Do you understand “deliberate practice?” If you don’t you’re not alone.
Much has been written about deliberate practice since K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and professor at Florida State University, first wrote about it in the 1990’s. Ericsson’s research led him to the conclusion that it was not so much innate ability that led the highest achievers to their success but was more a product of the work they did to get there. And specifically, the way in which they worked. That was what he termed “deliberate practice.”
Since then, bookstore shelves have displayed more books on this topic every year, each book promising to lead us to the success we crave by showing us the path.
At the risk of adding to the clutter, I would like to offer a brief practical look at some of the most basic elements of deliberate practice and how you can use them to each and every day in the work you do – whether it’s music practice or anything else.
NOTE: If you are reading this post at its date of writing, I invite you to join me for a free webinar where I go into even more detail. You can register for the webinar here:
There are two common misconceptions about deliberate practice. First is that it is only for the best of the best, the ones who want to be superstars. The fact is that while deliberate practice is part of how these people achieved their mega-success, the techniques can be used – and should be used – by everyone who wants to make progress with a particular skill or discipline. Whether you are studying music or mathematics or management, if there are skills you need to master, deliberate practice is the way.
The second misunderstanding is that deliberate practice is too scientific, that it allows no room for creativity. The truth is that deliberate practice frees you from the burden of trying to fix too much at once. It allows you to see one skill and see how, by developing it further, you will be able to accomplish your musical goals. It gives you the space to make music.
This is a simple way to think about deliberate practice that may help you sense how powerful this can be.
Deliberate practice is a different way of thinking about your music study, less as a mysterious process and more as a set of skills to be honed and developed. These skills include technical AND artistic skills.
Deliberate practice creates a path for you follow, a path that is designed to lead you to your goal (playing music, perhaps?).
Deliberate practice is a universally applicable method for learning how to learn.
Your personal version of deliberate practice will depend on your time, energy and motivation. Your success with the system will rely on how purposefully and consistently you pursue it. You can transform your practice with this system starting today. You begin by re-thinking how you approach the challenges you encounter in a piece of music. What skills will you need to master in order to do what you want to do with the piece? Once you have identified those skills, the steps are clear:
Directed your efforts to developing those requisite skills. Notice how this will immediately change your focus from “playing it again” to creating more positive and long-lasting skill mastery.
Find a way to measure your results. How will you know you’re your skills are improving? How can you test yourself or evaluate your progress regularly and accurately?
Organize your plan. Which skills need to be developed first? Is there a single skill which will remove several obstacles? Create a road map for your progress.
How different does this sound from your “same old, same old” practice? What might deliberate practice help you accomplish that you haven’t yet been able to?