Effective Practice


Over the years as a musician and a magician I have been asked hundreds of times how to get better at playing an instrument or how to get better at a certain sleight etc… Usually the conversation goes on and I find out that the person does not really put any effort into learning how to do whatever it is, or that they are spending several hours a day practicing, and just not getting any better. More often than not I find that the root of the problem is that they don’t really know how to practice, more specifically they do not know how to practice effectively.

For this post, and a few more let’s look at practice, and how to do it effectively, but to make sure we are all on the same page, let’s get a definition.

What is Practice?

Webster’s Dictionary says the definition of practice is:

to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient

or

to train by repeated exercises

There are two tips for effective practice I want to review today.

The first tip is Minimizing Distractions. You want to practice in a place where you are less likely to get disturbed, and where you don’t have to worry about disturbing others. I know my wife hates the sound of me shuffling cards nonstop, or coins clinking and ultimately falling to the floor, so it’s best to try and find a place that’s out of the way. Also having a place you go to practice, lets others you might be around know that you are trying to work, and they will be less likely to disturb you.

There is really no way you can eliminate all distractions all the time, but the more distraction you can eliminate the better. In a perfect world it’s nice to have a dedicated practice space, where you can leave your things out, and have all of your books, and videos available so you can reference them quickly if you need to. The place where you practice should be a place where you are comfortable, but yet not so comfortable that you will not get any work done. Practice is work. Let’s just hope that it is work that you really like doing. Let’s tie in the definition from earlier. You are working at a task repeatedly so as to become proficient.

Recommendations for you practice space.

I have a mirror in my space, and the ability to setup my phone/camera to record my practice. We can talk about the mirror and camera more later, but I highly recommend you have a mirror, and a camera.

No Facebook! Log off of social media. When you are trying to get the most out of a short period of time, social media just gets in the way.

Phone off/or silent. One text, or email, or, dare I say it, even a phone call can completely throw you off. Put your phone in airplane mode so you can use the camera or clock if you need to.

The next tip is to Set Goals

There is a time and place for mindless practice, and we can talk about that later. For an effective practice session, you need to know what you are doing before you start. Here are some questions you can answer to help you plan a practice session.

How long am I going to Practice?

You can get a lot done in 5 or 10 minutes if you are doing it right. Set a realistic time frame that you can actually achieve. How much time do you really think you can spend diligently working on something without getting distracted, or bored and feeling like you should move on to something else? Don’t overdo it. Your practice session can lengthen over time. Most people can only work on one thing in an effective way for about 20 minutes at a time, so even if you are going to take a much longer practice session, change what you are doing every 20 minutes or so.

What is the goal for this practice session?

This is where you decide the reason for your practice. You can have easy short term goals that can be achieved in one session, or long term goals that you are working to achieve over many practice sessions. I might be very informal and say, hey I have 20 minutes, I’m going to work on the coin move I read in last month’s Genii magazine, or something more formal and decide that for the next 2 weeks I’m going to spend one hour every day developing and rehearsing my restaurant sets to try and make the transitions flow more smoothly.

Write your goal down somewhere to help you stay focused during your practice time. I have a whiteboard I use that’s in my space, but I have also just written my goals down on a piece of paper.

I hope you have found this little discussion on practice helpful! Let me know what you think in the comments, and let me know if there is anything about practicing you want to discuss. I plan on sharing more about practice tips and techniques soon.