Fiddling With Desirable Difficulty

You’ll see more results if you learn to practice well. 

One way is to find that perfect level of challenge so that you’re neither bored nor overwhelmed. Enter the “Goldilocks Zone,” where you’re totally engaged and practice in a state of flow. 

The scientific term for this is “desirable difficulty.” Find the right level of challenge by working at your edge.

No matter where you’re at on your fiddle journey, you want to practice in the “Flow zone”. Not only will this accelerate your learning, but it will just be more fun.

How to find the perfect level of challenge?

If something is too hard, make it a little easier by:

  • Slowing it down
  • Breaking it into small chunks
  • Simplifying it as much as possible

If something is too easy, just do the same process in reverse. Make it harder by:

  • Speeding it up
  • Playing larger, more complex chunks
  • Adding variation like staccato, rhythms and slurs

It helps you to learn something more deeply and to better remember it. 

Now that you get the basic idea, let’s put this into practice…

How to Practice With Desirable Difficulty

Use deliberate practice to identify 1-4 hard parts from one or more tunes.

I’ll use the second quarter of Ashokan Farewell as an example. 

Play at steady tempo with a metronome

Playing with a metronome is a simple way to add desirable difficulty to your practice.

if you can’t do it the chunk at a steady temp, then either play it more slowly or practice a smaller piece

Play at slowest and fastest speeds

Can you play that chunk with a metronome? If yes, then Yay! Now you can more desirable difficulty by playing at different tempos. Find your slowest and fastest speeds.

Faster is physically challenging.

Slow is mentally challenging. That’s because the original melody will start to sound different.

Flatten the rhythm

You can be your own teacher by making up exercises. 

Add variation to flattened rhythm.

Chaining notes

  • Progressively add notes

Extract the rhythm

Play the rhythm on a single string.


After drilling down a section with desirable difficulty, try to integrate it into the tune.

  • Return to the original piece.
  • Loop it.
  • Then play it in context of the larger piece.

Can you think of other ways to create the perfect level of challenge? Let me know!

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