one. I think when we introduce arrangements of the learned pieces, we automatically keep all the learned pieces as current projects.

I have already felt that waiting until level 2 makes learning the method harder for some students especially the younger ones.

#### Jacqui G., Canada

Where can I find more information on Play It Forward? I have been wondering how to help my students manage their playlists as they accumulate more songs. We are just heading into F2.

#### Mark M., New York

Responding to three things here.

First and briefly, re: where to find out more about Play It Forward.

It has been discussed a number of times here, so I suggest doing a search for it here at the Forums.

Second, re: how to choose new numbers.

In general I’d certainly agree that there is not much difference between, say, 20 days and 3 weeks (which is 21 days). There’s also not a big difference between 75 and 80 days. The bigger the number, the more the difference can be considered to be insignificant. The difference between 2 and 3 days, though, is a big one. And even between 7 and 8. Etc.

The basic notion of the system is that familiarity with songs grows naturally, the same way that all skills grow, the same way that people grow (although, thankfully, people are supposed to stop physically growing at some point. Anyone is certainly free to give only particular choices to students about what they can do to a song after it’s practiced, but to me that’s antithetical to the system. It means students have multiple things to juggle and consider rather than one thing — how far off from the last number does this song deserve to be now that I’ve practiced it and seen what shape it’s in. To limit a student to certain choices is likely to inhibit them from being able to make the best and most natural assessment of what each song needs.

I understand the appeal of choices, but I can also tell you that the very act of choosing PIF scores itself becomes very intuitive very quickly — if the system itself is allowed to be learned organically, which imposing a pool of choices disallows. Students get a feel for what’s appropriate to do. If a couple of more pieces of information are to be given, rather than provide students with a pool of choices about what the number shift can be, I’d suggest instead posing these guidelines:

–If a song is in perfect shape, it goes up 1 for any song that’s currently less than 20, 2 for any song currently in the 20s, 3 for every song currently in the 30s, etc. You may be able to use larger jumps with students who have especially strong memories and/or strong practice habits, but even these numbers provide for very dramatic progress (as I’ll describe later, below).

–If a song is in good enough shape that you’d be proud to have played it like that in front of an audience even if it may have had minor mistakes, that’s a song whose number can stay the same — or for songs 20+, it could go to somewhere between the same number and the maximum number allowed as described above.

–If a song has a few extra mistakes that would make you reluctant to play it in front of an audience, move the song down a bit, as you see fit.

–If a song has enough problems that it needs some hands-on reworking, make it a 1 to become a current project temporarily, as needed. Once the reworking has been done to your satisfaction, bump it up to whatever number you see fit, no higher than the number it had previous to the reworking, but be a little conservative to make sure that the song can stay in good shape rather than get into disrepair again.

That all may seem complicated, but I assure you, after some working with the system, it’s not. It’s mostly just an explanation of what it means to have an intuitive sense of how to judge what’s the most natural next number to pick for a song.

Third, let’s explore what it takes to have a piece that “qualifies” for a number bigger than 7 days.

You learn a piece as a current project, practicing it daily. You finish working on it — it’s now a song you know how to play, and it’s part of your repertoire. At that very moment, or no more than a few days or at most a coupe of weeks later, that song can go from being practiced every day to skipping a day, i.e., can go from a 1 to a 2.

If that song was learned solidly in the first place, then nearly every single time it is practiced from then on, it should be able to have its number go up. In other words, after 2 days, it’s played again and likely can become a 3. Three days after that, it’s played again and likely can become a 4. Do the math, and we see that about one month after the song stops being practiced every day, that song can be a 7, played weekly.

Continue to do the math, and we see that this means that a song can be up to around a month between practices after roughly 12-18 months in the repertoire.

Incidentally, that amount of time is about what it takes my students on average to reach the beginning of Foundation 3 — so such students should be able to have at least perhaps Dreams and Storm up to around a month between practices by the time they start that level, and would have all their other past pieces scattered appropriately down from 30 to their current projects which are at 1 being practiced daily.

Yes, some students won’t be able to achieve this result. Older adults may have overall a weaker memory than younger students and may need to push their pieces up a bit more slowly. Other students with weaker practices habits may also have trouble — but that’s, of course, a practice issue. In general, with a solid practice routine, even a student with a generally weak memory would probably, after 12-18 months, be able to hold off for at least one week with, I’d guess, perhaps half their entire repertoire.

I hope this helps clarify just what a student’s pieces may “qualify” for by the time they are going into Foundation 3. If students are having trouble putting pieces off for 7 days at this point, then my guess is that in all likelihood they either have serious practice habit issues that need to be addressed, or the Play It Forward system has not really yet been used the way it’s designed to be used.

#### Kym N., California

Ahhh! Not very successful with Play-it-Forward including the high schoolers and middle schoolers . Only one student is using the system cause the mom was helping her. I gave them written instructions and had each one play a piece and did some demonstration to let them see how it works.

It’s been 3-4 weeks but the students are still doing it the old way.

Any advice?

