A discussion I had on a music forum the other day, prompted me to do some thinking on the similarities between training for sports and music. In that conversation, I made a comparison between playing tennis and playing a guitar - which was met with a luke-warm reaction. Once one gets beyond the distasteful thought of music as some sort of competition. One with a winner and a loser. There are some definite similarities to be explored.
I should step back momentarily and say what triggered this discussion was; in the guitar community specifically, there exists a pretty vocal group, who push some sort of he-man pride in being 'unschooled' or a 'feel player'. (These attitudes usually go hand-in-hand with a general lack of theory knowledge and certainly a lack of reading and writing abilities). My personal belief is much of this bravado is simply a cover for laziness.. and that is kind of what prompted this sports/music comparison.
I was thinking... you never hear a pro athlete bragging in interviews. They just don't say that they "don't know what they are doing" or that they are a "feel player"! Athletes don't pride themselves in not working hard the way some musicians do (In spite of the fact most advanced musicians have put in far more hours on their instrument than a doctor has in school for medicine).
If you hired a professional athlete to train you; they certainly wouldn't just play the game with you would they? There might be something to learn in that approach surely. But also could come with some potential negative effects on you (as you realize the vast crevice between your level and theirs). Just playing wouldn't be enough. I have always made a light joke that musicians are really just "finger athletes" so let's take a look at typically how pro athletes train for success.
Top level athletes implement a targeted training approach and it would be something like this:
- Spend an unrealistic amount of time devoted to the craft - more than the next guy
- Eat a balanced diet
- Work out (off-field, court, ice) to strengthen muscles
- Train specific movements in isolation (i.e. shooting practice or passing drills etc.)
- Practice visualizations, work on mental aspects and concentration
- Study different formations of coverage/attack and defence strategies
- Scrimmage or play friendly game simulations
- Schedule regular practice sessions
- Play the actual game
- Watch video after, stopping to view errors, identify opponents habits - good and bad, discuss and assess individual performances
- Spend time watching other games as a fan
- Work in some days for rest
- Get lots of sleep
Quite a list isn't it. ...
Now let's look at how this relates to musical study.
- Spend an unrealistic amount of time devoted to the craft - more than the next guy (same)
- Eat a balanced diet (same)
- Work out (off-field, court, ice - stage, jam room ) to strengthen muscles (Practice - finger patterns, scales, chords sequences etc)
- Train specific movements in isolation (i.e. shooting practice or passing drills etc) (work on specific fingerings that are causing problems, isolate a chord change (theory) and practice playing over them, different voicings of the progression etc)
- Practice visualizations, work on mental aspects and concentration. (Visualizing the instrument, developing phrasing skills, stage freight, focus issues etc. Many musicians meditate for this reason)
- Study different formations of coverage/attack and defence strategies (theory/transcribing/analysis)
- Scrimmage or play friendly game simulations (soloing to backing tracks, jamming along with albums, lifting songs)
- Schedule regular practice sessions (jamming)
- Play the actual game (gig/performance/recording)
- Watch video after game (listen to performance recording playback), stopping to view errors (listen for problems in your playing), identify opponents habits - good and bad (transcribing), discuss and analyze individual performances (Post transcription analysis - discuss with other players online or in person)
- Spend time watching other games as a fan (listening to songs you love)
- Work in some days for rest (same)
- Get lots of sleep (same)
As you can see, this comparison isn't so far off the mark. Music, as with sports can come with some definite born in advantages/disadvantages. Sadly for us mortals, there will always be those people that achieve at a higher level... in spite of their practice habits. But even those - despite what they may tell you - have likely done many of the above things through their own intuition.
To achieve success at the highest level does not happen by accident and clearly medical evidence has shown; we are not born with these abilities. They are nurtured over time through passion, persistence and a truck load of plain and simple work. But look at the number of things on the list above. Of all those points only one of them is playing the actual 'game'. The vast majority of the milage is made up outside of these moments.
So... Does your practice routine look similar to the above? Because, if not - and you dream of playing at the highest levels - you may have some things to consider.