practicing music deliberately

Deliberate practice: Why simple practice doesn’t make perfect

I first played the keyboard since I was 4, and then quit class after two years. My intermittent music practice in primary school resumed for another two years, and I have been practicing on and off since then. But later on, when I ruminated over a same old sentence, I could feel that I hit the learning plateau in practicing piano. I barely made any progress. I knew all these chords, I could stretch all these scales, but it was far from taking my performance to another level.

I thought playing music was supposed to be a hobby, indeed, what else could you expect from a hobby? Was it time to ditch my old hobby? My practice just drained on without any clear improvement. I didn’t know how to overcome that learning curve.

Eventually, I learned the systematic, effective way to structure my practice, instead of meddling around the music sheets. Here comes the thoughtful process of deliberate practice.

It’s not about what you know, but how you maximize your practice time. In other words, the marginal gain isn’t positively proportional with the practice time but the deliberate efforts you put on.

What makes deliberate practice?

I cannot stress enough the importance of intention. Only when you know exactly how to break down your goal into sub skills can you envision your desired progress, not just the big but delusive picture of the outcome.

Here are a few things you need to take into consideration when setting yourself up for the top game:

1. Motivation

Before you even start, ask yourself Why would you want to go further with what you’re doing? Inner motivation will nail your commitment to the practice when your marginal improvement slows down.

2. Your previous knowledge about the subject

Often you look at top performers as sources of inspiration. Truth is top performers can also be intimidating to those who still have a long way to go. Be mindful that everyone has different starting point. Don’t be discouraged seeing someone else’s peak and comparing to your beginning. Acknowledge that you have little or dispersed knowledge about the subject so that experts can advice you on how to organize your task.

3. Openness to feedback

Informative and constructive feedback will take you great way to improved performance. As soon as you have your outcome, ask experts for the immediate feedback. Efficient learning is impossible without appropriate guidance. 

4. Daily grind

The most tedious but essential part. Lather, rinse, repeat. Once you’re familiarize yourself with the system, it’ll be easier to maintain the momentum. No shortcut. No excuse.

What mindset to adopt in deliberate practice?

1. Persevere through a difficult course

Don’t expect to have fun all-the-time. Practice for a purpose may turn into pain someday. Some activities may not translate right away into substantial benefits, but find yourself a reason to show up every single day anyway. The investment in practice takes time, energy, and your other opportunity costs. Discernible talent cannot outweigh the grit of a marathon runner.

2. Erase your mental barrier

The nay-sayers of “You’re too old/young/inexperienced/out of date to learn a new language/skills/habit” are rampant and sabotage your practice. Don’t let yourself be that nay-sayer. Look for a mentor/coach/tutor who can show you the framework and the path from where you are to where you want to be.

3. Record your practice pattern

Keep an eye on your weakness and invest in specific aspects to leverage your performance. It’s important to note how comfortable you are around a certain aspect to tackle that one thing instead of spreading yourself too thin but reaping little outcome. Own your schedule, and adjust it to your mental and physical ability.

4. Stay flexible

It’s too easy to get caught up on a specific passage, dynamics or specific measures and get bored and disengaged. Give yourself flexible parameters. Think critically about how you can vary your practice content. Mindless repetition doesn’t propel growth

In the book “The Outliers”, the “10,000-hour rule” suggests that it takes roughly ten years and/or 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. 10,000 hours is a crushing number and mastery is an overwhelming word. But Malcolm Gladwell has yet to cover deliberate practice. You may not expect to get entangled in the mastery level, but can always make the most of your practice time by adding deliberation in it.
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You might want to take a look at Guitar Zero: The new musician and the science of learning by Gary Marcus
How to assist our student and make their home practice much more productive and efficient 

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Photo credit: laketrail.ca

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  1. […] Most often we underestimate how far we’ve come, until we look back at the journey. Keep a log book of your progress, record your songs. In the down time, you can re-use those materials for learning purpose. Yes, you’re eventually sick of listening to your own music, but when you don’t have mental space to create something new, listening to your previous pieces help you recognize your playing pattern, so you can correct the mistakes.  Read more on Deliberate practice. […]

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