We could also probably testify that we can practice something all day and still never get any better at it.
So, what can we do about this?
We can use the principles of focused practice to learn how to work “smarter and not harder.”
What is Focused Practice?
Focused practice is doing a well-defined set of activities far beyond the point at which most people give up.
In other words, your success is a result of 99% hard work. You get extremely good at something because you work at it in a very intentional way.
This is not something that most of us do every day. That would explain why only a few people actually excel in music.
It’s Not Easy…
Focused practice can be difficult. It sometimes hurts mentally and most of the time it’s not a lot of fun, but it works.
In fact, the more you do it, the better you get at whatever you are working on.
The key to focused practice is to reach deep within to stretch yourself slightly beyond your current ability. Its spending time in the learning zone (called the sweet spot) until the problem is finally mastered.
This will require identifying one defined aspect of your performance that needs improvement and then working intentionally on it.
It also means lots of repetition, a space to allow you to keep engaged during these deep sessions, and some simple strategies to keep you productive.
The idea is that repeating small, specific actions over time will completely transform you and bring you closer to your ultimate goals.
Here’s an example of how you can apply these principles for yourself…
Improving Your Music Reading Skills Using Focused Practice
Let’s say you are having trouble reading music at a fast enough pace in order to keep up with a group you’ve joined.
If you don’t get your act together, this poor band might ask you to leave!
Step #1 – Identify the problem. Play through your music one line (or even one measure) at a time very slowly circling the notes you miss.
Step #2 – Practice the problem. Now go through it again saying the circled notes out loud and even matching it with the correct fingering on your instrument. Do not practice the notes you know and can do well already. This is a waste of time.
Step #3 – Take it for a test drive. Play through the passage again (only a small amount at a time) and see if your prior missed notes are now corrected.
Step #4 – Repeat the process until the problem is gone. I like the power of practicing in 3’s. I practice everything in small amounts until I can get 3 good ones (no mistakes) in a row. It’s a fun game to play with yourself and help you stay mentally focused.
Apply It and Re-Apply It
Use this formula as a simple way to help you get more done in your practice session in less time.
I began experimenting with this myself and found that I could get more done in 30 minutes than I was in 2 hours of practice each day.
The only thing I did differently was learning how to leverage the principles of focused practice for my own personal benefit.