Beginnings

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a [person]’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that [one] learns thoroughly.   —Thomas H. Huxley (important English biologist with impressive sideburns)

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I received an e-mail link from a colleague the other day, a person who never sends out such things, but the subject line intrigued me: “belief in causality renewed.” Inside was a link to OK GO’s latest video masterpiece for their tune, This Too Shall Pass. It’s been viewed over 8 million times, so if you’ve already seen it, my apologies. If you haven’t, here you go, ok?

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

Planning is an essential part of your practice session. Imagine the planning that went into the video above, and ask yourself how much planning goes into your practice sessions. Every book I’ve read on practice, and every research article that looks into what musicians do when they practice mentions the importance of planning out your practice session. This includes broader plans like goals, as well as more specific things like exactly which pieces or skills you’re going to tackle and how you’re going to tackle them. This planning stage is only one part of a 3-stage process used by most of the accomplished musicians studied by McPherson and Zimmerman in a 2002 research article. Here’s what it looks like (image is from a presentation I did at the 2010 Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest, adapted from the article, p. 340):

3-Stages of Practice

The forethought phase is what I’m talking about here and in this study, the researchers identified the following factors that went into the forethought phase:

  • Task Analysis •
    • goal setting
    • strategic planning
  • Self-Motivation Beliefs
    • Self-efficacy
    • Outcome expectations
    • Intrinsic interest/value
    • Goal orientation
    • (I would add theory of ability)

Most of these issues I’ve covered in previous posts, but I found it interesting that what is important is not only the strategy and planning, but also fundamental beliefs you hold about your ability, the value of the task, your goal orientation (basically, are you doing it to get better and to make music, or are you doing it so you either don’t look bad/look good).  I’ve added your theory of ability, which draws parallels from Carol Dweck’s work on theory of intelligence I mentioned in an earlier post. Basically, do you believe that musicians are gifted/born with “talent” or is talent something that is earned through practice. What you believe has a profound effect on how you tackle your practice. Something to think about.

What is pretty clear to me (even if there isn’t hard empirical evidence to prove it yet), both from my own experience as a musician and from all the reading I’ve done on the subject, is that planning your practice has a profound effect on the quality of practice. How much do you plan your practice sessions? If you do plan, are there any flaws in your approach, or any ways in which you might be more efficient or specific in your planning?

Have fun and good luck with your practice plan!

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

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McPherson, G. E., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Self-regulation of musical learning: A social cognitive perspective. In R. Colwell & C. Richardson (Eds.), The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning (pp. 327-347).  New York: Oxford University Press.

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