“Practice?” What’s That?

So what does “practice” mean to you?

I’ve been asked thousands of times how much I practice. And I’ve always given the stock answer: “I don’t practice, I just play for the love of it.” In my halcyon days of learning guitar and banjo I played 5-8 hours per day. I did it for fun, I did it for work, and I did it to socialize.

Somewhere, I’ve read or heard that it is estimated that it requires ca. 10,000 repetitions of any task for it to become automatic and easy. Now, simple math tells us that if one plays 5 hours a day, he will accomplish those 10,000 repetitions ten times faster than if he plays one half hour per day. Thus, the key to getting better is simply playing a lot. And, if possible, a whole lot.

Now, when I teach a piece, it’s usually to teach some particular technique or introduce a tuning, or for some other directed reason. Once the student can play it through “correctly,” i.e. rhythmically and showing a grasp of the reason I presented it, I usually say something to the effect of: ”Great! Now all you need to do is to play it a million times, so that it becomes automatic.”

But I also tell him “Look, if you don’t like the piece, don’t worry about it. Play what you enjoy. The skill sets are transferable, and the fact that you like it means you’ll really play it. In fact, you’ll probably have someone within earshot say: `You keep playing that same [expletive] thing over and over. Don’t you know anything else?’. This is how you know you’re making progress!”.

This is also the reason why playing with others is so useful. You’ll find that you tend to play the same things over and over for the sheer joy of it, so it never becomes “work.”

And progress comes rapidly. And when it’s fun, you won’t have any need for that nasty old “practice”!