Deliberate guitar practice and why it matters

Deliberate Guitar PracticeThe term ‘Deliberate Practice’ can at first seem a little confusing because one would assume all practice is deliberate right? Apparently not. Firstly deliberate practice is now a recognised term and the most prominent researcher on the subject is Professor Anders Ericsson of Florida State University in the USA. Ericsson and his team have focused on the question of what makes people great. They wanted to know what makes a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordon. I think most guitarists want to know what makes a John Petrucci or a Steve Vai or a Steve Morse or a Paco Pena. Well the conclusion is Deliberate Practice.

Secrets of greatness
Here is a quote from a Fortune article entitled ‘Secrets of greatness’ ‘The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.’

10,000 hours of practice
Lets apply it to guitar (of course) to help gain a better understanding of the real meaning of deliberate practice. Most researchers agree that to earn the title of a master in almost any field takes around 10,000 hours of practice. But as we all know just strumming a guitar for 3 hours a day on your lounge for 10 years won’t necessarily make you a master guitar player. The practice has to be focus and goal oriented. In other words ‘deliberate’. Just going through the motions is not enough. In fact if every practice session you did was well planned with both a short term and long term goal you will almost certainly reach mastery if you are prepared to do it everyday for several hours for around 10 years or in some cases less. The researchers agree that no one masters anything without hard work. Ericsson quotes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”

Natural talent
It appears natural talent only takes you so far. Those with a natural talent often have an advantage in the early stages but this advantage tends to diminish over time and deliberate practice becomes the deciding factor. This is good news for the majority of us have very little natural talent for music. There are alos many factors that influence so called natural talent that are actually the result of our environment more so than any inborn talent.

Hard work is understated
Here is a quote form Will Smith (Actor) in a interview a few years ago. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. I’ve viewed myself as slightly above average in talent. And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping? I’m working. While the other guy’s eatin’? I’m working. While the other guy’s making love, I mean, I’m making love, too. But I’m working really hard at it,” he tells Kroft, laughing.

If you want to be great its really has little to do with talent. One of the great guitarists of all time was Django Reinhardt and he only had 2 and a half fingers. Deliberate practice is about focus. Students should practice with a clear goal in mind so their practice actually makes sense.

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