Owning a skill through random practice - How it works

I’ve seen random practice mentioned in the forum recently and thought I’d share what I know about it because I’ve used this in other areas with good success.

In the Noa Kageyama interview, Noa touches on this concept slightly but doesn’t go into detail or even mention what that concept is called. Troy and Noa talk about it in terms of randomness in practicing.

What they’re talking about is called Spaced Repetition and the concept has been studied extensively and is super interesting. If you have time I suggest checking out some articles or videos on it.

It’s generally used in respect to memorization of information and being able to recall it on command. To oversimplify there are 2 ways of remembering memorized information.

  1. Repeating the information over and over in a short amount of time. This keeps the information in your very short term memory. If the repetition stops for a short amount of time that short term memory wipes and you forget what you were repeating.

  2. Thinking about the information, purposefully clearing your short term memory of it (by letting time pass), and then actively trying to recall that information from a blank mind.

The idea is that when you remember a piece of information, it exists in your short term for X amount of time, after which it’s gone and you can’t remember it. But if just before you are about to forget the information, you actively recall it (think about it again) it not only resets that short term timer, but it also lengthens the time that can pass before you forget it again X + 1.

If you keep doing this, then over a period of time that ‘remembering timer’ gets lengthened into days, then weeks, then months/years. By the time months or years are the measurement you can basically say you “Own” the information. Like your phone number. It’s just there instantly when you need it any time from a blank mind.

According to Noa this also works when it comes to practicing a skill or a piece of music. This totally makes sense from a performance perspective. You only get 1 shot and the information has to be there immediately and correctly.

So mindlessly banging away at a lick for hours is really just keeping that information in your short term memory. And mostly making you better at playing something that you’ve warmed up on over and over for several minutes. So to play it well the next day you’re more likely going to need to warm up on it again to get to the same level.

Instead, playing something till you get it right, then moving on for some amount of time and then coming back to it and trying to play correctly on the first try is more effective.

Smart humans have measured the perfect amount of time to wait when it comes to memorizing information. This has been turned into an algorithm called SM-2 (super memo) and used to make a number of spaced repetition flash card apps. Anki is one of the most widely known. The code uses your correct or incorrect answers to a flash card to change the length of time before it shows you the flash card again. Brilliant stuff.


Thank you for sharing this info – food for thought and practice.