It’s been awhile since Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, came up with his 10.000-hour rule in 1993 (which got a lot of attention when it was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “Outliers: The Story of Success”).
As much as this rule was a plea for the classic assertion that “practice makes perfect,” it also seems to make it very clear that only the right kind of practice — deliberate or ‘perfect’ practice — can help us improve.
We prefer to say it’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes you a better musician!
But how do you practice perfectly?
Here are seven simple steps:
- It might sound obvious to say it, but looking forward to your practice and having fun while practicing is key. The more you enjoy your practice, the more you’ll learn. (Read about ’learning enthusiastically’ here — whenever we approach learning with enthusiasm, what we’re learning will anchor itself permanently in our brain.)
- Practice for shorter periods of time and regularly, rather than for longer periods — but only once in awhile. It’s better to practice ten times a week for five minutes than it is to practice once a week for fifty minutes.
- Know exactly what your practice goals are. Which piece do you want to learn or exercise? At what tempo? How often and for how long will you need to spend on it to learn it fully?
- Use a metronome — it’ll help you improve your timing and monitoring your progress.
- Keep a journal. Write down the exercises you’ve mastered, the tempo you’ve played them at etc. Being able to review your progress will surprise you — and it’ll definitely motivate you to go even further.
- If you want to be able to play a song fast, slow it down at first and play it accurately. This way your nervous system and muscles can learn and internalize the optimal movements. Be proud of yourself!
- Congratulate yourself for your mini-successes and you’ll look forward to the next session.
Here are 3 additional tips for parents who want to support their children’s practice:
- Show an interest, enthusiasm and appreciation for every effort — no matter how small — your child puts into practicing or ‘performing’ for you. Ask questions to show your interest and be generous with your praise and recognition. (But the right kind of praise. You can read about ’why you should never tell your children they’re smart’ here.)
- Instead of forcing your child to practice, try learning alongside your child. Ask to be shown what your child is practicing, and ask your child to teach you. Get involved to turn practice time into quality family time — it’ll double your child’s interest in learning.
- Make practicing as simple and fun as possible. Make sure the metronome, music stand, potentially a CD player (and the instrument, of course!) are all easily accessible and that the practice space is well lit and comfortable. Ideally your child will even begin to pick up their instrument several times a day while just “passing by.”
And one last bonus tip:
- Introduce your child to your favorite music. Listen to your favorite songs together and explain what it is you love about them and where and when you first heard them etc. Share your own love of music with your child!
Generally speaking, all human beings have a passion for making music — sometimes we’d just prefer to avoid the efforts that go along with it.
But even diligence, discipline and persistence can be trained!
And you can take it from us — learning an instrument can easily go from musical training to life training; the skills you learn from practice (grit, resilience, motivation etc), become key skills in the ‘school of life’.
We hope you discover that practicing can become an exciting and rewarding challenge all on its own.