#### Mark M., New York

Here are some facts about PIF that may help inform the situation:

–It does take a little extra work to do PIF than not. Once the system is in place, though, truly, the added work is about 5-10 extra seconds per playlist item to determine the new number and then note it in the appropriate new spot. That’s really, truly the sum total of the extra work that’s involved.

–It takes maybe more than a little bit extra work to *start* using PIF and actually get used to it. That’s simply because it’s one more thing to learn. It takes time to develop judgment about how to change a number, time to get used to scanning across to find appropriate spots for new numbers, etc. So like with anything, there’s a learning curve.

–It almost always would require strong parental involvement/management for a while, while everyone is getting used to it. But there’s no doubt that students, even young ones, can learn to do it on their own with little difficulty. I can tell you from personal experience that there is a strong connection between overall parental engagement in the practice routine and the potential for success with PIF. So if you’re seeing failure with PIF, while you’ll see as I mention below that that in itself isn’t the end of the world, it could indicate a larger issue in terms of insufficient coaching.

–In the end, because of the extra work on the part of student and parent, the system absolutely does improve students’ ability to manage an effective practice routine. It drops practice time to the minimum possible that’s capable of keeping the whole playlist alive.

–Like so much else in the practice approach we advocate, this is an investment. It’s one more way to go slowly at first so that we end up going fast. You want the benefit of the minimum effective practice, you put in the effort of getting used to the system. You find it’s too much to get used to the system, you will not get the benefit, and you’ll end up almost guaranteed to on one hand practice some pieces more often than they need (therefore wasting your time) and other pieces less often than they need (putting them into disrepair so that you must then invest time to rework, once again wasting your time). PIF is fundamentally about making us aware of what state our pieces are in. In exactly the same way that other scoring systems would, e.g., systems we’ve seen elsewhere that score a piece from 1-5. But I’ve explained elsewhere why those other systems provide very little useful action to take in response to their scores, while PIF scores are all about optimal actionability. If you’re going to score at all, the advantages of PIF over other scoring systems are clear. If you’re not going to score at all, you just cannot become as well aware of the state of your pieces, and you will end up making practice decisions about them without that added awareness, and your practice routine will have inevitable inefficiencies.

–I don’t require the system of my students. The fact is that keeping the playlist alive is what we as teachers need our students to do. Doing so with the most efficient possible practice approach is not per se important to us as teachers. It’s important to those students/families who have certain values about the use of their time. If some don’t mind spending however much time keeping their playlist alive even if they could otherwise do so in less time, it’s really not a teacher’s concern. (Well, this is all a little untrue. If we as teachers value passing on good learning habits, surely we’d have to value passing on the ability to accomplish the same goals with less work and time put in. This is why I at least make a point of telling all my students that they will absolutely benefit from the system. But as long as students keep their playlists alive and aren’t complaining about how much time it takes them to do so, I think that’s a line that I as a teacher do not need to cross in terms of imposing anything.)

I have also had students try it and give up. But the fact is that the system works, and if you want its benefits, you’ve got to put in that initial investment and that ongoing small investment. If you can’t convince your students to do so, it’s their loss, but that only becomes your concern if you see chronic issues in their ability to keep pieces alive or if you receive complaints about how long practice takes. At that point, you get to say, well, look, I told you about PIF, I told you that the investment would be worth it, and you chose not to do it, but you can choose now to put in that investment and overcome these problems you have. And for those who don’t have those chronic problems, you’ve really got no particular reason to worry if they don’t use PIF. It’s still their loss, but if they don’t care, so be it.

#### Kym N., California

Mark,

That’s so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with me.

I am thinking, may be I should have them start with a small batch first, like the first 4-5 pieces and then, add another 4-5 pieces into the system.

#### Mark M., New York

That’s a great idea, a few at a time.

FYI, at least in my experience with my daughter, 6-10 tends to be roughly the average number of non-current-project pieces that we expect we’ll end up having to do each day. Sometimes more than 10, sometimes less than 6 (occasionally even just 1 or 2, and very very occasionally 0), but it’s usually vaguely around this range. I don’t know if that’s a reason to suggest doing around that number daily to get into the system in the first place, but it’s something to note.

I want to say just one more thing that I think is really the most important thing. Which is that the whole system is actually really simple – one simple idea drives the system and yet spins out into other potential questions/issues depending on circumstances. Which means there’s something really elegant about it, elegant in the sense of math/science. Play It Forward comes down to this one very, very simple idea, sayable in this one relatively simple sentence:

For each piece that’s good enough to not be a daily current project, decide how many days you can stand to wait to play it again while still keeping it in as good shape as it is now, and strive to keep as close as possible to that schedule you set for it each time.

That’s it. That’s the system.

Everything else is just detail and tweaking of that which is true about pieces anyway, regardless of whether you use PIF or not, with PIF just making it all conscious so that we can try to optimize the practice routine. Whenever you need, you can always bring PIF back to that one basic idea that it’s really about. That should also help people who may be having trouble with it.