By Sanah Thakur
My family always glittered at the thought of me pursuing piano. I still remember the day the enormous jet-black instrument was wheeled into my living room, followed by a band of excited family members. Their expressions sighed with relief at the thought that maybe this one child would have missed the hereditary ‘inability to practice’ gene. Much to their dismay, in a few months, I found myself struggling to keep up. Looking back, I was quite sure I actually enjoyed playing the piano. However, my attempts at playing it were often limited to the duration of the piano lesson and multiple evenings passed where I casually avoided the existence of the instrument. Lesson after lesson, I saw myself gaining more knowledge about the notes and keys, yet the skill of playing seemed stagnant in improvement. To this, my teachers only had one answer: you have to practice.
There’s nothing in this world more consciously tiring and redundant than the act of practising. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell stresses on the fact that to be an expert in something, one needs to dedicate 10,000 hours of practice to it. While this seems almost impossible, we all have that one thing that we’ve either consciously or subconsciously practised for the same amount. But whether we aspire to be experts or just better at something, the act of practising can be highly painful even with high levels of competence.
During my only actual practice lessons, I found myself engaged in the knowledge of the music, understanding the notes and how one should place their fingers. Yet, learning psychologists highlight that there is a significant difference between intellectual understanding and actual skill development.
When you start learning a new skill/concept, it’s easy to believe that once we grasp the basic concepts and steps, it can be streamlined into execution. Well, 12-year old, piano exhausted me can tell you, that’s absolutely rubbish. I wish I did keep it up and understand why practising, noting feedback, refining the approach and practising again, for almost 45 minutes every day, can make one pretty good at something if consistently managed for a month (Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA). While there are millions of strategies to improve this process, in my column today, I decided to focus on the concept of ‘deliberate practice’, which caught my attention in Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit.
‘Deliberate practice’ refers to a type of practice that is different from the mindless repetitions of regular practice. The key aim in this practice is to approach each practice session with specific goals to improve. Sounds pretty much like the definition of practice doesn’t it? Well, the difference is, in each practice session, the key is to remain focused. While attempting to practice a new skill, sometimes we stop at just showing up and repeating the actions again and again. This is a natural human tendency to make repeated behaviours automatic habits, quite contradictory to the purpose of practice leading to improvement. To improve with practice, people who use deliberate practice, find a new target for improvement in each session. The process is quite simple, involving a total breakdown of the process into parts, finding weaknesses, testing and implementing new strategies for each part and then applying it to the whole learning process.
Today, I pass by my piano, haunted by the ghosts of my ancestors who wail around cursing the family gene – yes, practice is painful and not too many of us survived its burden. Yet, today I attempt at making up for lack of perseverance as a 12 year old by bringing about awareness to future brave students of the piano. Trust the process, focus your energy on improving and treat every practice session as a lesson – don’t be distressed by the process. Practice is meant to be painful, only then will the skill stop consciously hurting as much.
* The author can be contacted on Instagram @sincerelysanah