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We only have so much time...


Many of us have been sold on this idea that setting aside time to practice each week is all it takes to become the musician you've always dreamed of. The truth is a little more complicated: Some ways of practicing are better than others, particularly once you've reached a certain level. If you really want to make strides, stop winging it and structure your practice sessions in ways that work. 

At Soundfly, we often reference the idea of deliberate practice, which was developed and promoted by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on expertise. Here are some of the core ideas:

1. Create highly specific practice goals for yourself

I studied jazz piano growing up. After a certain stage of my development, I noticed that even though I was practicing every day, I was no longer improving. Why? Because I was actually just using my practice sessions to play around on stuff I already knew. Repetition, it turns out, doesn't necessarily lead to improvement, especially if it starts to feel automatic. 

One way to tackle this is to create specific practice goals for yourself. "Practice this piece" or "write a new song" are too vague and broad. Instead, try setting goals like "play the melody of the A section three times without a mistake," or "write 5 different melodies that could serve as a chorus melody." Small, specific targets will help you focus and stay motivated. 

2. Focus on the areas where you need the most work

The other key element of deliberate practice is making sure that you structure those practice goals around the areas where you need the most work. The best learning happens on the edge of your comfort zone. This is why good teachers or coaches (or Soundfly Mentors) can be so effective — they help you identify those areas that you might not have been able to identify yourself just yet.

3. Vary and "interleave" your practice

When practicing those weak spots, it can also be helpful to shake up how you practice them through variation and something called interleaving. This basically means not spending too long on a single task, but learning things in parallel.

For instance, trying to master a new song with your band? Rather than just playing it on repetition for an hour, play it once or twice focusing on the weak spots, then move on to the next song for a bit. Then, come back to it again and focus on the spots in need of work again. Mixing it up in this way has been shown to make the learning stick more over the long term. 

4. Eliminate all distractions

Phone: off. Laptop: in another room. Eat: before you start playing.

As we talked about above, the best learning happens when you're fully engaged, not when you're on autopilot. We're in the Golden Age of Distractions, and the endless stream of notifications, emails, news alerts, and cat memes will only take you farther and farther away from time-efficient practicing. 

You already know this — we all know this — but it bears repeating because it's really, really hard to get right. 

5. Don't forget to schedule time for fun

Does all this mean that you should never just grab your ax and wail along to an Allman Brothers jam? No way. Make sure you're creating time to do what made you fall in love with music in the first place — just be honest with yourself about how much improvement that's supporting. 

Even though we need to be super-engaged when practicing new skills, it's actually just as important that we allow our brains to shut off, something called diffuse mode, to process the new things we're learning. Jamming in between focused sessions can be a great way to do that! 

If you want more resources for structuring your practice sessions, reply to this email and let's chat! Thanks to Patrick Maguire for helping out with this email!

Ian Temple, CEO & Founder

Here's what we're talking about on Flypaper this week. 
25 Times Accountants Appear in Rap Songs
Often it's paired in rhyme with “countin’,” as in bills, stacks, and parmesan. But sometimes rappers will pair the word with “mountains,” which is fun.
A Few More Resources on Practicing
The topic of smart practicing obviously means a lot to us. So over the years, we've written about the topic a handful of times on our blog, Flypaper. Here are some of our favorite resources!
Your challenge this week:
Write a chord progression heavy on 9ths

Ariana Grande's use of ninth intervals in both her vocal topline melody and the harmonic structure of "no tears left to cry" is an enormously clever device. Because this song shifts between a minor tonality (A minor) and its parallel major (A major), using the 9th scale degree on top of a simple triad (to create an Add9 chord) helps to make those transitions easier since the 9th (and 2nd) interval note remains the same. And not only that, 9ths make any old dull chord sound full, complex, and nuanced in a super hip way!

Write a chord progression heavy on the use of 9ths and record it however you can. Feel free to go the extra mile and try switching tonalities as well! 

There's always a Mainstage session right around the corner (next one starts Sept. 4), so share your new, sexy chord progression with us and earn a cuddly discount on your next mentor-guided course — or just for the fun of it!
San Francisco-based Mainstage student Ritwik Deshpande records as ALLSMILES. He's taken a bunch of Soundfly's free courses and is now plunging deep into Beat Making in Ableton Live. Influenced by artists as diverse as Flying Lotus, Arca, Tim Hecker, and more, we think he's already got a pretty good thing going!  

Check out his latest beat, entitled "We did not get what we wanted and it was alright."

Take me to a random article in the archives, please. Okay!

Anything you'd like to learn in an upcoming Soundfly Weekly issue? Send us an email and let us know!

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