Archive for May 30th, 2009

Continuing with some notes from Dan Coyle’s The Talent Code. The single most important factor in developing any skill is effective practice — what Coyle calls “deep practice.” He gives three rules for deep practice:

Rule 1: Chunk it up. Break down the skill into its component parts. Chunking takes place in three dimensions:

a. Absorb the whole thing. This means spending time staring at or listening to the desired skill . . . as a single coherent entity. Example: Ray LaMontagne, a shoe factory worker at age 22 decided he wanted to be a singer. He bought dozens of albums by Otis Redding, Al Green, Ray Charles, and others and spent two years listening to them, singing along with them, until he could reproduce their sound. Eight years after he started this he made an album. Sold nearly a half million copies.

b. Break it into chunks. Break a skill into its components; memorize those pieces individually, then link them together in progressively larger groupings.

c. Slow it down. Going slow allows you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision. It also helps you to develop a working perception of the skill’s “internal blueprints.” At the famous Meadowmount School of Music in upstate New York, one teacher has this rule of thumb: if a passerby can recognize the song you’re playing, you’re not practicing it correctly.

Rule 2: Repeat it. There is no substitute for attentive repetition. What’s the simplest way to diminish the skills of a superstar (short of inflicting an injury)? Answer: Don’t let them practice for a month. Vladimir Horowitz says, “If I skip practice for one day, I notice. If I skip practice for two days, my wife notices. If I skip practice for three days, the world notices.” But, when it comes to “deep practice” more is not always better. Anders Ericsson’s research shows that most world-class performers practice between three and five hours a day, no matter what skill they are pursuing.

Rule 3: Learn to feel it. Deep practice involves the feeling of straining toward a target and falling just short. Deep practice involves a cycle of distinct actions: 1. Pick a target; 2. Reach for it; 3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach; 4. Return to step one.

It’s the feeling of being a staggering baby who is just learning how to walk. “The staggering babies embody the deepest truth about deep practice: to get good, it’s helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad. Baby steps are the royal road to skill.”

[to be continued]

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