If You Won’t Practice, Don’t Bother Learning

As I mentioned in my previous post, “practice makes perfect,” my childhood piano teacher, Corella Johnson, insisted that all her piano and organ students practice their instrument(s) at least 30 minutes a day. The first thing she did at every lesson was ask her students to play the piece of music they were learning, so that she could discern whether we had practiced it. Students who failed to practice, or whose practicing caused no measurable improvement in their playing, were asked by Corella to find another piano teacher. It was her philosophy that the 1 hour per week that her students spent in formal instruction was meaningless absent several more hours per week fine tuning their skill set. In addition to 30 minutes of “hands on” instruction on playing songs, all of Corella’s students were required to attend 30 minute of instruction on music theory. Music theory is not a riveting topic of study, but boy do I appreciate knowing about it! My bass guitar teacher is a professional musician and he credits my piano instruction with my, in his professional opinion, above average ability to play the bass guitar. In fact, he repeatedly tells me (and tells others, when I am not present), that I could become a professional bass guitarist if only I had more time to practice every day! I have transcended my view of learning about the bass guitar from saying “I am going to practice” to “I am going to play” or sometimes, “I am going to slappa’ da bass.” After all these years, I have come to appreciate Corella’s view of music instruction. Unless someone has a Paul McCartney like talent for something, the only way one will improve one’s skill is by repeatedly performing the task. And, if one does not enjoy playing (or doing whatever it is one is trying to learn), this is s good sign that one is unsuited for this avocation and perhaps, should find something else to do.

Childhood music lessons didn’t work well for me.  I tried guitar and piano but found I’d much rather go fishing or tromp through the woods than hone those skills.  Perhaps it was also because my early music lessons focused too much on fundamentals, rather than playing a song, these music experiences were not attractive to me.  Later, in taking up a band instrument, I improved my practice routines because it was more fun and I could hear how I fit into the entire song, which sometimes involved a brief solo.  I knew I had to get those right or be forever embarrassed by hitting the wrong notes.  And, there was a grade that would show up on my report card – that was motivating.  I wasn’t the natural musician type; I’m more mechanical/learned. Of course, in band, the key is following the same sheet of music as everyone so the song comes together collectively.  Thus, things worked out to practice and learn the music.  Those who did not practice never got the solos or an “A” on their report card.  In one’s career, though, unless one only does repetitive tasks as part of a job, like an assembly line, practicing to keep one’s skills sharp can be more challenging.  It is sometimes not a choice not to practice, but a reality that many jobs require high degrees of skill at multiple tasks and skills.  A strategy to enable one to maintain proficiency is to keep notes or detailed records of processes required for a task so that one can refresh one’s memory as needed.  We’ve created protocols to do just that for as many tasks as we can in our overall work routines.  Knowing there is a need to keep sharp is critical to high performance in work, and life’s activities.  

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