Steve Faloon was a research subject in a longterm study relating to the limits (or lack of limits) of memorising chains of digits.
The story of his weekly practice sessions and what the researchers learned from working with him are set down in detail here.
There are a few fantastically practical and applicable lessons from what Steve was able to achieve that can have a direct and positive impact on musical practice as well. If you are at all familiar with the notion of hitting a plateau in your practice, or just having too many days that carry the notion of lethargy and not wanting to practice, then these points might come in handy.
But, how does getting paid come in to it? And how are we going to find an honest enough reason to ‘self-crowdfund’ our daily music practice?
Before getting to that, I want to state a simple definition of practice:
Practice is a process by which we build skill.
This leads on to the impetus to want to have a feedback system to gauge and to find out if our practice is leading to progressive improvements.
If you can agree that creating, rehearsing and performing are a source of this type of feedback and provide an opportunity for improvement and for harvesting useful information about how our practice is effecting overall music making, then the value we put into our practice begins to become more clear.
If opportunity for improvement has value, then how we use them to improve our practice can be regarded as getting paid to practice.
Another simple fact about improving at a skill, is that it feels good! If the feeling good thing is something that many people are marketing and placing a value on, then why shouldn’t musicians value the feeling of playing a set of scales with greater musicality and control than last month?
If feeling good is highly valued, then making progressive improvements in a chosen skill, can be perceived like money in the bank!
Perhaps you will agree that it isn’t any ordinary, half-awake type of practice that deserves hard cash. So what type of practice deserves financial reward? and aside from playing with semantics (as I have so far), how can anyone actually get paid for practicing?
The development of simple steps that lead to deliberate practice is what we want to find rewards for. Deliberate practice can feel good, and aside from saving us time (which is extremely valuable), it also provides us with opportunity to advance our ideas into the physical realm!
Damn! That’s like alchemy!! Can’t devalue that!!!!
But, if you are still looking for a way to get paid to practice that resembles a quick selling pyramid scheme but isn’t, you could reframe the situation this way:
It costs us to have pain or stagnation as part of our music making. There is a real loss of time and funds when pain starts to rule musical expression, and here is another way deliberate and purposeful practice can come in handy: It saves us mental and emotional pain and that has value!
In Steve Faloon’s case, he was actually getting paid to show up for the research practice sessions and this could have played a part in why he engaged with the study and kept going with it for an extended period, hence making unbelievable progress. But, other research subjects were getting paid as well. So, what was special in Steve’s case? It comes to light from what the authors share that he got a rush from the good feeling of making improvements. Working on improving, became the thing that led him to want to improve further.
But there are some obvious and fundamental differences between developing digital long term memory to world class standards and making music to higher and higher standards.
So, this is why I believe that creating a ‘get paid to practice’ model for ourselves, (to offset all those ‘pay to play’ instances…) can be a very effective and fruitful motivating constant. The emphasis ins’t on just any old type of practice! Deliberate and purposeful practice keeps leading to further rewards and that’s what any reasonable musician would want to cultivate.
Here is my 5 step plan for paying myself for my deliberate practice:
- Know the amount of weekly incomings and outgoings, this might be a bit staggered if music making is the main source of your income, so study the previous weeks and try to set up a rough estimate
- Devise a list of weekly budget items that include essentials such as meals, bills and rent
- Devise the surplus (if any) on any given week between incomings and essential outgoings
- Compare this surplus with what you actually spend (this gives you an idea of what goes out on ‘non-essentials’)
- If the non-essentials take up about 2 percent of your weekly income, you could designate half of this for practice payments to yourself
For example, if your incomings are $100 per week, and you end up spending $2 per week on a non-essential such as coffee from the coffee shop, think of investing in a decent coffee brewer and putting that weekly surplus into your deliberate practice fund.
Another example can go like this: If you enjoy a night out with friends at a good restaurant, why not get together and cook up a communal meal with friends instead? The hospitality of a restaurant can be a nice treat, but the money you save (you all save!) can go into the deliberate practice/rehearsal fund.
Over time, you will become very sensitive to what is essential for living a comfortable life and what is habitual and dispensable. Over time, you can practice and train yourself to be more mindful of how you exchange your money for goods, and have something left over to pay yourself for deliberate and healthy practice. I am aware of the shortcomings in my examples, but use your imagination, and know that you can give a more and more practical value to your practice for no other reason than as a source of motivation.
Good luck with the holiday season, keep a thought going for those who have less, and best wishes for a healthy 2018!