No matter what we do, we need to practice in order to become proficient at it. So you can imagine my surprise when my friend, the vocal coach, sent me this musician’s blog post on practice. It’s not just practice, not even intentional practice that improves performance. How many times the passage was repeated, or how much total time spent in performance did not influence the quality of the final performance. That kind of makes sense. A couple dozen slap-dash run-throughs of a presentation will not improve your presentation on the day.
According to this post, there are eight things that strongly predicted improved music performance due to practice, four of which are possibly related to other forms of practice:
- Preparation for practice is conducted by reviewing the material, making notes or silently reflecting on it.
- Each error is precisely identified and corrected.
- Target problem areas are repeated until the error is corrected, as evidenced by repeat trials.
- Mistakes are avoided by stopping in anticipation of a mistake.
Finally there is one final practice tip to deal with mistakes – Slowing down. That’s right, slowing down, which allows the musician to play a challenging passage correctly, appears to improve performance.
While we don’t know if these same approaches are relevant to practice of other activities, they appear to have surface validity. So how does this apply to you? Most professionals need to make sales calls, make presentations, conduct job interviews, plan meeting agendas and the like. In our workplaces, we often receive 360 feedback, so we may know what we’re not doing well. But, practice is rare. So how do you build practice into your every day work life? By being aware of situations that are practice friendly. For example, every time I teach, I’m practicing. Every time I participate in a meeting, I’m practicing. Every time I write, I’m practicing. And while in certain situations, I can’t repeat the problem areas until they are corrected, I am reflecting on my practice, and noting areas for improvement.
Practice is part of a larger circle of development. Personal reflection, feedback, observation, evaluation and practice all work together to improve performance. Let’s face it. Getting better at anything is hard work. It takes determination, resilience and yes, it takes hard work.