Practice music like an Athlete

By Paul on November 30th, 2011 in ,


Since The Reverb Signal has started our first ever L2P Challenge, a post about how to practice seemed like a good followup. As we said before, the most important parts of learning any instrument are to keep a positive mindset and to set aside time to practice regularly. But practice is not as simple as spending lots of time playing your guitar. The quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity.

One strategy recommended for language learning, and which is definitely applicable to music learning, is to use the “SRS” method of memorizing stuff. SRS is an acronym for “Spaced Repetition System” and it’s basically just a stack of intelligent electronic flash cards. F3M already gives a good overview, so you can check that link for more details. For my music flash cards, I use an iPhone app called Flashcards Deluxe to memorize chords diagrams and scale patterns whenever I have a few minutes to spare.

Spaced Repetition is great, but you can only go so far without actually playing your instrument. You need to sit down and play, and that’s where we can learn from athletes. The Art of Learning, which I mentioned in my last post, tells us that “one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line.” Just let that sink in for a second. Reread it if you have to. It’s important.

Okay, ready? What the author is getting at here is that short periods of sitting on your ass make you better at learning than if you were to keep practicing for long periods of time. In fact, that sounds a lot like the Pomodoro Technique, which more or less says that for every half hour, you spend 25 minutes working and 5 minutes taking a break. After your fourth set of 25 minutes work, you take a 15 minute break, then start the pattern over.

You’re still getting a lot done in those twenty five minutes, but then after five minutes of relaxation you have a fresh mind to take in more information. If you practice with breaks like an athlete does, you will be a much better musician. During your relaxation periods, you could just meditate, but I prefer to go drink some tea, have a snack, or do something fun. A small ritual to reinvigorate yourself is what’s most important. Then, after you are done meditating (or whatever you want to do), practice some more.

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