This is the second in a special series of episodes on how to tackle the biggest sticking points in your music learning. We recently surveyed our audience to learn about their experiences with music practice. The results were astounding! Across several hundred responses, we found a handful of really common and painfully frustrating practice issues – including, “How do I get the most results out of my practice time?”
To answer these big burning questions, we invited Gregg Goodhart, The Learning Coach, back on the show. Gregg is a leading expert on how to apply all of the latest scientific research and understanding of how the brain learns to skill acquisition, including in music.
In this episode you’ll learn a 3-step process you can use to get the most out of every minute of your practice. Start supercharging your learning today!
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Christopher: So, if it’s not a matter of just having enough time, what are we meant to be doing in that time, if it’s true that we can make progress in just 10 or 15 minutes a day, how do you spend that 10 or 15 minutes in order to get the results we’re talking about?
Gregg: Well, the good news is, and this is especially true when working in small periods of time, is that learning is simple, it’s just not easy. The simple part is a three-step process I used to represent the idea of deliberate practice which is the way all high efficiency learning works, and please, I encourage people to just look up deliberate practice and read about K. Anders Ericcson’s works since his first publication on the process in 1993.
Gregg: It’s a three-step process. You make a plan, think about it, of doing repetitions, you make a plan, “I’m going to work on this measure.” You do it, and then you reflect, “What could I do better?” It is that simple. “Well, maybe my finger went to the wrong place, it went too far to the left. Next time I’ll go try too far to the right.” It’s like watching a child learn to walk. And then the next time I went to far. And eventually, you end up where you are.
Gregg: However, it does become a little bit more labor intensive when the reflect piece is, “I’m not sure what to do there.”, and I think that’s where a lot of people end up. You get to a point where you plateau and you don’t know what to do next.
Gregg: In this area, cognitive science is extremely helpful. The answer is very varied depending on the situation and the student in any given time. It could be we need to apply contextual interference, which is the miracle plateau-breaker. It could be an issue of mindset, Carol Dweck’s work on what I call, why humans can’t get out of their own way when it comes to learning.
Gregg: Once you start to see, “Oh, it’s because of how I felt about doing this.”, and you put it in perspective. It could simply be understanding why accuracy is important in how neural networks are built in the brain. It could be building certain bits off self control in your pre-frontal cortex. And even any of those, for instance, when I say contextual interference, that has a good 30, 40 strategies underneath that heading too, which then need to be taught in their own right.
Gregg: So yes, it is very simple, Apply deliberate practice, but it is not easy because you will have to go looking for answers and that’s why I’ve gotten into what I am doing. The art of teaching really is, where and when, with people, do you apply what? And the art of that is putting everything in the right place at the right time so that progression happens, so that as deliberate practice continues, you are never left without an answer in the reflect stage because becoming good or great is simply about solving the problem in front of you.
Gregg: Don’t worry about 16 problems or where I’m going to be. Can I perform? As the great jazz pianist Bill Evans says, “Approximating the product.” Don’t worry about approximating the product. You’re learning. The person you see doing the product was there right with you at one time. The exact same place. They had to go through it, there was no miracle jump. So don’t worry about approximating the product, find the solution to the problem in front of you and that happens by using deliberate practice and having access to the best science-based information.
Christopher: Tremendous. I feel like I should go back and record an extra segment for our interview with Professor Anders Ericcson and our episode about deliberate practice to point out, it’s not your fault if you try doing deliberate practice and you struggle. As you say, it really came through in the survey results. People have heard of this, they get the idea, but then they just get stuck trying to apply it and they don’t know how to do that reflect stage or they can’t figure out how to do the next iteration of the loop. So I think it’s going to be valuable to them to know that there are specific strategies to apply in that situation.
Gregg: If I may, there is a huge gap between the research and the actual practice and there is enough Dunning Kruger to go around on both sides. The Dunning Kruger effect, which says the less you know about something, the less you’ll realize you’re doing it wrong. People, and I want to say this correctly, people in the research field are very proud of their work and should be. It’s amazing. But they think it’s the be all, end all. Sure. Deliberate practice is everything if you have all the right information.
Gregg: He’s studying people who are going to the best music conservatories, going to lessons with some of the best teachers, so when he finds deliberate practice, of course it works with all that information. There is a great gap in researchers explaining what needs to be done in a way people understand and understanding the other elements besides their research that’s necessary.
Gregg: On the other side, teachers are not trained, our schools of education are separated from cognitive science, teachers are not trained in this, the best most teachers do is they see some report on the news about, try this or that and we try a little bit of it. But we don’t do enough. And we don’t know the big picture of learning how it works. A great example of this is Carol Dweck’s Mindset work, which I think is crucial. And hers is one of the top three books I recommend for people to read about learning. I will say I’m aware that there are issues with replication going on now. I’ve read the divergent opinions. I’m very comfortable recommending Mindset still at this point.
Gregg: Anyway, she has this, if you’ll just stick with it, if you won’t get frustrated, you’ll get it. And one of the complaints is, “Well, she’s not accounting for what it is you’re doing during that time.” She takes for granted and doesn’t realize, and I love her work, and doesn’t realize that that’s not enough. It’s not. You need to be doing deliberate practice. You need to have the right information, you need to know what contextual interference is.
Gregg: And this is a wide, wide gap, and I’m now in it, and I can’t find anyone else here because I’ve been looking. I’m looking for friends in this area. And it’s something that I think is the great revolution in teaching now. This idea that some people can study music and get good and some can’t. Some people can study math and get As and some get Cs and bless their heart, they all tried.
Gregg: No, they didn’t all do it the same way. And this is very nuanced. So a lot of this if is you say, “I found deliberate practice and I am trying it.”, for instance, did you know the plan, do, reflect model? Erickson never talks about that. I came up with that to explain it. And I’ll tell you, when I went to Florida State and did a residency there, he showed up at one of my lectures. And as I got to that slide, I realized, he didn’t do this. I did. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I hope he…” Anyway, we talked later and he said it was a fine representation and he endorsed it. He was fine with it.
Gregg: But it’s this explaining of it. It never occurred to him to explain it in a simple three-step process. And it’s that where there is a great lack and need and education. And it is in there that people experience working, but not making progress.
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