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January 26, 2012 | Deliberate Practice
Ever wonder why you put in the time but don't seem to be getting better? You slog through hours of the same drills and after months and assessment, you haven't achieved any higher degree of performance?
Some call this a plateau or a slump. It's pretty familiar territory for many, and believe it or not, there is a pretty simple way out of it, and it's not necessarily investing more hours. There's a great article in the Time Magazine website by Annie Murphy Paul that suggests it's not how much you practice, but how you practice. The key is being honest with diagnosing your failures.
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Paul addresses this as deliberate practice. "It's not a minor change. The difference between ineffective and effective practice means the difference between mediocrity and mastery. If you're not practicing deliberately--whether it's a foreign language, a musical instrument or any other new skill--you might as well not practice at all." She suggests the key is rooting out weakness which is never pleasant for anybody. You develop a mindset of diagnosing and attacking mistakes, not mindlessly noodling through music, playing with the TV going in the background, and with nothing less than full concentration on what you may be doing poorly or wrong.
We don't like to do this, slow down the ugly parts and woodshed them, but that's what separates the average player from the great player.
"In an article titled 'It's Not How Much; It's How,' published in the Journal of Research in Music Education in 2009, University of Texas-Austin professor Robert Duke and his colleagues videotaped advanced piano students as they practiced a difficult passage from a Shostakovich concerto, then ranked the participants by the quality of their ultimate performance. The researchers found no relationship between excellence of performance and how many times the students had practiced the piece or how long they spent practicing. Rather, 'the most notable differences between the practice sessions of the top-ranked pianists and the remaining participants,' Duke and his coauthors wrote, 'are related to their handling of errors.'
The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. 'It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,' Duke notes. 'But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.'"
What do you put more effort into, what you do well or what you do poorly? It's not easy admitting your mistakes, and we use the excuse of "just playing for enjoyment" as a crutch for not getting better. There's nothing wrong with this, unless you sincerely want to get better. Best thing you can do is get a pencil and identify passages you struggle with in parenthesis. That physical act and the follow up polishing will help you nail not only that passage, but help you overcome the obstacles in it that will be repeated in other incidents of music.
This kind of practice puts you on the path to a whole new level of ability.
Read article: The Myth of 'Practice Makes Perfect'
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Posted by Ted at January 26, 2012 8:39 AM
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