Observational practice has been shown to be a useful method of practising motor skills. For complex behaviours, such as technically difficult musical passages, demonstration and observation is effective. This a common scenario in the master class scenario.
Although observational practice can be effective for learning, it is no replacement for actual practice. However, it is more effective than no practice. A combination of observational and physical practice can result in superior learning over that of just physical practice alone.
Observational practice gives the learner a visual of the movement required. Observation is likened to an analogy, and has been shown to reduce memory demands by providing a framework in which to facilitate memory organisation. Facilitation occurs through the chunking of data, necessary for storage, encoding and retrieval. With good facilitation, complex movement patterns can be easily and more quickly recalled and drawn upon for a fluent performance.
In the early phases of new material, observational practice can be beneficial to the information-processing activities required for new and complex physical movements. The limitation to observational practice is that there must be prior motor experience with the skills being observed, as the brain cannot create a mental representation of the skill if unfamiliar with the motor movements.