Whether it’s an athlete, performing artist or a musician that we picture in our mind, the activity referred to as practice is an absolute and permanent cornerstone of what it is to be involved in these professions. It is obvious that practice is the defining process of skill formation, but what might be less obvious are possible answers to questions such as:
- What defines ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ practice?
- What defines ‘enough’ or ‘quality’ practice?
Back before there was a legitimate science of skill acquisition, and deep in the dark time before universities were commissioned by corporate industry to study the science of expertise development, most musicians didn’t have any researched guidance as to how to approach the practice of learning how to develop expertise in practice. And when money is involved….well, lets just say that “The Times They Are A-Changin'”.
Most musicians form their practice habits through imitation, trial and error or accidentally. One of the drawbacks of not having a general guide or picture of how to approach practice is the formation of certain attitudes and beliefs about practice and most importantly about one’s image of themselves in relation to ability, potential and growth. (Although words and concepts such as ‘talent’ and ‘natural ability’ might enter into the game as well.)
The art of developing sound or sounder practice habits isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The overall research shows that the best way to start on the path of redeveloping or refining any skill, such as practice, is to proceed via the most central element. An element that has the most far reaching influence over the subject at hand. This is the so called ‘bright spot’.
Have a think about what the most central element of your music making is, and after the upcoming story, I want to express a very simple and practical way for making improvements to your practice habits. Of course your own insight could provide a path as well.
Research has shown that people have a systematic tendency to ignore the situational forces that shape their own and other people’s behaviour. Listen to how Mr. Heath expresses this fundamental human tendency.
Where to start?
The element that has the most far reaching influence over the subject of efficient practice is time. More specifically, it is related to the ‘when’ element. Playing around with something as simple as what part of the day you do your practice can have a huge effect on what type of practice experience you end up having. In turn, this element has a direct effect on what type of practitioner you perceive yourself to be.
A musician does not have the luxury of the ‘feedback form’ that the Nike executive could use to improve herself, so we have to use our imagination and creativity in a similar way to break the pattern of becoming the quality of our practice in a fixed or limiting sense. Learning how to think differently about the art of practicing can become an art in itself, so rather than getting overwhelmed, start by reconsidering any fixed notions that you might have about the timing of your practice sessions.
It’s the simple things that usually make the biggest difference. Give some consideration, within the limits of your specific situation, to how changing up the time of day that you practice can bring some awareness of improvements in focus, efficiency and enjoyment.
Why does timing matter?
There may not be any specific research regarding musicians and practice scheduling to convince you to try this simple strategy out. However, if developing your full capacity while avoiding unnecessary tension and injury is important to you, start to play with this simple parameter. The basic principle is that humans tend to mistake the situation for the actual sense of the person, and in this case the person is ourselves. So, if you feel that you are experiencing stagnancy, lack of interest or focus in what you are doing, try playing around with the situation or the timing of your activity rather than putting all the focus on the non existent fundamental shortcomings of the person.