To receive the most benefit from this article, please read Part 1 of this series before continuing on. . .
So, we've set up a great foundation for our practice sessions by changing the way we look at practicing and the expectations we have of the skills we practice.
Now we're going carry our newfound mental perspective over and begin learning ways to more effectively practice the physical aspects of any new skills we wish to acquire.
The basic elements for practicing any skill can be broken down into the following general categories:
The perspective we take on what practice is and the expectations we feel practice should deliver. Again, read Part 1 of this series for more details.
Developing physical habits and muscle memory through repetition and review.
Combination of Mental and Physical
Combining the mental and physical preparation elements of practicing to create a faster assimilation of the skills practiced.
In this article we will be focusing on the physical element of practicing and discuss the combination of the mental and physical elements in the Part 3 of this series.
Key Components to Physical Practice
Sometimes looking at a physical activity or skill as a whole can bring things to a grinding halt! Take the golf swing as an example. If one tries to improve their swing mechanics using the ol' grip it and rip it philosophy, what usually happens? The repeated SHANK! There are just too many components involved in the complex motion of the swing: foot motion; hip action; should rotation; head placement; arm and wrist synchronization; etc. However, if one simplifies the swing into its various physical elements things become much easier to focus on and master.
Once simplified into its basic components, each of those components for the physical motion can then be broken down into even smaller mechanical movements and practiced in isolation. Again, golfers do this all the time to improve their swing. They determine what portion of the swing is causing problems, for example the first quarter of the takeaway from the ball, and practice correctly performing just that motion over and over until it's completely mastered.
If you're anything like me, performing a motion like pulling the golf club a quarter of the way back over-and-over doesn't sound like much fun. However, that brings us back to the 60 repetitions X 21 days study mentioned in Part 1 of this series. If we break these 60 focused and intentional repetitions into 3 sets of 20 reps or 6 sets of 10 reps throughout the day, we've just taken a huge step towards removing the boring factor from our practice sessions because they are short and sweet. Plus, in just a few short weeks we will have mastered the skill we're working on and not have to worry about anymore!
Using intentionally slow motions in your practice process is the most important component to truly mastering any physical skill you choose to learn. If you're a guitar player, you know how frustrating this principle can be, right? Don't let impatience turn you into that guy at the music store who plays every shred lick BADLY! Save yourself time in the long run and practice the required isolated motions reeeeaaaallllllyyyyy slllllllllloooowwwllly with perfect form. I mean painfully slow. Before you know it your muscles, tendons and reflexes will start to perform the trained motions automatically. That's when you'll understand why this principle is what separates the pros from the schmoes. It's literally like flipping on a switch as your body just responds and performs the motion perfectly without any thought at all!
In order to master anything, the basic motions must first be determined and then developed individually using some specific techniques. Here are a few things to keep in mind concerning the physical element of practicing:
Break down the movement Simplify complex movements into their basic motions. Once simplified, determine the motions needing the most improvement.
Isolate the weak areas of the motion Develop strength and precision of weak areas in a motion by using focused and intentional practice time to just those motions. For guitarists it may be something as basic as working on right hand strum motions while totally removing the left hand from the practicing process. It could also be something detailed like practicing just the upstroke motion of a single picked note to build awareness, precision and strength in that motion.
Fight boredom: think short and effective Determine how many repetitions of the motion should be completed during the day. Stay motivated and moving towards mastery by breaking up those repetitions into several practice sessions throughout the day. These short, intense sessions will help you reach your desired goal(s) much more effectively.
Slow it down Find a speed you can perform the isolated motion at without making any mistakes. Then cut that speed in half - seriously! Play as slowly as your patience will let you. You will know when to speed up because you will feel a sense of control that didn't exist before. Let your body tell you when it's ready.
Consistency Help your muscles, tendons and reflexes remember how to perform the correct motions by reminding them everyday. Longer, drawn out (catch up) practice sessions a few times a week just overwork your muscles and tendons and could lead to diminished results or injury.
No pain! Correct practice methods teach your body and nervous system how to perform at optimum levels. That means you should never feel pain while practicing. If you do, stop immediately and rest. If the pain doesn't subside, see your doctor.
Word of encouragement
If you find yourself getting frustrated during your practice sessions, take time to reset your mental perspective. Become intentionally aware of and focused on the specific skill or motion you are practicing and know you are taking all the right steps towards effective mastery. It's just a matter of putting in the time as every other accomplished musician before you has. We all get frustrated, but it's the few individuals who change gears and persevere who become true masters of their craft.
The Practicing Mind Thomas M. Sterner The Inner Game of Music - Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey
About the Author:
Ty Morgan is a musician, songwriter and guitarist in Phoenix, Arizona. He is currently working on several instructional projects and writing for an upcoming instrumental CD. Visit his website at www.tymorgan.com or at www.eastmesaguitarlessons.com for more info about lessons and musician coaching/mentoring sessions.