Deliberate Practice in Music

What is deliberate practice? Defined as a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic, deliberate practice differs from average practice in that it requires focused attention, and is conducted with the specific aim to improve performance. Practice of such a nature, as opposed to mindless practicing, can help musicians at all levels to improve by leaps and bounds. Here are a few ways to keep things in check!

Was it intentional?

Deliberate music practice should not only involve playing through pieces that are already familiar, but also learning new and challenging music. Many musicians find it difficult to separate ‘practice’ time and ‘playing’ time, dedicating time to playing material that is already well-learnt, but neglecting new music. However, it is essential to purposefully set aside time to sight-read, explore, and learn new pieces of music regularly. Music is a language, and only with a constant influx of new material will one expand his/her musical vocabulary and internalize his/her understanding of musical grammar.

Was it responsive?

It is common for many musicians to feel like they are not progressing as fast or as much as they would like to, even after countless hours of practice. These musicians are likely to be victims of mindless practicing. Deliberate practice, on the other hand, avoids stagnancy by zeroing in on immediate and informative feedback during the course of practice.

An effective way of obtaining feedback on one’s own playing would be to record oneself, listen to the playback, and identify specific areas of improvement. This simple yet constructive routine compels the practitioner to truly listen to his/her own playing from a third person’s perspective, from which they are better able to spot inaccuracies or weaknesses that might otherwise go unnoticed. Over time, as a musician develops a more keen sense of listening through this practice routine, he/she also becomes more adept at identifying mistakes or bad habits and correcting them in real time.

Was it repetitive?

Additionally, deliberate practice also encourages repetition as part of the practice routine. The age old adage when it comes to music practice is as follows:

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong!”

The danger in this, however, lies in mindless or aimless repetition. The kind of repetition that deliberate practice necessitates is intentional and carried out with a specific purpose in mind - for example, to correct a wrong fingering, or to reinforce the accuracy of a rhythmic figuration. Technical exercises, otherwise known as études, should also be practiced this way in order to instil good musical habits that eventually become second nature to the musician.

Deliberate practice entails a substantial amount of effort as it involves more planning and preparation than an average practice session requires. It is also consumes more mental energy, due to the amount of concentration required to be completely focused and attuned to one’s own playing at every moment. However, the rewards are bountiful. Continuous and consistent deliberate practice greatly sharpens one’s awareness, teaches one how to truly listen, and trains a musician to be his/her own teacher. Without a doubt, all great musicians had to go through the same laborious but fruitful process before they became masters at their craft.

Feeling inspired? Check out this video for more tips on making the most out of your practice sessions!

Give deliberate practice a try today and experience a qualitative leap in your musical prowess!

Play on and Tinkle Away!