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Deliberate Practice


I started to play bass in the orchestra in the 7th grade. I had never played it before, but was willing to give it a chance. One day I was practicing in the rehearsal room when one of the older players stopped me. He said "why do you start over when you mess up?" I replied "I'm practicing and struggle with some parts".

That is when he gave me some advice that I had no idea would be a part of my career 40 years later. He said "just focus on the 1 or 2 measures where you struggle. Do it until you can get through it 10 times in a row without messing up. Then move to the next part where you struggle."

I didn't know it at the time, but this is called "Deliberate Practice". It is a critical element of learning. Deliberate practice is practice that is purposeful and systematic. It is focused on a very specific element. It may even totally outside the context of the actual task.

An example: I was scheduled to give a presentation in a very important meeting. As I practiced, there was a phrase that I keep messing up. Normally, I would have changed the wording, but that phrase was a key to the way we were going to communicate the program - changing it wasn't an option.

I did what I was taught in the 7th grade. I practiced that sentence - and only that sentence - until I could say it 10 times in a row perfectly. Then I would set a reminder on my phone for several times a day - when the reminder went off, I practiced that sentence. If I got it right, I stopped. If I got it wrong, I would make myself do it over and over again.

When you find something with which you struggle, create a way to practice just that skill. Focus on just that skill. Then randomly practice that skill. This focus and systematic way is more effective and more efficient for adults.

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