Thursday, July 4, 2013

Practice - What does that look like?

I have a love/hate relationship with a certain question that I frequently ask my students.

"Okay, what do you need to do to make this better?" (Or accomplish this goal, or nail this performance, etc.)

The answer - say it with me, people - is, "Practice." Yup, the dreaded p-word. And are they right? You bet they are. Good, solid practice cures just about everything that ails musicians.

The problem is that when most people say, "I need to practice," they might as well be saying, "I need to build a house."

So I've started following up with this:

"Good. You need to practice. Can you tell me what that will look like?"

When I first shifted to this tactic, I got a lot of startled looks from my students. It was as if they were saying, "What do you mean? I answered the question! The answer to your question is practice! There shall be no further questions after this answer is given."

As I said, you might as well be trying to build a house. You have sort of an idea of what the finished project will do (maybe you'll live there), but you haven't defined any of the critical components or addressed the different parts of the total process.

How many floors will the house have? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Will it have a garage? What materials will you need? Where will you build it? When will you start? Will you need any special tools? Do you need help, or any special permission to build it?

Before you can build a house you need a plan, and then you have to proceed in a specific order. You can't paint walls that haven't been built yet.

The exact same concept applies to practicing. The first two questions I ask myself before any practice session are*:

  1. What will the final result of this practice session be? In other words, how will I know when I've accomplished my goals for today (or this week/month, etc)?
  2. What do I need to do first - right now - to make progress?

Knowing the very next thing that you need to do - and doing it! - may be the make or break moment for any given practice session. As Mary Poppins famously opined, "Well begun is half done."

I realize that this is not a new or earth-shattering concept, but hopefully it has gotten you thinking about the next steps you need to take to get going in your next practice session.

Happy drumming!

*Yes, this is a drumming blog, but allow me to recommend a business book that helped to change my paradigm not only on practicing, but being efficient in life. It's called Getting Things Done, written by David Allen. You can check it out here

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