If you want to improve your fiddle progress, you have to be getting enough sleep, and sleeping as close to the end of your practice session as you can is even more beneficial.
K. Anders Ericsson, whom I’ve written about before, is a leading researcher in the field of expertise and human performance. In one of his studies he found that top violinists sleep an average of 8.5 hours each day. They report that other than practicing their violins, sleeping is the most important factor to improving their performance.
Without getting too technical (there are plenty of technical studies out there), learning a musical instrument, especially the violin, takes a lot of brain power. When we are intensely sharpening our talents, our brains need more sleep, just like when we are exercising more, we need more calories and nourishment. The amount of sleep we get directly correlates to how effectively we learn. Sleep helps to consolidate the memory, which is the phase in which memories become stable. When we are working on our violin skills, we are placing this information in our short term memory. It is during sleep that our brains lock these short term memories into our long term memory resulting in skill improvement. Recall, or accessing this stored information, is significantly enhanced if these memories are consolidated in our long term memory before they begin to fade. This applies to remembering the notes of the music, techniques and even fine motor skills like bowing and fingering.
Further studies have shown that napping is almost as beneficial as a full night’s sleep. So, if you practice during the day and take a nap, then practice again in the evening and go to sleep, you may just have the winning formula for increased consolidation and performance increases.
Everyone is familiar with the famous old joke about the lost musician in New York City who asks a pedestrian, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? to which the pedestrian answers Practice. Practice. Perhaps instead of that answer to the musician’s query, the pedestrian should have said Sleep. Sleep.