I was probably 13 or 14. And one afternoon, as my lesson was wrapping up, my mom suggested that I ask my teacher if he could explain to me how to practice.
It was completely mortifying. I mean, I’d been playing the violin for over a decade at that point. How could I not know how to practice?
My teacher looked confused too. After all, I was getting better from week to week. Maybe not as rapidly or as consistently as I should have. But still, something was clearly happening during the week.
In hindsight of course, my mom was right. Because unlike my teachers, who never got to see what my “practicing” actually looked like during the week, that’s pretty much all my mom heard. And she could tell that whatever I was doing, was not what practicing ought to look like.
And if I was being honest with myself, I probably would have admitted that I knew something was missing too.
Because whether I practiced for one hour or three, I never knew how I would sound from one day to the next. Would the string crossings sound clean? Would the double stops be in tune? Would I hit that high note?
And though putting in more time did seem to increase my odds somewhat, it still felt awfully random. I mean, sometimes I would practice more and sound worse. And other times, I’d practice less and sound better. And with no clear link between what I did in the practice room, and how I sounded in lessons or performances, it was difficult to develop any trust in my playing. Or even muster up the motivation to practice in the first place.
What I was missing…was the understanding that effective practice is a skill
For years, I assumed that if I just put in enough time, or did enough repetitions, something, somehow, would eventually click, and I’d sound better. It wasn’t until my senior year of college, that I started to wonder if the problem was less about the time I was putting in and more about my approach to practicing.
But all I had was a vague notion that there must be a better way to practice. And no clue what that might actually look like…
Looking back, the answers all seem so clear (darn you, hindsight!), but the problem is that effective practice strategies are not always the most intuitive ones.
There are some strategies, for instance, that help us sound better faster – but don’t actually lead to long-term, stable improvements. Meanwhile, there are strategies that feel like they are slowing down the learning process – but lead to more durable, and consistently reliable performance.
It took several years for everything to click, but I gradually came to discover that top practicers approach practice quite differently than most. And that practicing can be a much more engaging, creatively satisfying, and strategic process than I ever realized.
I began seeing a direct link between my efforts in the practice room and day-to-day improvements. Which was really empowering, gratifying, and gave me tons more confidence on stage. It made performing feel less like an anxiety-inducing crapshoot and more of a thrill. Which in turn made daily practice feel more meaningful. And motivating. And maybe even fun. Well, fun-ish, at least.
It’s been over 20 years since I finished my masters at Juilliard and made the jump to psychology, but I still remember how satisfying it was to feel my relationship with practicing and performing change in such a positive way. And in the years since, I’ve only continued to learn cool things about effective practice that I wish I would have known all those years ago.
So if you’ve often wished you could have a better relationship with practicing, make steadier and more efficient progress, and avoid getting stuck on quite so many of those demoralizing practice plateaus, I’d love to share with you the most useful concepts and practice strategies that I’ve found in the research on effective skill learning.
You’ve probably heard of deliberate practice, and even read up on it – but what is it exactly? Like, how does one actually do it? And is there an easier, quicker, non-willpower-zapping way to integrate it into one’s daily practice, without slipping back into old mindless practice habits?
Finally getting a passage to sound just right is no small feat. But getting it right on the very first run-through? Without a few warmup or “practice” attempts first? That’s a whole other challenge. One that doesn’t necessarily require more time or repetition – just a very different approach. Where the emphasis in practice shifts to retrieving skills, as opposed to learning new skills.
I used to think that if I practiced diligently enough, the nerves would disappear, and I’d be as cool and confident as great performers appear to be on stage. The reality, of course, is that simply practicing more doesn’t automatically translate into becoming a better performer. Hence, the need to shift our efforts towards more performance practice.
The course is centered around 16 videos, which will walk you through the research, theory, and the application or “how-to” of strategies that top practicers use to maximize their progress.
Each video averages 4 minutes in length, and none is longer than 11. So if you’ve ever had difficulty completing courses in the past, I’ve done my best to make it as easy as possible to progress through the lessons in easy-to-process, actionable, bite-sized chunks.
The other main component of the course are the printable “Practice Challenges.”
Eh? What are Practice Challenges, exactly?
Well, have you ever had the experience of reading about an interesting concept or strategy in a book, and getting really excited about it, but when it’s time to actually put it into action, things fizzle out? Where you either get stuck trialing and erroring and spinning your wheels until you lose steam, or sometimes never even get started, because you’re not sure where to begin?
To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, there are four week-long “Practice Challenges” in the course to help you put the major concepts into action.
Through step-by-step instructions, worksheets, and bonus tips, the challenges will help you put your new strategies into action, and keep your inner “procrastination monkey” from taking charge.
You could spend weeks, months, years, and heck, even a whole career exploring the incredibly rich literature that exists in the area of learning and skill development. And if you’re looking to take a deep dive and geek out about this sort of thing, that’s awesome – and this is probably not the right course for you.
Practice That Sticks is more of a quick and dirty, no-fluff, give-me-the-most-essential-strategies-and-techniques-you-can-in-the-least-amount-of-time sort of course. In that you’ll learn all the concepts that will make the most difference in your practice and playing, in just over an hour.
It’ll take longer than that to apply and master your new practice skills, of course, but you’ll be able to jump right in and start making concrete changes to your practice pretty quickly, without getting overwhelmed or lost in the details.
And what if the course sounds pretty terrific now, but when you dive in, you quickly discover that it isn’t quite what you were looking for?
The course is guaranteed for a whole 30 days. So if this ends up not being such a good fit, just let me know, and I’ll be happy to process a full refund. Easy peasy.
Practice That Sticks lays out the essentials of effective practice.
Beyond Practicing begins in the same place, but then goes waaaay deeper into performance practice, and also incorporates all of the mental skills (e.g. building confidence, managing nerves, getting into the zone, etc.) that are integral to making sure that your best playing in the practice room also transfers to the stage.
So if performing (whether that means formal concerts and auditions, playing for friends and family, or even your weekly lessons) isn’t really on your radar at the moment, and you just want to get more satisfaction out of your daily practice, Practice That Sticks might be exactly what you’re looking for.
But if one of your goals is to become more comfortable and effective when playing under pressure, Beyond Practicing will probably be a more complete fit.
If you’re having difficulty deciding, feel free to email me, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have. And no, I won’t just try to “upsell” you to Beyond Practicing by default. After all, it could be that neither course is the right fit.
If you’d like to explore some of the most essential skills and techniques in the course live, with a cohort of curious, thoughtful, supportive, and like-minded educators (and a few mildly irreverent or benevolently sarcastic folks mixed in to make sure we don’t get too serious), that’s also an option!
Starting Thursday, February 3rd, we’ll meet via Zoom once a week, and go through selected strategies related to effective practice, managing nerves, and achieving flow states under pressure. We’ll do some in-class playing experiments (don’t worry – you’ll be muted!), short weekly homework assignments, and small-group breakout sessions to help you integrate these new skills into your teaching.
This 6-week live course is normally $199, but is available at 50% off the regular cost when bundled with Beyond Practicing. For more details about the live course (and dates) CLICK HERE.