Practice Makes Permanent

music practice

Practice makes perfect. Well, not really. Vince Lombardi, arguably the most inspirational American football coach of all time said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”  

Prac·tice  /ˈpraktəs/ transitive verb: to perform or work repeatedly so as to become proficient (practice the act): to train by repeated exercises   (practice pupils in penmanship)

But, is achieving perfect practice realistic? Practice makes you better at something, but perfection is not always attainable.

It is better to focus, instead, on the permanence of practice. First, when we practice something regularly it makes a permanent habit. Permanence is about forming habits. Second, a regular practice habit permanently changes the neurological circuits in our brain. Two benefits for the price of one -- what a value! 

“Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Repeat the same mistakes over and over, and you don't get any closer to Carnegie Hall.”  Sarah Kay, No Matter the Wreckage

The Practice Habit  

Our job is to help our students create balance in their schedules to accomplish the important, instead of merely chasing the urgent. Does your student regularly put off practice until the night before a lesson? 

I will never forget the year that one of my high-school students, Derrick, neglected to practice Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring in the weeks leading to Christmas Recital. Derrick was up the entire night before the recital cramming. Needless-to-say, he did not give a stellar recital that year! (All was not lost: Derrick went on to graduate from a prestigious Naval Academy and served our country as an officer in the armed services. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson about procrastination.) Chasing the urgent resulted in disappointment and a debacle.

To make a practice habit, we must first recognize the problem behaviors and then correct the course. Often, this is a painful process. Studies show that it can take 66 days to make a habit automatic. That’s a long time, but how rewarding it is to create a new, good habit!

What old habits are preventing your student from making a practice habit permanent? Do they put off doing the important, in favor of placating the urgent? 

If you were a fly on the wall in my studio, you might hear me say, "When you practice, do __________.” Not if you practice, but when. Giving students specific goals helps them achieve a permanent practice habit and helps them master their craft.

Set Goals

Be specific. Give students defined tasks (each lesson) with mastery goals. For the little ones, maybe mastery is correct notes and rhythms in a song. For advancing students, goals like correctly interpreting rhythms, dynamics, pedaling, phrasing, or technique may be appropriate.

Finally, help your student make practice a top priority this year. Set a practice goal together (e.g. 15 minutes a day, five days a week). Practice apps, like Tonara, give students support during practice sessions, like keeping track of how long they practiced or even rating their performance. For non-techie families, why not attach a sticky-note to their lesson book so your student might tally their practice days? 

Making a practice habit doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Nothing is quite so rewarding (or enlightening, as the case may be) as seeing your practice progress. If you have ever kept a diet log, you will get my drift!

Making practice permanent is all about creating habits. Help your student create the permanence of habits by helping them to create a practice routine. Help them achieve the permanence of mind by habitually giving them specific practice goals.  

Start early, and help often.   

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