I once had a conversation with my guitar teacher about practicing. It went something like this:
Teacher: “How much do you practice?”
Me: “About 45 minutes a day.”
Teacher: “Tell me what you do on a typical day.”
Me: “I warm-up by playing some songs that I know well. Then I work on the ones I’m learning, slow at first, then faster as I learn them. Then I play songs for 20 minutes or so.”
Teacher: “Do you play scales?”
Me: “No, I hate to play scales.”
Teacher: “Do you use a metronome, especially when you’re slowing down the songs?”
Me: “No, I hate that.”
Teacher: “Do you find the parts that are difficult for you, and work on them in isolation?”
Me: “Not very often.”
Teacher: “For the most part, you’re not practicing. You’re just noodling.”
Since then, I’ve read about a technique called deliberate practice. You can find out more about it here. If you are interested in the psychological underpinnings of this concept, you can find a seminal paper here.
One of the keys is what the author of the first-linked web site calls the problem-solving model. I’ll quote the key elements from the web site, but I suggest you read all the material if you’re serious about this.
- Define the problem. (What result did I just get? What do I want this note/phrase to sound like instead?)
- Analyze the problem. (What is causing it to sound like this?)
- Identify potential solutions. (What can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
- Test the potential solutions and select the most effective one. (What tweaks seem to work best?)
- Implement the best solution. (Reinforce these tweaks to make the changes permanent.)
- Monitor implementation. (Do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?
The author is talking about music performance, but there are lessons here for photographers.
I never did practice the guitar that way, preferring to noodle my way along and attaining a skill level distantly approaching mediocre before stopping altogether because of arthritis. But I realize that this is an approximation to the process that I arrived at independently and follow when making art. I hated doing it while playing music, but I love doing it while doing photography. Funny how that works.