What Is Deep Practice – Part I

9 - jordan trophy

The process of acquiring higher skills revolves around design strategy. What is the best strategy to play an instrument, drive race cars, cook like a chef, practice professional sports, read books faster, travel around the world, set up a business and so forth?

This is called Meta-Learning, the process that allows quantum leaps in skill levels of an average student or practitioner.

Notice what skill really is: Skill consists in identifying important elements and grouping them in a meaningful framework. This is the equivalent to “Chunking”.

Think about learning to read. First you identify the letters. Then you join them in syllabus. Later you start forming words and only then you are able to read sentences fluently, without paying close attention to each letter of each syllabus, of each word.

When we start reading we chunk small amounts of information building bigger and stronger connections. The same happens when reading a music score or playing an instrument. Small focused chunks of information are formed, built and later rearranged and deconstructed in order for us to use it creatively in new unprecedented ways.

Deep practice revolves around grouping information, aka: Chunking. This mental organization is fundamental to identify patterns and is composed by the following 3 rules:

  1. The task is approached as a whole, one single chunk: look at a musical phrase as a whole – execution by imitation.
  2. The task is divided in the smallest possible chunks: play it note by note adding one more note in each repetition.
  3. The task is slowed down and speeded up in order to learn its inner architecture: play with time to favor more precision or more challenge in execution.

When you are absorbing the entire task as a whole you have to stare at or listen to the desired skill – the song, the move, the swing as a single coherent entity. This is, actually, the first contact one has to Mindfulness! Undivided attention in order to absorb a picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it. This visualization exercise can be perceived as conscious or unconscious imitation and, definitely, as a powerful practice strategy.

For a common person, Michael Jordan is easily identified as the most prolific basketball player in the history of the sport. For the attentive basketball fan, however, Kobe Bryant is regarded as the most proximate sport figure basketball could have to Michael Jordan.

In an interview, Jordan stated that he could beat any player in the history of the game. “I don’t know about Kobe cause he stole my moves”, Jordan says in a humoristic style.

The resemblance of Kobe’s style to Jordan’s playing is evident. Can you imagine how many hours of basketball Bryant watched Jordan play? His visualization process had to be so accurate, deep and mindful that he unconsciously started putting himself in the same situation of an outstanding person imagining doing what he saw Jordan doing.

Unconscious imitation is fundamental to absorb the essence of a movement. Watching videos of your favourite artists can boost your learning rate. Analyse it repeatedly – and mindfully – and you’re off to achieve mastery.

Think about “Actor Studio” acting method and the art of the Stanislavski System which emphasized the practice of connecting to a character by drawing on personal emotions and memories. First you see it as a whole, then you practice what you see, reproducing the move, the feel and the intention with maximum detail possible.

Keep in mind that it is indispensable to go through the desired skill in a slow, precise and paced motion, using a certain amount of repetitions that contribute to the gain of accuracy. Technique is everything.

For more on the subject check “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle


Genius and Hard Fun Work

8 - Genius

Here’s a deep thought for you: Are you interested in studying Experts and Masters or are you interested in becoming one?

Aristotle said that excellence is a habit. He was right. Deep practice is basically the best possible way to practice. It is the process to acquire a certain skill. It is deliberate and focused, and when one invests a considerable amount of time – say 10.000 hours or 10 years of silence – it leads to world-class skill.

No one is born as a genius. Geniality comes as an investment of time and energy on a subject of preference. This continuous persistence is deliberate and it is manifested even without consciousness of its presence. It’s like practicing without knowing it. It’s like joyfully whistle a tune while you’re at the shower not realising that this action will engrave the tune in your memory, ears and aural imagination.

A genius is born out of pure hard work, a kind of work that simply makes a person happy. There’s no such thing as born talent. If and when the object of practice is natural, constant and deliberate it will be revealed in any kind of practical form.

Think of a child joyfully playing. Now imagine that the same child is not actually playing – aka: having fun – with toys, but with instruments, musical instruments. This child is deep practicing playing music. This child is actually firing brain circuits into the skill acquiring process through a joyful activity that he or she doesn’t even consider as “hard work”. It’s just fun and play and it’s something that makes him or her happy.

