DELIBERATE PRACTICE: “IT’S NOT HOW MUCH, IT’S HOW”
In previous pages, we looked at an overview of deliberative practice, as described in the studies of Ericsson, 1996; Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer, 1993.
Now, here are some additional key points, culled
from a research paper published in the Journal of Research in Music Education [Volume 56 Number 4] - This is from their summary:
“The results showed that: strategies employed during practice were more determinative of performance quality at retention than was how much or how long the pianists practiced, a finding consistent with the results of related research”
this research project, a group of pianists were assembled and all given
the same short piece to practice and play. Their practice sessions and
next day performances were recorded in video and audio. They were
judged on both ‘objective’ [errors or hesitations] and ‘subjective’
[fluidity and interpretation of passage] criteria.
The common denominators of the ‘best performers’ practice routines are reported as below:
“A. Playing was hands-together early in practice.
“B. Practice was with inflection early on; the initial conceptualization of the music was with inflection.
“C. Practice was thoughtful, as evidenced by silent pauses while looking at the music, singing/humming, making notes on the page, or expressing verbal “ah-ha”s.
“D. Errors were preempted by stopping in anticipation of mistakes.
“E. Errors were addressed immediately when they appeared.
“F. The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected. [italics mine on d, e, f.]
“G. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (slowed down enough; didn’t speed up too much).
“H. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials.” [italics mine]
The study outlined additional general principles of deliberate practice to be understood and used, and the most important one was stated as this:
~ DON’T “PRACTICE MISTAKES”
“This is an extremely important point—that the effective handling of error correction led to a higher proportion of correct, complete performance trials during practice. The most effective way that the participants corrected errors was by making judicious changes in performance speed that facilitated the maintenance of accuracy following the correction of a given error.” ~ JRME 56-4
To put it another way: It’s OK to slow down to get the passage right! Don’t ‘bull’ or push your way through the piece, “to get through it”. You’ll just get a sloppy result!
~ DON’T PRACTICE ‘BY THE CLOCK’ - PRACTICE TO ACHIEVE A VERY SPECIFIC RESULT.
It may be a difficult short passage, a new fingering, a particular scale, etc. - But make sure you get that one element ‘down cold’ - practiced to the point of a smooth, effortless, repeatable performance.
Don’t drop the practice because ‘the practice period is up’. Finish what you start, and you’ll be building your overall major skill ‘brick by brick’.
And if you get done AHEAD of time, reward yourself!
~ NON-MUSICAL PRACTICE DOESN’T WORK AS WELL AS COHERENT MUSICAL PRACTICE
THAT is most likely why endless scales and exercises are so disliked. Yes, one must get his or her ‘baseline’ facility with the instrument established, and this has been traditionally accomplished through raw repetition and drill. BUT the target in deliberate practice is to be able to play MUSIC, not “exercises”.
I would say, therefore, that a musical approach to learning music, such as ORFF, should be searched for and adopted by the teacher and student, at the earliest point which it can be done.
Going in parallel with the advice about discerning whether something works for you or not, I’d also recommend one seeks out different methods of drilling, exercising etc. [see our ‘music games’ page]
Also: Research and read about how various masters got to be masters.
Try their methods - keep what works
for you and discard what does not. And have a great experience in your practicing!
on deliberate practice, including a brilliantly clever software
“feedback” utility which you can purchase for less than $20 [and use
forever, of course] and some fantastic software for the guitarist [click for further info:
And the accolades continue: David Grisman [above] uses "The Original" Cowling System:
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~ Richard Barton posted on VIOLINIST.COM
FROM A BASS PLAYER:
?"My fingers actually DO what my brain tells them to do, WITHOUT getting confused."
~ Anthony Jerome Smith, 35-year veteran bass player.
FROM A PIANIST:
"In 1976, my teacher gave me his copy of all the exercises, whereupon I made xeroxed pages to put in a binder.
"My teacher was amazed at my progress that in a year I could play, for example, the prelude #17 of Chopin!
~ "RPN58" (from a pianists' discussion board in England, 2006)
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"Through the use of the COWLING SYSTEM ©, I went from "amateur" to an "A" level in music in a very short number of years.
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FROM A VIOLINIST:
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~ "THE VIOLINIST" Magazine, December, 1924
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