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Practice smarter, not harder!

By Fletch Whipp CEO

One of my favorite sayings is there are no shortcuts, meaning, no short cuts to success. While there are no shortcuts, we can expedite the journey instead of needlessly driving around the block not asking for directions. Whether it’s learning a musical instrument, martial arts, learning to write or studying computer programming, practice done the right way can mean the difference between ordinary or extraordinary.

Most students have heard their teacher offer ‘the 3 most important elements of becoming skilled on your instrument is practice, practice practice’

What Do Professionals offer? 

Author Malcolm Gladwell shared in his immensely popular title from almost 2 decades ago, ‘Outliers’. a theory that individuals achieve expertise in a given field after 10,000 hours of discipline. If you were to apply yourself for 2.75hrs focus daily, you would achieve ‘expertise’ after 10 years. 5 1/2 focus daily, 5 years.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate Practice

Gladwell’s study of highly developed individuals in a myriad of fields- chess players, musicians, business people, athletes, supported this observation as they attained unusually high levels of ability in their field…

I believe by applying Gladwell’s offering above, you can gain expertise in less time than stated above, yet it requires deliberate, focused practice, instead of clocking up large amounts of hours. I see the truth of this when a student may play through an exercise repeatedly for a several minutes, then I ask them to do something specific within the framework of that exercise. The ones that have been concentrating can adapt easily, the ones that have been ‘mindlessly practicing will stumble easily.

Problems with disengaged focus

1. Brain is disengaged: Little focus offers little retention with the exception of motor skill co-ordination. Music is more mental than muscle co-ordination. Studies show learning music improves your problem solving capabilities… practicing without engaging our brain significantly lessens the benefits of practicing in the first place.

2. It re-asserts the wrong psychology: Practicing repetitiously, mindlessly, reinforces the only way to improve is doing monotonous repetitive drills. It reduces the creativity factor & replaces it by a set of drills, which in turn can reduce our passion. ‘I’m bored with practice-I want to play a song’.

3. Misplaced time. We clock up hours and use this as our measure of successful practice instead of realized goal setting, developed skill over specific, targeted criteria, instead of a quagmire of general principle.

Learning intentionally

Deliberate, intentional practice is a structured, specific activity that is mapped out with achievable criteria centered around measured results. When we ‘kick goals’ during this method, our practice produces compounded results. We gain mastery, confidence, problem solving, goal realization & ability to short track our way to success more easily, with less effort, more expedited than our peers, some of which also wish to attain the same goal.

Intentional practice usually engages outside measurements to chart our success. Video yourself, have a peer or professional listen to your progress, learning a specific piece focusing on the area of discipline, recording your efforts or improvising can all be used to gauge specific improvement in a given area.

How to become skillful, quickly

1. Focus on focus, not the clock: 
Keep practice sessions on a given goal. Develop the goal within an achievable time, say 30 minutes-1 hour. If you practice for 2 hours a day, set the number of goals accordingly so that you time is well used.

2. Regular discipline: Set specific times during the week that are your practice time. Most people buy gym memberships, but then lose focus relatively quickly when they allow outside considerations to chew into their ‘gym time’ Be determined to place your intentional practice as a priority, not an after thought.

3. Examination: Schools use exams as a way to determine mastery of a given subject. In a similar manner, we too should set goals to help us realize goal completion. it may not be an exam, there are a multitude of ways to measure skill development. Get creative and enjoy the rewards of achieved goals.

4. Change the goal posts: By changing our target regularly (when prior targets have been realized) keeps us fresh, on our toes and reduces room for complacency to step in. Mindless practice will not slip in so easily by doing this.

Last year I was practicing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s song ‘Mozart’ The solo scale runs were right at my breaking point of controlled alternate picking, where my hand would transition into ‘auto-pilot mode’ as I call it. I struggled to play along with the piece. After two nights of serious repetition over the runs, I realized my right hand just wouldn’t co-operate with the fluid nature of the piece. Instead of  persisting with a routine that wasn’t producing the goal, I forced myself to stop. and considered a new approach, scale wise to allow the hand to flow in a manner and method that was more accustomed to my approach used on scales and arpeggios accordingly. Within two days the piece was memorized and played to tempo of the song.

They say time is the commodity we cannot regain, so lets use it wisely. Recalling Gladwell’s thesis on expertise, one conclusion cannot be diminished. In order to gain pre-eminence or recognition in a field, you must apply yourself in an unusually determined, deliberate manner, consistently. It is your gifting that provides the momentum you seek, to open the door to your destiny.

Vita Per Musicam!

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