Learning to play new music provides a natural laboratory for studying the development of the complex motor and mental skills required for music performance. Empirical observation of practice has been successfully used to test the application of psychological theories of expert memory, problem solving, and motor control to the domain of music (Chaffin, Imreh & Crawford, 2002; Chaffin, & Logan, 2006). Compiling practice data for these studies, however, has required the use of custom software.

To facilitate empirical study of music practice, we have created SYMP (Study Your Music Practice), a software tool for summarizing music practice that has been previously recorded on audio or videotape. The program allows anyone interested in transcribing music practice to readily obtain graphic summaries and statistics showing how their practice was organized and which passages and difficulties were a focus of attention. The tool is written in Microsoft Excel 2007/2010 and its use requires a basic knowledge of this program.

SYMP enables the user to transcribe practice by entering information about where playing started and stopped during practice into an electronic worksheet. The program auto-generates graphs that visually summarize the pattern of starts and stops in each practice session. The graphs also show the relationship of starts and stops to the musical structure of the piece and to the musicians’ decisions about technique, interpretation, and performance. The musician first marks this information on copies of the score, from where it is entered into the database by the researcher. The program also allows the user to track memorization by entering whether the musician played while looking at the score, and to track variations in tempo.

By helping musicians to study themselves, as well as their colleagues and students, we hope to learn more about what musicians actually do when they practice. We expect that empirical study of music practice will lead to strategies for making practice more effective and rewarding, and less frustrating and time consuming.

Using SYMP

The rest of this webpage is dedicated to outlining how to collect data on your own practice and performances and how to use SYMP to analyize that data.

Click here to download a complete example set of SYMP.

Note: This spreadsheet tool is still beta. Further, it may run slowly on older computers.

Microsoft Excel 2010 has many security features built in. You many need to override one of the features so SYMP can function. If you see a “Macros Dissabled” just below the Ribbon and above the Formula Bar, please enable it by clicking the options button and selecting “Enable”. You may need to do this every time you open one of the modules.