“Concentration is the root of all the higher abilities in man.”Bruce Lee
It’s been just over a year since I created my post about learning to play the guitar after 90-days of using Fender Play. The world has reopened in some places and life is slowing resembling something of what it was before the pandemic. Abundant free time to practice and learn is being eaten up with more outside social responsibilities. Even with the post-pandemic cycle picking up speed, I will carry a new hobby forward with me thanks to one particular particular skill I picked up in conjunction to strumming, picking, and chords; Deliberate Practice.
Near the end of 2020, I made a switch from practicing everyday to adopting a Deliberate Practice focus. Simply put Deliberate Practice is the type of focused learning and rehearsal of any skill or activity with an eye towards mastery. Malcolm Gladwell touches on it in “The Tipping Point” when discussing the 10,000 hour rule. Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit” focuses on the personality traits she attributes as most important to success in learning. The scholarly definition and process is best detailed in this article on Psychology Today.
Interestingly enough, it was my attempting to learn a different skill that made me reset my approach to learning the guitar. The structured lesson approach of the Duolingo language app and how quickly I was progressing highlighted for me the need to apply a time-blocking, achievement milestones, and routine tests in my guitar practice approach. Below is a time-lapse video of how a typical practice session works for me. In addition to learning from sources like Fender Play, I also go through a routine that gets me to practice my scales, finger dexterity, strumming speed, and various other techniques. It is this very deliberate and repetitive process that I have made any real significant progress.
I have come to learn that the deliberate practitioner won’t just rely on one source for skill development. An idea I’ve adopted recently is that you have to get a lot of REPS (repetitions) in to get good at anything. But doing the same thing over and over is not enough to get to that deep subconscious imprint to reach mastery. You have to learn across multiple mediums. Go out and read on the history of your interest, listen to podcasts, and watch how-to tutorials from masters.
It’s not all about the mechanical learning which really is just about the sheer volume of reps put in to develop the muscle memory. As you learn there is the aspect of refinement as your skill develops enough to discern between exceptional, average, and bad. In the case of playing the guitar, after awhile you are knowledgable enough to spot an out of tune instrument, what a difference the right strings and pick make, or when the amp is not set up correctly.
To that end I have started to employ some new tools for deliberate practice. I use the Pomodoro Technique to time block practice sessions and avoid burnout. I take to heart a lot of the lessons in “Deep Work” by Cal Newport to cut out distractions. I also practice the habit forming processes outlined in “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. I use the Productive App to keep me accountable and motivated to keep practice. I started playing along with my favorite artists and some friends. Most importantly, I try and have fun. I am not trying to become a pro, just develop a skill that provides an escape, sparks creativity, and brings a new found appreciation of the blood, sweat, and tears the professionals put into their craft. The video below shows how I play now and here is a link to that video from a year ago.