It’s possible to make your practice time 10x more effective, simply by dividing its time over more sessions. Shortening and then multiplying the frequency of study sessions doesn’t just do wonders for retention and improvement, but will also prepare you for real-life situations – where you have to be able to execute perfectly, instantly.
Catch: Things become easier when “gotten into.” However, in the real world, you rarely get the chance to rehearse right before the moment of execution.
Solution: Practice in short bursts to “throw yourself off guard,” up your base-line level, accustom yourself to the moment of instant execution and doing something right on the first try.
Idea Inspired By/Related To/Stolen From: Pomodoro Technique.
“Repetition is the mother of skill.” – Tony Robbins
Piano Wisdom Nugget 1
Short Burst Practice
If you’d pick up your instrument for the first time today (or even after a few days) and try to play the last, most difficult thing you’ve learned at full speed, chances are you’re going to make a little mistake, right?
So you go and practice.
But what exactly does that mean, practice?
It’s improving a skill by repetition
Repeating the correct thing at a pace you can manage -slowly and mindfully-, makes it sink in and carve its way into both your mental and physical being and skillset. By carving out and strengthening neurological pathways inside your brain, it becomes a habit.
It’s very resemblant to a path formed by you walking through high grass. Take this exact same path the next day and the day after that and the grass will flatten. The dirt and soil might even start to come to the surface after a while making it look more and more like an actual path.
The more times you take this route -repeat it- the more “path-like” the route will become.
In your brain, by repeating a certain task or skill, the road the neurons travel that make you execute the skill isn’t just being carved, but even getting “paved” by a substance which isolates the route increasingly with each repetition – allowing for lesser and lesser neurons and energy being lost along the way. In effect, making the neurons reach their goal with gradually more efficiency.
In practice, you’ll soon note that after a few rounds of repetition the thing already starts to sink in and you’ll gradually start making lesser mistakes.
To train most effectively, look for a pace or level of resistance that is at the very limits of your capability, which you are able to manage only with full focus, attention and effort. This will amplify the above effects, carving and paving faster and harder, due to greater force put on the path.
An important side note to be well aware of tough, is that anything you repeat behaves in this very same way in your brain.
In this sense, your brain doesn’t discriminate between a “right” or “wrong” execution. In other words, repeating an incorrect, bad, thing, will become a habit too. And a bad one at that.
Because of this “carving and paving way” of the brain, it’s pretty hard to unlearn or change a bad habit – as you might very well be aware of- since it actually requires to break out of that path and send the neurons in another direction. You can imagine it’s not easy for them to take a completely new route right through the grass, when there is such a nicely paved path right there to take too. This is also the reason addictions are so hard to kick. They’re basically like “super-habits,” with strongly carved and paved highways in your brain. Unfortunately, they lead straight to an unwanted destiny.
Since unlearning bad habits of any kind is hard, in practicing, it’s wise to always be very aware and strict about executing the right thing – and not to repeat the wrong thing. At least not too often.
So although you’re looking for your capability limits to keep the effectiveness at its highest, you do not want to cross that line into the territory where you constantly make mistakes, as this will have an adverse effect.
The Practice Sinus
Take a look at this:
This graph shows how, when you’re practicing, the more repetitions you make, the more familiar it feels and the better you can play it. The more fluent you become.
After a few (or preferably – many) repetitions, you’ll be at peak performance and the skill goes much suppler and easier than when you started.
By practicing more, you’ll be able to boost that peak higher and higher, making more repetitions.
When you stop practicing, your fluency -the proficiency with with you can play the thing- will gradually drop off.
There is, however -as you can see-, a limit to how far you can boost your peak in just the one single session.
First of all, when you take breaks and allow the skill to sink in, your fluency level won’t drop as low as before you had practiced. This means your “base-line” level grew.
Secondly, in your next practice session, you’ll be able to boost the peak even higher than the previous time. Obviously.
You’ve gotten better. Both in peak performance as well as in base-line-level.
You see that if you practice more often, you can actually pick up the drop of your fluency before it reaches its low.
Practicing regularly enables you to pick the sinus up at a point where it’s not gone all the way to the bottom, so you don’t allow your baseline-skill-level to drop that much. This means you’ll be able to play the thing better on a first try.
Also, you’ll be preparing and training yourself for a situation that is much closer to reality. Because – when, in real life, do you get the time to first rehearse a few times before the moment of execution?
Therefore it is in fact this “base-line-level” -the line where the sinus is at its low- the level where you’re at when you did not just practice that is relevant.
That “base-line-level” is actually how good you really are. That is the level of fluency you can rely on, so basically, that is what you want to focus on getting higher.
Short Burst to prevent overload and depletion
As to be seen in the graph, after a certain amount of time your level of growth will start to stagnate.
This is due to the fact that our capacity-tank for learning new stuff (whether that’s improving upon a skill, the “newness” being the next level of mastery in an already a familiar skill, or learning a completely new thing) tends to “fill up.”
At the same time, your energy level -your battery- runs out. You get tired.
This is the reason that practicing (or working, for that matter) too long on the same skill, the same task, isn’t efficient.
Practicing in shorter sessions keeps your learning capability -your fluency increment- highest. With an empty tank to fill and a full battery of energy to use for that.
Exercise / Getting Practical:
Today, whatever you’re going to study or work on, divide the time you had planned for that by 4, so you’ll have 4 study blocks in stead of just one and have 4 starting points today.
A highly effective amount tends to be 25 minute sessions, with 5 minute rest intervals in between -this is taken directly from the famous “Pomodoro Technique,” which is highly recommended- but if that’s too much for you, for our “be ready to execute whenever the world asks you to”-goal, it works with pretty much any amount of time allocated. It’s the “starting over” that we want to give some extra attention.
So even if you’d only planned to study 20 minutes – try in stead to do 4 sessions of 5 minutes. If the sessions are short like this, deviate a bit from Pomodoro by trying to spread the 4 blocks as equally over the day as possible (morning, midday, afternoon, evening).
On a larger scale: 5 daily study sessions of 10 minutes each, beats 1 weekly session of an hour. By a mile. So give practice often the preference over practicing long.
Make sure you’re ready for real life, accustoming yourself to the moment of instant execution by summoning that moment often – starting often.
Similar – Further Reading About This: Pomodoro Technique.