I get by with a little help from my partner: Comparing the effectiveness of paired vs. individual practice for motor learning in music


Practicing motor skills with a partner (dyad practice) has been shown to be an effective and efficient method of learning, which may provide additional psychosocial benefits compared to individual practice. Here we studied dyad practice in a musical context. Musicians (N=73) learned a novel excerpt on the marimba individually or in dyads. Participants had to terminate mallet movements near visual targets on the marimba bars. During acquisition, the individual group performed the excerpt 50 times. In the dyad groups, partners alternated turns performing and observing after each block. In the dyad-full practice group, each partner performed (and observed) 50 trials. In the dyad-half practice group, each partner performed (and observed) 25 trials. Pre- and post-tests were completed before and after acquisition followed by a 24hr retention test. Accuracy was calculated by subtracting mallet endpoint positions from the target locations. Emotional responses to training (e.g., enjoyment) and training motivation were obtained via survey. At retention, left mallet accuracy was greater in the dyad-full vs. dyad-half group (p<.05). Right mallet accuracy was also greater in the dyad-full vs. dyad-half and individual groups (ps<.05). Participants found training enjoyable and reported a willingness to continue training irrespective of group. These results may highlight the benefits of observing a partner in addition to physical practice (dyad-full vs. individual group), and the potential to substitute some physical practice with observation, without sacrificing learning (dyad-half vs. individual group). Overall, the results support dyad practice as a means of promoting motor learning in a musical context.