Proper practice prevents poor performances.
Top performers aim to grow as human beings so they work their craftsmanship. Great performance is the main goal, so we practice to perform better. But the way top performers reach their peak and enhance their abilities is through learning.
My high school Portuguese teacher once told me “Learning is what remains AFTER studying or practicing”. Teacher Pechincha died a few years ago. This article is dedicated to this wonderfully wise human being, Maria Gracinda Pechincha.
It’s not the hours that you put in; it’s what you put in the hours.
Effective learning is not only about getting more, faster, right now. It is also about durability and flexibility.
Durability means to still be able to play accurately and effortlessly later on. Think about Basketball free shooting: any time of the day you grab the ball, you shoot, you score.
Likewise, anytime you grab your axe you’re able to play that lick flawlessly. Anytime, anywhere.
Flexibility means to be able to play in any kind of environment, regardless of any internal conditions (nerves, headache, soreness, tiredness) or external conditions (cold or hot room, string tension, noise). Think about Michael Jordan’s winning game in Utah, for the 1997 NBA Finals where he played with the flu. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIzrYcgfOH4
Likewise, forget about the unfriendly audience, the string buzz on the fret board, the faster than usual tempo set by your drummer, or the out of tune string… and nail it. Anytime, anywhere.
It’s all about preparation, not only performance preparation, but also learning preparation. Are you aiming for performance excellence (short-term) or improving your durable and flexible learning skills (long-term)? Are you focused on (short term) results or the (long term) process?
Preparation leads to better practice which leads to the best performance. In other words, if you want to be at the peak of your performance skills you have to practice better by preparing yourself the right way.
In order to do so, start focussing on the process. Pay attention to the learning process. If you are actually learning (mindfully, purposefully) you are going to apply what you have learned when time to perform arises.
Repetition is the process we usually choose to perfect or master a lick, passage or technique. We know that practice makes perfect and we interpret that as “keep doing it until it works”. Eventually it starts working rapidly, but does it endure? Does it stick to you? Does the lick come to mind when you’re on the spot, performing?
One thing is to master a move; other thing is to keep it safe in your body, mind and soul in a way that it becomes a part of you. It becomes, not only what you do, but also what you are as a musician.
So, in order to achieve higher performance plateaus should we learn how to practice better or how to learn better? Notice that learning occurs even without practicing. And practicing (aka: mindless repetition) can represent zero learning whatsoever.
Top performers are not the ones who practice more. Top performers are the ones who learn through their practice process.
“If we learn something slowly, we forget it slowly” (Itzhak Perlman)
There are 3 main practice strategies that enhance the learning process. This vital process is based on the acquisition of durable and flexible performance tools and the one that leads you to peak performances through time and time again.
1 – Spaced Practice: Smaller number of repetitions spaced several times through the course of a day, week or month.
2 – Random Practice: Re-ordered topics and subjects in an interleaved fashion.
3 – Varied Practice: Multiple variations of the same exercise, weather in time, speed, rhythm, posture, fingering or anything it comes to mind.
The following weeks of “Maximizing Performance: The Mindful Practice Process” we will dig deep into those practice strategies. Until then, focus on your learning to keep improving! Remember:
“Learning is what remains AFTER studying or practicing.”