How to Get Better at What You Love

Loved hearing about how Demosthenes practiced in this talk by Eduardo Briceño.

Many musicians–especially school musicians who perform only once every few months–need almost the opposite approach from what Eduardo emphasizes at the beginning of this talk.

How Sleep Will Boost Your Abilities (Yes, all of them)

Nearly every world-class musician I interviewed for the book took naps regularly, usually after the main practice session of the day. It works, and Mednick explains why.

One of the Most Powerful Tools for Your Practice

The amazing Dr. Carol Dweck explains how your belief about intelligence profoundly impacts your motivation to learn, the depth of your learning, and your persistence in the face of failure. In music, Dr. Bret Smith discovered similar findings. Lots more in Chapter 6 of The Practice of Practice (free shipping in the US).

Go Go Gadget Practice

Bach once said of his prodigious keyboard skills something like, “There’s nothing to it; you just push the right key at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”

Do you think somebody who merely pushes a button to make music a musician? See the hilarious video below for a negative example, and the following one for a wonderfully positive example.

The important thing with gadgetry is the willful interaction with sound, not the motor ability. Yes, there are varied levels of physical engagement with the sound-producing device, but again, that’s not the point.

Practicing Performance: How to Beat Stage Fright

Most professional musicians I’ve spoken with about practice believe that the performance is one of many forms of practice. Some use performance specifically as their only practice. For those who practice alone or are shy, a good performance requires skills that aren’t honed in the practice room. You’ve got to just get out there, do it, and learn from it. This fun TED talk by Joe Kowan is a perfect example of practicing performance, and using creativity to enhance practice.

The 10,000-hour Red Herring

You’ve all heard it by now: all the talk and focus on the 10,000 hour “rule,” from people like Malcolm Gladwell, and the researcher who originally published the study with the finding, Anders Ericsson, whose theories are not without opposition in the academic world. If you haven’t heard of this finding by researchers Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer yet, it goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert-level performance, whether it’s in sports, music, chess, or x-ray diagnostics. But the 10,000-hour rule is a red herring for several reasons.

Sir Kenneth Robinson, animated

Now and then I run across something that is only indirectly related to practice, but which I feel compelled to share. Here is a talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson that you should listen to and watch, wonderfully animated by the good folks at RSAnimate. Hope you find it enjoyable and stimulating. Have fun, and good…

Grow an Inner Carrot, Forget the Stick

One thing the research record tells us is that incentives and other forms of extrinsic motivation don’t work very well to motivate us, nor do punishments. Carrots and sticks only work if you’re an ass. Much better is motivation that comes from within, or intrinsic motivation. And sometimes training can be a hindrance, too, as you’ll see in the vid below. Because I’m buried in research, I don’t have much time this week to post a lengthy article, but this thought-provoking TED talk is a great way to see the real-world example of how incentives often mean horrible performance, and training isn’t always a good thing. Learn the simple reason why kindergarten kids beat out MBAs in a design challenge…

Good In, Good Out: Listening

Sound has an impact on us, a profound one. Whether it’s research showing that musicians can detect pitch difference language better; the discovery by Dana Strait–a friend and musical colleague of mine at Northwestern–that musicians are better at identifying emotion in sound; that trees communicate with sound; or that sound can also affect human development in a negative way as presented by Julian Treasure below in a six minute video.

Born Stupid: Your Plastic Brain, III

I keep hammering away at the brain’s ability to re-wire itself because 1. It’s so darn fascinating, and 2. To combat the old saw that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which research is telling us is completely false. Here’s some more evidence of the lifelong plasticity of the brain. To anyone over 18 who is considering doing something new and unfamiliar, the following vid should be required watching.

Deaf Musicians?

It amazes me what some people have gone through in order to play music, and it makes me realize (once again) that the passion and drive to have music in one’s life is more powerful than more paltry things like knowledge of how to practice. One researcher whose name slips me at the moment, calls…

The Long Now

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. –Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.  –John F. Kennedy (1917…