by Daniel

posted on May 3, 2016.

Break down what you're learning

A lot of people give up on a skill because they find it “too difficult”, or daunting. Of course: everything worth learning is “too difficult” at the beginning! One of the keys to making progress is to figure out what different sub-skills or talents you need. And when you think you can’t break it down any further, you can probably still break it down a bit more.

The reason for this is that, if the chunks are small (simple) enough, you’ll understand them better, and you’ll be able to:

  • tell when you’re making a mistake
  • know how to correct those mistakes (and work on it)
  • understand how to practice
  • know when you’re confident in that sub-skill (or even when you’ve mastered it)
  • link to other concepts that you already know (movements, skills, knowledge…)
  • (when you learn other sub-skills later) find the connections between the sub-skills, the “bigger picture” that will allow you to be really talented
Music sheets

The Art of Composing website (very advisable if you’re into that) recommends starting with small and relatively standardised music formats

As an example: I’m right now trying to learn about music composition. Composing a symphony for an orchestra is obviously a huge task, so I’ve had to break it down in smaller ones, that I am now taking step by step: learning the building blocks about melody, learning basic music theory about chords, learning about the different sections in an orchestra (and their roles), etc. And even in each one of those, I’m subdividing into bite-sized pieces that I can chew on!

One challenge while subdividing is… what are the right blocks? What’s a good division? How can I decide what’s important if I don’t know anything yet! Well I’ve got two answers for you:

  1. This is not a linear process: learning goes in cycles. Figure out something that you know is important, and start learning it. After that you will be wiser, and know more about how to continue.
  2. Do you remember tip number 1, of getting acquainted with the field? You might have gone too fast through that one!

Once you have some first chunks of skill or knowledge that you’re going to chew on, you can start to repeat, but repeat wisely (next section >>).

This post is part of the “Hack how to learn a skill” series. Click here to go to the table of contents, or here to go to the previous section (<< previous section).


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