If you want to improve at something, you just need to practice it.
Sounds like good advice, right?
Not so fast.
What would happen if I practiced playing a song but I was playing some wrong notes in the song?
I might “improve” my playing of the song, but I wouldn’t be playing it correctly. That’s not quite the improvement I want. Even more troubling: I would have reinforced the bad habit of playing the wrong note.
What we practice repeatedly becomes our default mode. Our habit.
What we practice every day becomes familiar. It becomes all we know.
Once we acclimate to playing the wrong note, it’s harder to break that habit to play the correct note.
The Key to Progress
If we want to improve in something, we need more than practice. Here are 3 levels of practice that can lead to improvement:
1: Supervised Practice
We need supervised practice.
We can’t see our own blind spots.
Supervised practice is practice with someone who can see what we cannot see, who can help us avoid playing the wrong notes.
2: Supervised Practice With Feedback
More specifically, we need supervised practice with feedback.
Writing daily won’t make you a better writer. It will make you a more prolific writer. If you want to be a better writer, you need someone to critique your writing.
We want someone who can look at what we’re doing and tell us how to improve it.
3: Supervised Practice With Contemporaneous Feedback
That said, feedback on the output can be less helpful in some cases.
If you’re doing squats in the gym and your moving in a way that could lead to injury, you don’t want the feedback after many reps. You want the feedback as soon as you’re moving the wrong way — so you can adjust in real time.
This is where we need supervised practice with contemporaneous feedback — feedback that occurs in real time.
You want the feedback in the moment your finger is on the wrong piano key, so you can correct yourself in the moment and avoid creating bad habits.
We need someone who can correct our form or interrupt the dysfunctional pattern before we groove the incorrect neural pathway.
The more immediate the feedback, the more quickly we can adjust our form and practice in a way that will lead to progress.