How A British Soccer Coach’s Practice Advice Will Quickly Improve Your Music Playing

Practice Makes Permanent
Original photo posted by stuseeger on Flickr

You have heard it said, “practice makes perfect”.

It’s a saying that holds a lot of weight and engages our compelling, yet ultimately insatiable desire to be perfect.

More simply put: we want to be perfect, so we practice.

However, there are two dangerous myths lurking within this statement that consistently hold us back. Time and time again, we practice and practice and practice, but fail to see the expected results.

Myth 1: We are capable of obtaining perfection

The more we practice, the more we will improve. And, it’s an excellent strategy to set your sights high. It would be nonsense to strive only for mastering a basic C Major scale when your true goal is to perform in the L.A. Philharmonic.

Let’s be reasonable here. 😉

There is nothing wrong with striving to be the best. Or even aiming to be better than the best was before. In fact, I highly encourage this of all students.

But, to believe that you will ever be “perfect” is also unreasonable and quite nonsensical. Practice will never get you there. Nothing will.

Let’s also be realistic.

Myth 2: Practice alone will make us reach our goals

I like to tell my students that there are different four ways we can play:

1) Jamming – just messing around.
2) Rehearsing – playing through music & exercises as you remember how to do it, stopping only occasionally to make minor tweaks.
3) Practicing – approaching assigned music & exercises with careful steps to ensure accuracy.
4) Performing – masterfully playing the music or exercise from start to finish with few errors and without pausing or stopping until you reach the end.

If you are like most people, you likely “practice” by simply “rehearsing” the music you are given. It’s as if you believe that simply doing the same thing over and over again (like a machine), itwill make you better, regardless of how you do it.

But, if you use a machine the wrong way, it will never work properly and will eventually break down and fail.

If you don’t learn the proper way to practice, it simply doesn’t matter how many times you play through the assigned music and exercises. Playing it wrong every time will never make you better. It will just make you as good as you were when you started; permanently.

Truth: “Practice makes permanent”

Famous British soccer coach, Sir Robert William “Bobby” Robson, is credited with saying this to his players as they were preparing for their games.

The message is simple: practice won’t help you unless you know how to practice, and you practice the right way.

If you play something incorrectly over and over again, you will get really good at playing it wrong. You might develop your muscles and your memorization skills, but it will be just like programming a washing machine to do the job of a doorbell.

You will ultimately be able to play what you are practicing without much effort, but you will never learn to play the music correctly.

The music will forever be engrained in your head the wrong way.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks as we will address some techniques that will help you to not only be good at rehearsing your assigned music but, more importantly, to be good at practicing.

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