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Start at the End

Steven Pressfield tells us about a little trick screenwriters use to start developing a story. They start at the finish. They work out the climax first and then work backwards from there.
You can develop the same habit when you practice. First you figure out where you want to be, then you work backwards.

How can you do it?

Most times it’s easy because the Finish is given to you by external circumstances. It’s either a gig, audition, rehearsal, or music lesson.
Put the date of the gig into your calendar, then work backwards and determine what you have to practice to get there. To get there and play your best performance.

Practice Music like a Marathoner

I like running. I run 4-5 times a week. A while ago I got bored with it because I had been running for years but didn’t see any development. I was always on the same pace, no changes in weight or muscle tone. So I started to read about how to train and quickly learned why I didn’t make any progress. Now it seems so logical and I’m embarrased to not have come up with the solution myself. I ran the same 3 miles, same pace, same everything every time I went out on the track. Same material over and over. I hit a cap.

So I switched up the material. I started to do long runs, tempo runs, speed work, sprints, and some cross training to make my running more interesting and to get better results.

Within a couple of weeks I was able to run 15 miles without feeling overly fatigued, without muscle pains or insuries. I learned to run longer and faster, I’m in better shape and I lost a couple of pounds, too.

On my yearly physical the doctor told me I was actually younger than 3 years ago, meaning my body is in better shape now.

One thing stayed the same, though. I run. It’s what I love to do. I didn’t take up swimming, or cycling, or power yoga because I’m just not good and interested in doing these things. I run.

I only chose to switch up the material to get better results.

Focus on your strenghts

The idea here is to learn to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do (or what you’re not interested in). Usually, when you take a music lesson your teacher will tell you what you can’t do so you get aware of it. Once you know it you can work on making it go away. Wrong.

What it does, it shifts your focus on the things you can’t do and teaches you to develop a pattern of only seeing the things you can’t do.

It creates a lot of negative air.

Don’t learn based on negatives.

Instead, develop a mindset of looking at the things you really can do, things you’re interested in, things you really want to put 150% of your energy into.

Learn based on your positives.

Focus on the positives in your playing. Multiply those positives and don’t care about the negatives.

It is counter intuitive, but it works!

“This will lead to only practicing what you can already do and it will not lead to developing new skills!” is what I get in response. Wrong again!

To learn new things all you have to do is you need to work on challenging material. It’s not a matter of mindset. If you’re in the negative, new material seems harder than it is. New material triggers fear in most musicians. “Oh, man, I’m never going to be able to play THAT!” Why not?

Just focus on what you can already do. Practice new material with the focus on what you’ve got and expand from there in small steps.

Focus on your strengths. The flaws will seem smaller and the so called hard material will start to look a lot more friendly.

The only thing you have to do to prevent circling in your own comfort zone is to choose challenging and/or new material to forego hitting a cap.

Switch it up, keep it interesting.


Photography by Clive Flint on a Creative Commons License