Maybe you’ve tried and gradually faded off practicing your music. Family, friends, things get in the way.
I spent 8 hours practicing the way to park a car perfectly (yes, you read that right– I don’t have a license yet), and fully realized something that many people, including myself, often miss when trying to master a skill.
When would focussing on quantity (not quality), help us improve more?
Why should we focus on quantity (not quality)?
Simply because quantity leads to quality. The more you do, the more you refine mistakes, the more you learn.
Let’s get this straight: we’re not ignoring quality, we’re aiming for higher quality, quickly. By doing more.
In his book Art & Fear, David Bayles describes a case study where a ceramics teacher divided his class into two groups: the group on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on their quantity of work, and those on the right solely on their quality.
On the last day, the teacher brought in a bathroom scale to grade the “quantity” group; 50 pounds of pots gives an “A”, 40 pounds gives a “B”, and so on.
The other group, being graded on “quality”, only needed to produce one pot– the perfect one– to get an “A”.
Interestingly, the group that produced the best work was the “quantity” group, that had made the most pots.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
What this means for musicians
Let’s take one of my favourite composers, Chopin. If I’m learning how to play rubato and I practice one piece until I’m dead (tired), then I might have a 1 piece in my “repertoire,” and not a lot of quality.
No fancy graphics today– quantity over quality. ;)
If I focus on learning as many of Chopin’s pieces as possible, I might not start with great results, but I’ll fix my mistakes for the next piece, and the next, and the next. I’ll learn rubato more quickly, than if I were obsessing over one piece.
The raw talent comes after you get past the common mistakes that trip everyone up. You can’t get past that if you’re obsessing over the first piece.
In his song Spaceship, Kanye West (a college drop-out who’s now worth $20 million) claims to have “done 5 beats everyday for 3 summers.” He learned most of his skill for music production by doing it.
This goes for anything we’re learning: teaching music, writing, designing, or even composing music. Just start– there isn’t a perfect time.
How many hours a day should I practice?
If we’re robots in a twisted world, we’d practice as many hours as possible.
In our world, it’s as simple as telling ourselves to practice 34 minutes a day. Composing one piece of music a week. Setting a small goal. Then motivating ourselves to do it.
There is no magic number for practicing– it depends on the goal you’re working towards.
If your goal is to master a skill, then begin by going through as much as possible. Don’t yo-yo practice a 5 hours every few months– just do a little, but consistently. It takes an average of 21 days to form a habit, so it should be easier to get up and practice after the first hurdle.
A girl named Karen Cheng taught herself to dance by doing it for 100 days. She didn’t wait around for the perfect role model or music (and neither should you!)– she filmed her progress in her video that went viral.
When Karen Cheng was a project manager at Microsoft, she realized that she wanted to become a designer. She rushed home after work everyday to master the design skills on her own. It took 6 months for her to get hired as a designer at Exec, beating out the 4-year design school grads.
I’ve spent a few months learning how to drive. After rear-ending two things in the parking lot, my reflexes aren’t so spidery on the brake anymore– those small bumps didn’t even hurt– driving is no longer terrifying.
Quality and quantity matter, but at different points in time– focus on quantity when you need to learn.
What’s one skill you’re trying to improve? I’d love to hear about it– join the conversation by leaving a comment below.