In this article I am going to talk about two of the most important elements to successful practice of a musical instrument. If you can embrace and incorporate these two elements into your daily practice you will progress faster and with less effort compared to most music students.
The 10,000 Hour Rule is Untested
K. Anders Ericsson ran a study back in the 1990’s that concluded the best musicians simply do more ‘deliberate practise’. In other words, they practiced with intention citing that the average accomplished violinist had done between 4600 hours to over 10,000 hours of deliberate practice claiming a direct correlation between skill mastery and hours practiced. This was considered the end of the story until recently. A review of Ericsson’s claims noted that the amount of deliberate practice does not solely account for the differences in performance. What’s more, Ericsson’s claims were not tested. It was a theory based on highly accomplished musicians and ignored all those musicians who had done equal amounts of practice with very different results. For more details check this article entitled ‘Practice Alone Does Not Make Perfect, Studies Find‘
Right To Wrong Ratio
It appears that the way you practice is a big deal when it comes to practicing a musical instrument. To be specific, the ratio of right to wrong when learning a skill or song was found to be a significant differentiator between the average professional musician and those who were considered the best. This may seem like a simple idea but in reality most music students rush when learning and therefore have a high ratio of wrong to right execution. It is therefore critical to practice at a slow enough speed to play correctly. Think of it like a tennis match. Each time you do it right you get closer to winning the game. Each time you get it wrong you get pushed back and have to work harder to win. If you play a perfect game you win every point and expel less energy.
Repetition with Variations
So now lets go to the next step and thats understanding how to practice beyond just getting it right. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins discovered there was a trick to reducing the time required to acquire a new skill. If you make small variations oppose to straight repetition you can learn faster. They claim that reconsolidation is at work. This is where existing memories are called up and modified with new knowledge. Learning a musical instrument is all about fine motor skill development which is done via repetition. Add small variations and you turbo charge the fine motor skill development. Most musicians tend to repeat without variation. Variations help to keep our minds alert and in a learning state. For instance, let us say you are learning a new chord on guitar. The typical approach is to place your first finger on the note followed by the second finger etc. Many guitar students never think to vary this order. Instead of starting with the first finger, start with the second finger and so on. There are literally an infinite number of ways to vary almost any exercise.
When practicing guitar, aim for 100% accuracy by playing slowly. At the same time incorporate variations. This might even sound contradictory but note the chord example above. Its all about approaching the same skill from different angles.