Practice Makes Perfect?

  1. Thom
  2. December 16, 2007 3:36 pm

We have all grown up hearing the familiar phrase, “Practice makes perfect!” There is the idea that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. But does it really end there, or is there something that your parents missed?

Practicing is really the process of creating a muscle memory, which is defined as “a phrase referring to the nervous system’s ability to memorize, or perform automatically, a well rehearsed motion.” Building a skill of any sort whether it be as simple as brushing your teeth or as complex as playing an instrument or dancing requires some form rehearsal. Do you remember what it was first like tying your shoes? You had to learn the steps, bit by bit, and then eventually stick them together. Now if you had to stop and retie your shoes, you could do it in seconds without having to dedicate any thought!
The problem with practice is that it can also work against you! Think back to when you practiced writing your letters. You would repeat them and rewrite them over and over to get them perfect. What if you always practiced writing your ‘u’ as a ‘v?’ Just as it would create a bad habit in writing, the same applies to learning an instrument. It is important that as you are learning and practicing that you are working on the habits your instructor has shown you. The more a bad habit is performed, the more it becomes hardwired into your brain. This illustrates my point that practice doesn’t make perfect, rather, practice makes permanent. The idea here is to slow down and retrain your brain to do what YOU want it to do, not what IT wants you to do. So how is this done? Step one is to


If you find yourself tensing up trying to figuring out a passage without anything cooperating, chances are you’re running on auto pilot. Get back into the conscious mode of thinking, and then slow yourself WAY down. This brings us to step two.

Gain Control

A friend of mine when teaching percussion purposely makes his students play each piece very slow for the first time. The reasoning is that you want to build the proper muscle memory. If you play something for the first time and tear through it haphazardly- you basically just created a bunch of circuits in your brain saying THAT is how to play what you just played! Wouldn’t it be easier to teach it to yourself correctly the first time? Once you have played it through and laid down the proper foundation, now its time to


Stay slow here! Don’t speed up yet! That same percussion teacher also makes his students rehearse their piece/passage until they have played it perfectly at least TWELVE TIMES in a row before allowing them inch up the BPM on their metronome. If you can master it at 40,41,42, etc. beats per measure, by the time you get up to your intended tempo of 100 it will be as easy as pie!


To be careful of frustration. Like we said before, just as you can practice good habits, you can also practice and MASTER bad habits! If you feel frustration and tenseness setting in…walk away! Grab a snack, watch some television, or whatever you need to do to relax. Then rinse and repeat :D


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