LB: How to Practice So It Really Does Make Perfect

A Better Way to Practice – by Noa Kageyama

While it may be true that there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going, there certainly are ways of needlessly prolonging the journey. We often waste lots of time because nobody ever taught us the most effective and efficient way to practice. Whether it’s learning how to code, improving your writing skills, or playing a musical instrument, practicing the right way can mean the difference between good and great.

You have probably heard the old joke about the tourist who asks a cab driver how to get to Carnegie Hall, only to be told: “Practice, practice, practice!”

I began playing the violin at age two, and for as long as I can remember, there was one question which haunted me every day.

Am I practicing enough?

What Do Performers Say?

I scoured books and interviews with great artists, looking for a consensus on practice time that would ease my conscience. I read an interview with Rubinstein, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day. He explained that if you needed that much time, you probably weren’t doing it right.

And then there was violinist Nathan Milstein who once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing. Auer responded by saying “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”

Even Heifetz indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays.

It seemed that four hours should be enough. So I breathed easy for a bit. And then I learned about the work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson.

Read it all

In a nutshell, this perceptive article compares different kinds of practice and comes up with a very sensible conclusion: Deliberate practice, in which you are totally involved, works the best. It’s all about making sure that you are working with your full consciousness and actively embracing what you’re doing, whether it be playing an instrument, working on your golf swing, or writing.

The way I look at it is this:

I’ve never practiced anything. But I love the doing of the things I do. So I write and write and write with the idea that everything I put down is going to be golden and useful and, most importantly to me, read by others. Much of it is. Some isn’t. But by doing I learn/hone/shape.

I concede that others may call this practice, but for me it’s the ultimate expression of my craft because, hell, I don’t express anything until I do it “ultimately.”

Know what I think? I think that even when he was five or six and sitting at the piano 10 hours a day, he never “practiced.” When the other kids came over and asked, “‘Sup?” he replied, “I’m playing.”

That attitude makes a huge difference in the result. Try it. You’ll see.