Why rehearsal isn’t practice

Seth Godin wrote in a recent blog post: "Great teachers teach commitment" but we spend too much time concentrating on teaching technique. He believes that anyone can learn to be good at something if they choose, but unless they find a desire to commit to it they stand no chance of getting there.

Have you ever put the cart before the horse in your relationship with music?

Maybe you've said, 'I'll commit to this instrument/genre/project if I'm good at it', and so half heartedly play about while allowing your concentration to meander all over the place. Unless you know what it means for you to commit first then you quickly lose interest when it gets hard and you hit the 'messy middle'.

Seth says that 'a committed student with access to resources is almost unstoppable'. Isn't that the truth?

I wrote a blog post recently (www.andymort.com/best-tools) about our tendency to obsess over picking the best tool before starting. There is something similar at work here. Our intention to commit to a new hobby, pursuit, or project is on the condition that first we do a lot of research and get hold of the best possible tool for the job.

This can be a huge issue for musicians. We can spend our whole life putting off true commitment to our craft. Yet it is of paramount importance to us exploring our potential to commit ourselves, wherever we are, with whatever we have at our disposal to learning, exploring, and practicing.

It is this third aspect of commitment that I really want to encourage you to do.

Practice vs Rehearsal

The key that sets great performers apart from the rest of us is that they know the difference between non-objective driven practice, and event-specific rehearsal.

A while back I realised that I had slipped into a bad habit that is common for musicians. I only picked up my instruments when I needed to rehearse for something specific. This directed my routine in a very narrow and performance-centric way, running through material to sharpen up the edges of songs I knew inside out. But I was growing bored. It was becoming tedious, drifting along with my music, playing songs I had played a lot and even when writing new material, doing so in a formulaic and safe manner.

I had remembered to rehearse, but forgotten to practice.

There has been a lot written about the findings of K. Anders Ericsson and John Hayes in their research on the correlation between long periods of deliberate practice and the success of those who engage in it. 10 Years of Silence and the 10,000 hours rule that was later popularised by Malcolm Gladwell.

But we don't put in hours of practice with the vague hope that in a decade we will become a genius. That is not a strong or concrete enough reason to inspire us to develop the habit of long and sometimes arduous hours at the gym, at the piano, or writing. The maybe-success in the distance is little more than a by-product of a series of much smaller wins in the process of truly committing to your life's work.

Practice is an active response to this commitment and brings us some surprising benefits.

1. Intrinsic Pleasure of Exploring The World
When we practice we create space for unexpected exploration and growth in our ability. The habit and routine of practice provides a platform for us to push what we're doing, and enjoy the intrinsic pleasure that comes from developing.

2. Discover Your Limits and Thought Processes for Extending Them
Practice takes us on this journey of growth which takes a cyclical form as we push ourselves through each level. You generally experience lots of progress at the start, then you hit the hard and messy middle where it feels like you're getting no where, before finally the breakthrough comes and you can suddenly do the thing you've been working on.

Developing the mindset to keep going through the tough parts is an invaluable skill. The breakthrough will come. Maybe not today, but today was a vital stepping stone to getting there.

3. Discover Unexpected Avenues that Need Time To Open Up
When you engage in consistent and deliberate practice you might feel drawn to explore unexpected places. Perhaps it's a direction or genre you feel compelled to explore, or maybe a technique.

Practice creates and provides time for you to get into these things because you're not worrying about a deadline or show that you are supposed to be preparing for.

4. Stumble Upon New Ideas
If you are creative then practice is a ripe and ready breeding ground for new ideas. Some of the most revered artwork that's ever been made is or contains elements that were stumbled upon accidentally by their creator. We find ideas when we make mistakes, when we're working on something we can't yet do, and during those moments when we're playing about without the intention of creating anything in particular.

5. Learn About Yourself and Your Passions
As you practice you discover more about who you are and what you're capable of. The discipline of commitment refines your character and ability, and it points you in the direction of what you love to do.

You don't decide what you're passionate about; passion is rather something you practice yourself towards.

6. Build Healthy Habits
Practice is all about habit-building. Commitment is a habit. It's saying yes even though you don't feel like doing it today and it brings its own reward: knowing that you have done something to contribute real value and growth (even if the breakthrough hasn't come today) to your life.

Cultivating the habit of practice has all sorts of implications for building other healthy habits.

Over to You

Do you find it easy to commit yourself to practice? What gets in the way?