Deliberate Practice – Take Home Lessons from a Sean Ashby Guitar Workshop

guitar practiceOur art centre recently had the pleasure of hosting a guitar workshop with Sean Ashby – one of Canada’s most talented guitar players.  It was great to sit in on a workshop with a lot of people who are so passionate about music. Ranging from absolute beginners to experienced players looking to fine-tune their skills, we all learned a lot.

One of the topics that came up in the workshop was the art of deliberate practice. People often mistakenly assume that when someone else is good at something it is because they are a “natural” or have “a gift”,  and just as often a lack of “natural talent” is used as an excuse to not try.

Natural talent is important, I am a firm believer that everyone is born with some type of natural talent that is within them waiting to be discovered and embraced. However, natural talent can only take you so far, which is where deliberate practice comes in. Practice is the difference between having a talent and being truly great.

The idea of Deliberate practice can be illustrated in one of my favorite legends about Picasso, Picasso’s Napkin:

Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer went up to him and asked if he would do a quick sketch for him on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, did a quick sketch  and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather large amount of money.  The admirer was horrified: “How can you ask so much? It only took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me a lifetime”

We usually only see the final result of something; most of the time, we do not see the the countless hours of practice, the sacrifice, and the pure dedication people put into being exceptional. In Sean’s case, this included hours of practice a day at age 16 and leaving home early to pursue a music degree. His daily deliberate practice involved practicing the same notes and chords over and over, using a tape recorder to replay the same drills.

Sean’s most important piece of advice was to slow down –  forcing yourself to slow down is often the hardest part!  In a music sense, this means playing a piece much slower and more deliberately then you usually would. This not only allows you to learn the piece but learn how each note and chord interact with each other to make the song.

I know many people – myself included, often view practice as something necessary and to get through as fast as possible, so this was a revelation for me. Practicing is the journey, bringing you to even greater destinations then you would think possible. This hard work is the foundation to being great.

Like any skill you can learn how to practice deliberately and get the most out of the experience, no matter what talent you are developing. Here is how you can build deliberate  practice  into your routine, and teach your kids to do the same.

1. Break what you want to learn into small practicable parts. To use a very Canadian example, lets consider hockey. If your goal is to become a very good hockey player, or even just be able to hold your own in a pick-up game, you need to practice the “parts” that make up your ability to be a good hockey player. This might include practicing your skating skills, practicing your shooting, performing skill drills, keeping in shape in the off-season, even watching professional hockey in slow motion and recording your own games to look for ways to improve. Just going out and playing hockey, even if you play a lot, won’t make you much better unless you are conscious and deliberate about your practicing.

2. Set measurable goals. How do you know if and when you are getting better at something? You create a way of measuring yourself. There are some great ideas in how to do this in the post “Teaching Kids How to Make New Year’s Goals a Reality”.

3. Make time for Deliberate Practice. I’ll admit it, I quite often use the excuse of “not having enough time” when talking about things I would like to do. I have come to realize if I start using that excuse, it’s because I’m not sure it is something I REALLY want to do. The basic fact of the matter is every person on the planet has the same 24 hours a day, and for the most part it is up to you what to do with them.

Often we can find time by either replacing an activity that doesn’t really matter to us, or by creating the habit of practicing daily. If you are a regular reader, you know I am a believer that it takes about 30 days to create a new habit. If getting into the habit of deliberately practicing a skill or talent is something you would like to do, please check out the post  “Creative Kids 30 Day Challenge”. It will walk you through the steps you can take to turn anything you want into a regular habit.

4. Keep motivated. Becoming great requires dedication and hard work. Sometimes, it is hard to see that you are getting anywhere. Having a way of measuring your success definitely helps, as does surrounding yourself with people and experience that feed your creativity and encourage you in your endeavor.

Anyone, who is involved in a creative pursuit will have off days  and suffer from creative burnout. If you are willing to work through them you can be sure that you are doing something you love and is worth wile. However, if the practice itself is something you dread and is too much work, it is a pretty clear indicator that this is not your passion. When you find that one thing that excites you, the deliberate practice won’t seem like a big deal because you will be loving what you are doing.

Sean Ashby is a really inspiring example of someone who discovered his talent and passion for music and through years of practice has created a life and career for himself. If you have a chance to catch one of his shows, it is a great experience, made even better because it is so obvious he is doing what he truly loves.

Learning how to practice deliberately is a great skill that everyone can use. Have any thoughts on “Deliberate Practice?”  Please post below!

Posted in Children's Development, Creativity/Inspiration.

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