The Essence of Deep Practice + How to Diagnose and Address Your Practice Weaknesses

“In a single sentence, what is the essence of effective practice?”

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way.

It’s something like that. That speaks to what the process of practice and the pursuit of mastery entails and requires in order for progress to be made.

Practicing for progress.

Of those components, which do you struggle with the most?

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

Do you have a clear goal? If not, it’s time to get one.

Otherwise, you will wander around aimlessly, and your efforts will be diluted, ineffective, and frustrating. 

Too often, you will confront the felt sense of futility and pointlessness that can come with guitar practice. And that’s a vicious feeling that destroys momentum and kills motivation.

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

Are you consistent with your practice? If not, it’s time to get this dialed in.

Ask, how can I make guitar practice unavoidable, non-negotiable, and inevitable? 

Otherwise, your progress will be sporadic. 

It’ll be hard to see or notice, which can be discouraging. 

You will be less likely to do the deep work that is required to improve. 

You’re less likely to engage in the uncomfortable and intense process of pushing yourself during your sessions, because you will feel like you’re always or often having to “catch up” with your former level of ability. 

So you spend your sessions reviewing and maintaining ground that you’ve already covered instead of forging ahead into unexplored and unconquered territory. 

If your practice isn’t consistent, you are more likely to feel like you are “falling behind” and the sense that the stakes are higher for how you should spend your time during the limited time that you have tend to––counterintuitively––lead to counterproductive decisions. 

You try to bite off more than you can chew, or you work on too many things at once, or you just get overwhelmed and can’t make up your mind about what the best thing to practice might be so you revert to noodling instead.

The things you wrestle and struggle with in one session end up being loose ends that, with any luck, your brain will incubate on in between sessions, and you’ll be able to tie up (bring to completion, resolve) in your next practice session (though sometimes it can take a few sessions, depending on the extent of the challenge).

This cycle of Struggle > Incubation > Resolution is astoundingly powerful. But you miss out on its benefits if your practice isn’t consistent.

There are so many downsides to not being consistent with your schedule, but there are just as many––if not more––benefits to keeping one.

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

Next… Are you pushing yourself during your practice sessions? If not, it’s time to challenge yourself to step up your game.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of Deep Practice to stick to. 

We seem to have evolved to conserve energy and stay as comfortable as possible for the sake of survival. By conserving energy, we can better respond to threats and challenges in our immediate environment should the time come. 

We are deeply incentivized to not push ourselves, as a matter of life or death, and it’s been this way for a long time.  

This is a very powerful resistance that we meet every time we step into the practice crucible. 

Pushing yourself in Deep Practice is like confronting and battling a lion. Noodling or avoiding the guitar altogether is a readily-available alternative at all times, and it’s analogous to vegging out on the couch. 

Would you prefer the lion or couch? 

Most of the time, we aren’t in a fighting frenzy, ready to take on the lion.

Most of the time, the couch calls, and it wins.

So be easy on yourself for not being willing to push yourself. It seems to be our default condition. 

However, remember that you must push yourself and get in the habit of doing so in order to make progress. 

The second difficulty when it comes to pushing yourself is often the questions, “how hard do I push myself? How often? And how far is too far?” 

The Sweet Spot is where you want to be––where there are mistakes happening, but the mistakes are manageable and correctable and you correct them.  

You want to spend as much time in the Sweet Spot during your practice session as you can manage without straining yourself in a manner that can lead to injury (either immediately or over time through repetitive stress). 

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

The next piece is… do you know where you’ve been before?

It’s one thing to push yourself toward a clear goal that you have in mind and to be consistent about it… but do you recognize progress when it occurs? 

Are you measuring yourself along the way? If you don’t know where you have been, you won’t have a clear idea of what pushing yourself actually means.  

If you are attempting to do things that you haven’t done before, it’s quite helpful to be aware of what those previous accomplishments and benchmarks are. 

I solve this problem with Gamification, a method that measures the true indicators of progress on the guitar––Control, Clarity, Consistency, and Musicality and their sub-metrics––and tracks your improvement in an objective manner over time.

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

Are you capable of concentrating fully on the task at hand? If not, it’s time to focus up.

Otherwise, your efforts will be scattered. 

You will get distracted during your sessions and start watching YouTube videos instead of practicing (though if you’re like me, you might watch guitar-related content so you can scratch the itch and delude yourself into thinking you are doing something productive even though you’re not). 

You will be unable to spot errors that need to be corrected because your full attention isn’t devoted to the task. 

You won’t be able to sit still long enough to learn something difficult, let alone play it up to speed. 

You won’t be able to notice the sensations in your body that are helping or hampering your playing efficiency. 

Without focus, almost everything that is required in order to practice, improve, and properly play your instrument goes out the window. Focus is the foundation to everything else.

  • Increase your willingness and desire to focus by decreasing stimuli.
  • Increase your capacity to focus by decreasing interruptions.
  • Increase your ability to focus by increasing your focus duration.
  • Increase your propensity to focus by being consistent about it.

Now let’s look at the last part…

With a clear goal in mind, you consistently show up to push yourself beyond where you’ve been before, and concentrate fully on correcting errors along the way. 

Are you able to spot and fix your errors and mistakes along the way? Not just the errors in the notes, but in your technique and ergonomics, and all of the Metrics That Matter (including Timing and Noise Reduction)?

The way to give yourself this ability is to first understand what you are looking for (or listening for).  

You want to know what “correct” sounds like, and know what “incorrect” sounds like. 

In the case of the guitar… Here are some Deep Dive videos that can help you with becoming familiar with each of these aspects of your playing, so you can spot them when they happen, and correct them in real-time: 

Control


Clarity


Please note: For maximum clarity you actually want to place your finger directly behind the fret, not the center of the fret. I developed the bad habit of playing smack-dab in the middle of the fret and though it seems intuitive, it’ll take away from the crispness of the notes.

Consistency


Musicality


If you’ve made it all the way to the end here, you’re now intimately familiar with the essence of Deep Practice… and how to diagnose where you are falling short in your Deep Practice efforts, and how to course correct accordingly. 

May this blueprint serve you well. 

Remember that we’re in this together; playfully practicing and always improving. 

Deep Practice requires effort, but it’s worth it. Because you have music to make that no has ever heard. 

And I’m standing by to hear it 🙂 

Joshua 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.