Genius happens disregarding who you are and only considers what you do.

The inner response to a certain skill acquiring process is fundamental to sparkle deep practicing. Will power, time, energy and persistence combined with an “Apprenticeship System” can be the perfect combination to grow talent.

When an apprentice works directly under one Master’s tutelage and supervision he gains an advantage: The opportunity to learn through action. Not through lecture or theory, but through action.

Cooperation and competitiveness, then, become fundamental to sparkle creativity and imagination of the disciple. The disciple grows into becoming the new Master, which promotes a chain of mentoring able to sustain and expand the artistry at hand.

So, the manifestation of interest in studying Experts and Masters is, actually, the first step at becoming one. Learn from the masters and soon his light will propel your own.

For more on the subject check “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle

How To Speed Up the Learning Process


A targeted effort can increase learning velocity.

Yes, is that simple! Here is how it works:

Myelin is a microscopic neural substance that adds a vast amount of speed and accuracy to your movements and thoughts. It is activated, keeps growing and is optimized by deep practicing a certain activity.

Myelin increases the brains signal strength, speed and accuracy. This way, the more we fire a particular brain circuit the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.

Energy and time are essential to build a lot of myelin. Therefore, passion and persistence are key ingredients of talent. To be great you’ve got to work hard on a subject you love. If you don’t love it, you’ll never work hard to be great.

Remember your coach or teacher lectures about muscle memory? If you train a sluggish unreliable movement that’s exactly what your muscle memory will register in your brain to do in upcoming performances. On the other hand, if you practice a slow and synchronized movement you will be strengthening a perfectionist movement.

This all sounds terribly complex and demanding as a skill acquiring process. But the good news is that the more we develop a skill circuit, the less we’re aware that we are using it. A talented skill becomes natural when our conscientious knowledge of the skill develops into an unconscious knowledge. This process is called automaticity.

“Learn the changes then forget them” – Charlie Parker.

So here’s the paradox: In order to speed the learning process one must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes. One must slow down and teach the brain circuit. Then you must keep firing that circuit through deep practicing.

So, in order to speed up the learning process one must engage in an attentive, hungry and focused state of mind that allow us to deep practice repeatedly a subject that we love.

Do remind that the longer you perform an activity the harder it gets to break that habit. Worth to say that building good habits evolves into talent, while building bad habits can only be undone by repeating new behaviours to create new and better habits.

Skill is a muscle. Try harder but in the right way. Practice deep and earn more skill.

For more on the subject check “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle

Where Does Talent Come From

6 - Talent

New talent arising is not the product of a single phenomenon. If we think about some historical examples, such as the Florence Artists of the Renaissance, we can identify a pattern: Talent tends to appear in clusters.

There is a proportional leap in talent arising when and where we can identify a chain of mentoring. This adds up to a cooperation and competitiveness amongst artists that start accelerating their learning speed.

Gary McPherson from the “Melbourne Conservatorium of Music”,  the Australian “Victorian College of Arts” faculty sister, studied the practice of a clarinet apprentice (named Clarissa for the purpose of the study). This research revealed an average person being highly productive for 6 brief minutes, during one of Clarissa’s practice sessions.

Clarissa listened to the song at work, played two notes, focused her attention on the paper, and played 7 more notes. After the first mistake she stopped and started singing the phrase. Then she paused herself, like she was re-playing the phrase in her mind, and finally started playing.

This process is commonly known has Deep Practice. The student is managing the process of dealing with errors by fixing them with focused attention.

Deep practice consists on performing on the edge of one’s ability. This will lead to mistakes that will make the student perform better by forcing him to fix the errors.

Effortless performance is a terrible way to learn. Obstacles, on the other hand, are desirable in learning because the student develops the ability to turn mistakes into skills.

Talent, therefore, does not come from genes and environment. Talent is not the product of nature and nurture. It’s a skill acquiring process that comes from deliberate practice:

  • Technique;
  • Constant critical feedback;
  • Focus on shoring up weaknesses.

It is when this deep practice method starts converging with powerful ignitions of creativity and challenge, combined with a master coaching guidance that skill is created and talent is acknowledged.

For more on the subject check “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle