The Ideas Behind PracticeMind: The Complete Practice Model

By Hans Jørgen Jensen

You’ve likely heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” While this statement does not tell the whole story, performance ability is indeed directly related to practice quality. Therefore, the better a musician practices, the better they perform. So, are the deck of cards stacked against you if you don’t already play well? No. Fortunately, the more you improve your practice ability the better you become as a performer. It has always been clear to me first as a young cellist and later as a teacher that to develop the skill of playing a musical instrument to a high level it is necessary to have great practice skills.

Important fundamental skills

As a teacher the first two skills that I teach my students are:

1. Developing a natural playing technique
2. Developing effective and efficient practice skills

A student spends one hour every week with their teacher in their lesson but spends anywhere from 6 to 30 more hours alone in their practice room. It should be clear to anybody that to develop as a musician in a productive way those hours spent alone in a practice room better be used in the smartest way possible!

How humans learn and develop mastery

Over the past century, a tremendous amount of research has explored the mysteries of how humans learn and develop mastery. More recently, music cognition scholars have applied this information to their research into the most effective and efficient ways for music students to learn and master a musical instrument.

A small section from an illustration from PracticeMind by Andrea Ucini

I have always been extremely interested in studying the latest research and findings in the study of expertise and performance throughout the fields of sports, music, neuroscience and beyond. The process of always searching for new and better ways of studying and teaching and using that information with my students creates a learning environment that is alive in the moment, fun, exciting and never boring!

The joy of learning

Since every person is unique it has always been important to me as a teacher to nurture and develop that quality to its fullest in each student. Teaching the fundamental technique of playing an instrument is important but teaching students to celebrate and cultivate their own uniqueness in the practice room is the best and most important practice tool that anybody could ever want.

When practicing a musical instrument, it is of paramount importance to realize how exciting practicing can be when done in the most imaginative and creative way. To play and repeat the same thing over and over is not only not fun and not helpful, but it also makes practicing one of the most boring activities that can be imagined. Too many repetitions and the brain turn off and creativity and learning stops. Finding a creative way to practice that works in synergy with your own unique personality and learning style is highly beneficial and will propel your progress to higher levels.

Human beings love to travel and explore new places because we are experiencing new things and often have no idea what will come next. When bringing that kind of attitude with us to our daily practice it becomes an exciting activity to do and is suddenly something that we really look forward to doing each day.

Looking, searching, and always exploring for new and better ways of doing things makes us totally engaged and present in the moment. This in turn creates an environment where real learning takes place.

Making mistakes is a natural part of performing

Making mistakes is a totally natural part of daily life and is one of the most important learning tools we have. In a concert situation when a performer or performers are focusing their creative energies on giving the music its true meaning, errors that might happen are not very apparent. However, when a performer is focused rather on not making mistakes and makes grimaces when mistakes happen, the audience takes note. Playing expressively takes risk and the more risk we take the higher the probability for making mistakes. It is important therefore for performers to find how much they can let go to their inner creativity without losing the technical control of their instrument.

In professions such as medicine and aviation, accepting, understanding, and reacting to errors in the right way are of extreme importance. Over the past few years, music psychologists have also started to confirm that a constructive approach to errors incorporates informative feedback and error correction during the learning progress.

How to use the information in PracticeMind

Linear learning, whereby new concepts are developed and learned step-by-step is great for novice learners and should always play a small part in everybody’s practice. However, a non-linear studying approach works extremely well for mastering and learning new skills and techniques at a high level.

One of the learning techniques we recommend in PracticeMind is to select a chapter with something that you are interested in or have trouble with. Spend the necessary time to experiment with the new concept to give the ideas time to work. It is important to understand that developing different concepts of practicing takes time but once the concepts start working improvements happens quickly. Understanding that great practicing takes patience alongside reflective thinking is also very important.

“Metacognition”, one of the chapters in PracticeMind, is such an important part of cultivating an effective practice mind. Because Metacognition is an awareness of one’s thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them, it should be used all the time when practicing. The exciting part is that each person must find their own unique ways of using metacognition.

Great performers complete metacognitive calculations in just a few seconds, intuitively, without even realizing all the steps that their brains process in an instant. For less experienced players, working through these concepts step by step helps to illustrate the progression of thinking needed for developing a great practice mind.

Click here to view more info or to purchase PracticeMind, (Ericsson et al., 1993; Ericsson, 1996).

Metcalfe, J., & Shimamura, A. P. (1994). Metacognition: knowing about knowing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.