When I was going to college practice time was like a badge of honor. If you practiced more than everyone else, you are going to get better. Malcolm Gladwell refers to it as “putting in your 10,000 hours.” So all you’ve got to do is put in your 10,000, right?
That’s of course, an incomplete answer. If I spent 10,000 hours playing as loud as I could, I wouldn’t be any closer to playing trumpet well. There has to be a system. There has to be structure.
Start with the notion that time spent does not equal progress. Sure, Lots of time will be required, but the quality of that time is just as important. How can I be sure that I’m doing the right things? Here’s five qualities to aim for.
1. Keep a practice log. (You could use evernote). Keep it simple. Start by listing the date. Write down your objectives. Write down what materials you’re using. Write down any notes you have about whether it’s working or not.
2. Talk to mentors, friends, etc. Don’t go too long without getting advice. It’s too easy to keep going down the same holes over and over again. Fresh perspective is essential.
3. Avoid overpractice. I messed this one up in college. Too much time spent on the wrong things, or with no focus. I liked being the hardest worker, but it wasn’t getting me where I needed to go. Treat practice like a task with a goal.
4. Expect to improve. Most of us have labels we place on ourselves. That we aren’t a ______ kind of player. Or we always have trouble with ________. Forget about it. Assume a blank slate and just work. Don’t expect to sound the same tomorrow.
5. Be satisfied with small achievements. If you improve by 1% each day you’ll be way ahead in a few years time. Don’t expect vast changes overnight. You’ll be disappointed. Remember the phrase “People overestimate what can happen in a day, but underestimate what can happen in a year.” If you’re committed to small improvements, you’ll make progress.
It’s easy to write about this method of practice, but tough to maintain the discipline to do it. But if you’re disciplined enough to practice, you’re disciplined enough to practice with structure and intent.