How can we get students into the deliberate practice mindset?

Looking at the cadenza of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto I’m searching for patterns. Layers upon layers of music are added as I attempt to resurrect this masterpiece. I’ve done this thousands of times before and every time it feels like I’m a beginner with tunnel vision. A mantra echoes in my head: Improve the Music. More often than not, if I find the right headspace, the music unfolds and plays itself.

This is deliberate practice.

It is a concept that is the lifework of Dr. K Anders Ericsson and made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. With the right bed of talent, supportive environment and “10,000 hours” of hard work, greatness can be achieved. 

I want this for my students. I want it for all of them, but I know that I can only effect part of the equation. The question I always ask myself is:

How do I teach students to consistently find a deliberate practice mindset? 

For some, their blend of intense curiosity, grit and intellect is their natural talent. It only requires me to teach them how to think. To think like a concert pianist from 5 years old will give them a growth and efficiency advantage that is unreal. 

For my students who have that, I can’t really say how they developed it, nor can I take credit. But as I see the mindset occur more and more often I know how to nurture and increase its frequency. It’s just the initial spark that is so difficult to bring about. 

What if we could bring the majority of our students to this mindset at most of their practices? 

Listening, curiosity, critical thinking, and creative problem solving are the ingredients that would ignite a months-worth of practice into five minutes of practice. How would that change music education?

Would that student even need 10,000 hours of practice to find their artistic voice or is the 10,000 hours a journey to find that mindset? 


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