With Learning Music, Fourth Time’s A Charm

Oct 18, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors shares effective practice techniques.

When you are struggling with doing anything physical, whether it’s riding a bike, shooting a basketball through a hoop or trying to do something challenging on your musical instrument, there’s always this great source of pride and joy when you finally get over that hurdle and achieve that goal.  

After shooting 50 baskets, you finally make one…yay!

After falling off your bike 50 times, you finally can stay on more than 10 feet…yay!

After playing that scale 50 times, you can finally do it with no mistakes once…yay!

And yes, you should absolutely celebrate these little victories.  Get yourself a cookie even.  C’mon…you’ve earned it, baby!

BUT…you ain’t really got it yet! 

There’s this thing that we musicians do when we finally can play something we’ve been working on.  We play it right once and go “Okay, I’ve got it now.  I can move on!”

Oh no.  No no noooo, my friend.  This is not the way of the Practice Warrior!  As I said just now, you ain’t really got it yet!  In fact, if you’ve actually played it over and over incorrectly, your body is actually more used to playing it wrong than playing it right.  Your body actually thinks (or rather, it has been trained) playing it incorrectly is the right thing to do.  Why? Because you’ve been playing is wrong so many times!

So, how do you retrain your body to play something correctly?  Well, you’ve got to play it correctly more than just once, right?  So have your cookie and celebrate your little achievement, and then play that thing again. Then again.  Then again. 

See, if you played something right once, that’s what I call a miracle

If you played it right twice, that’s what I call a coincidence. 

If you played it right three times in a row, that’s what I call luck. 

BUT…if you play it right four times, that’s what I call skill!  Now you’ve got it.  NOW you can move on.  

Don’t be surprised when you come back to play that thing again tomorrow, and it trips you right up again! That’s okay.  That’s normal.  Remember that your body is still assimilating what it finally got correct.  The good news is that, because you kept at it and played it correctly at least four times in a row, your body will more quickly be able to get back to playing it the right way.  It may only take you a few tries to start getting it perfect again.  

After a day or two, your struggle with what was kicking your butt will be an ancient memory.  In fact, you’ll wonder why it was so “hard” to play to begin with.  Of course, readers of these fine articles of mine (if I do say so myself) will know that nothing is easy and nothing is hard.  Things are only ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’.  When you play something you perceive as ‘hard’ and get it to where you can play it perfectly four times in a row, you will begin to see that thing now as ‘easy’.  Nope, you just became more familiar with it.  Simple as that.

Don’t fall into the trap of playing something correctly once and think you’ve got it and now it’s time to move on.  Play it again.  And again.  And again.  Don’t get bored with it; get excited!  Think of this: if you could make every basketball shot you took, wouldn’t that be fun?  Would you get bored shooting baskets?  Probably not.  So it goes with playing something musical that you can finally play right. Practice Warriors put in the time and effort, then they reap the rewards.  And so will you!

Remember, if you play something perfectly once, it’s a miracle.  If you play it right the second time, that’s just a coincidence.  If you play it right the third time, well that’s just luck, kiddo!  BUT play it perfectly with no mistakes for a fourth time in a row, now you’ve built up the skill to play that thing consistently for a long time to come.  You have finally learned a great secret of practicing effectively.  Celebrate. Do a little dance. Eat that damn cookie already!

Then get on to the next challenge.  You got this!

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, blogs and updates from Practice Warriors. Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

IMPORTANT: Please check your "Spam", "Junk" or other folders for our email, as we will be sending you an email to confirm your address.  Thank you!

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.

Become A Practice Warrior!

Become a Practice Warriors member and get unlimited access to our 14-Unit Masterclass, dozens of Musicianship lesson videos, interviews with top session musicians, access to regular live Q&A session, a membership forum to discuss practicing tips and much more. You'll learn how to practice like the pros in no time!

Start Your 14-Day Free Trial