by Daniel

posted on May 10, 2016.

Repeat, but repeat wisely

This is probably the oldest trick in the book, but no less powerful. But you have been warned: repetition for repetition’s sake might not get you great results. And it’s just boring.

One skill that I started working on a long time ago (and still do… learning is a life-long experience) is guitar-playing. And in that journey, I’ve had conversation with other musicians about the amount of hours of practice per week that I or they dedicated.

Now I know that hours is the wrong type of indicator (not that this knowledge has increased or decreased my guitar-playing). Time is not a good measurement of how well (or how much) you’re repeating!

For it to count, your practice must be:

  • Focused: if your mind is elsewhere, better take your body there. But when you’re practicing your skill, you should aim as much as possible to be in a state of flow. Make sure that you know what you want to practice (what it is that you’re repeating), and how it should look like (i.e. when you’re making mistakes). Doodling around means you can’t really go wrong, and that means you’re not really focused.
  • Short: we get tired. Of everything. Even when we’re in flow. We can convince ourselves that we’re focused for two hours, but data says you’re more likely to be lying to yourself. A lot of short repetitions can take you a longer way than a long session.
  • Constant: time fades our memories, as well as the stuff that we are learning. But if we reactivate after a short time, our brain will make a much stronger connection. That means that practicing every day will create stronger memories or skills.
All in all: practice in focused, short, spread-out and constant sessions Click To Tweet
Kyeema, one of my electric guitars

Meet Kyeema, one of my electric guitars. Ok, I have to admit, most of my conversations haven’t been about hours of practice, rather about objects of desire like this one

Back to my guitar example, I can tell that those times in which my guitar-playing was most improved, I was playing every day, grabbing my guitar relatively often, and I had clear goals (learning particular solos, having clear songs to play, etc.). I’m not sure if the practices were short, but there were definitely many of them!

In music what you play is just as important as the silence that you leave between notes. In the same way, after practice sessions you have to let it sink (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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