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The 3 Ingredients of Deliberate Practice

deliberatepractice practicetips
Recording a deliberate practice session

How do you know if you’re making progress from one practice session to the next? You roll up your sleeves, shoot off that, “sorry, gotta practice” text, and do the work… how can you tell the effort was worth it?

With just a little tweaking, any practice strategy can give you a wayyy clearer answer than, “I’ll see the results someday.” Here are three ingredients of deliberate practice to add to your mix so you can make clear improvements and get those small successes sizzling!

#1 DELIBERATE PRACTICE BUILDS MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS 

Remember what it was like to meet your best friend? Maybe you were super intimidated, because they seemed really cool. Or maybe you butted heads, and they drove you nuts!

But then? You got to know them. You found out how their face goes a little red when you show up 15-minutes late for coffee. You discovered they love dill pickle cashews but don’t care for dark chocolate. You know what helps when they are sad and what makes them laugh till they cry.

They started out as a complete stranger and grew to somebody you know inside and out, whose mannerisms, likes, and dislikes you’ve internalized. In other words, you learned more about them, and your mental representation of them grew.

Deliberate practice is a strategy to build up our mental representations. It’s a systematized process of figuring ourselves out.

To do this in the practice room, we essentially explore our instrument’s likes and dislikes. We experiment with details that add to our understanding of musical character. We learn… what happens when I do this? How does it feel and sound? Piece by piece, we add detail to create a rich and nuanced mental representation of the skill we’re building.

Just like it’s useful to know your best friend does NOT like surprise pineapple on their pizza (sorry!!), it’s useful to know what doesn’t work on your instrument. Practice is a time to explore all the details of what your music is and isn’t. Discover something that doesn’t work? We call that a success.

#2 DELIBERATE PRACTICE STARTS WITH INTENTION 

If the only goal you set in practice is to practice for xxx amount of time, it can be really hard to notice the improvements you’re making. You’re already putting in the time, so let’s leverage it, eh? Deliberate practice starts with a specific and measurable goal. Don’t worry! That doesn’t mean you get chained to a metronome.

Practice time is your time to take little steps to explore yourself and your music. In order to take those steps, you have to define what success means for you. Get creative! What specific target do you want to hit during this practice session, and how are you gonna know if you hit it? Set your intention, and you’ll be able to strategically direct those tiny steps towards one direction.

#3 DELIBERATE PRACTICE REQUIRES FEEDBACK

People are NOT happy when we talk about this, so we’ll get it over with quickly. Record yourself practicing!!! Why? We think Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, describes it best: “Practicing without feedback is like bowling through a curtain: you won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.”

Self-recording is the best source of clear and immediate feedback we have in the practice room. It allows you to analyze the results you’re producing and tweak things to make them better. With quick adjustments come small wins! Depending on your goal, other useful methods of feedback might include a mirror, metronome, decibel meter, sound wave patterns, tuner, timer, sensory feedback, or a practice aid like a breathing tube.

And remember, even a 1% improvement is still improvement.

THE THREE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER?? POSSIBILITY. :) 

Incorporate these three ingredients of deliberate practice, and you can transform the effortful haze of a long practice session into strategic steps you've taken towards your goal. Every practice session becomes an opportunity for you to increase your mastery by adding to your mental representation. This means you only get successes or lessons! Set your intention with a specific and measurable goal. Monitor your progress with clear, immediate feedback. The rest is your choice, your ritual, your…. practice :)

Cheering you on!

 

 

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