It’s no secret that musicians spend an insane amount of time honing their skills. Top performers practice smart; they can learn quickly to maximize their strengths. Here are the music psychology hacks to get ahead, whether you’re honing a hobby or perfecting your business skill.

1. Don’t picnic in the middle of the jungle

If you’re stuck in the practice, grab a thread of what you just saw, and then weave a blanket. Or change the key. Change the octave. Change your nail polish.

The fact that you’re stuck means you’re trying to get somewhere, so practice deliberately.

Deliberate practice means being aware of what you’re doing and never going on autopilot because you’re present, in the moment. This is the quickest way to improve a skill.

You can also practice mindlessly. Mindless practice means being on autopilot, perhaps daydreaming. Mindless practice means you can’t complain about being stuck, because you’re not going anywhere.

2. Play chunks

Music breaks into chunks. A chunk can be one line of a song. Good musicians focus on chunks of music rather than the entire piece. This powerful technique transfers into any skill, targeting weak spots while keeping easy bits in the back pocket.

To use this effectively, chunk up and work on small goals. You don’t start a basketball career by scoring 100 baskets. The coach shows you how to hold the ball in good shooting stance, and then you drill that into a reflex so it holds under pressure.

But sometimes the chunks go nowhere; the ball slips when you try to balance it or the line of song doesn’t flow right. To avoid this, smart musicians have two pieces of music in their arsenal.

3. Chunk, on-the-go

One weirdly effective music technique is mental practice–using your imagination to concoct a practice session. Do it during break, during lunch, during that time before bed. Top performers stay in shape by practicing in their heads as well.

Of course mental practice doesn’t replace real, physical practice, but this is your extra push.

4. Interrupt yourself

If you’re stuck in a rut, take a 10 minute break–a pattern interrupt. Leave the room to do something entirely unrelated.

You’ll come back refreshed with new ideas. A pattern interrupt will save your time and sanity.

This is likely to work better if you don’t time your practice. You don’t know when you’ll get stuck, so timing for productivity is like catching butterflies in the dark. Half an hour can be productive on Monday and frustrating on Tuesday.

5. You need a friend and a grammar book.

(They can’t be the same thing.)

You can never hear your own music with the delicious anticipation of the sweet first note, because you’ve played that shebang. You’re pulling the rope traps. You miss Richard III’s squinty eyes. So, ask a musician friend or two to listen before sharing your music with the world; everyone has a different definition of perfect.

Keep in mind, when practicing, the goal is never perfection.

Perfectionists are the worst at learning; they give up when confronted with the possibility of failure and avoid risks so no one sees their mistakes.

Top performers rifle through a million mistakes to find the right methods. They are the masters of grammar; they make magic by manipulating the basics, backwards and forwards.

Mastering a skill is really about mastering its grammar. In music, one aspect of the grammar is playing a series of notes, without unnecessary tension. When a pianist performs onstage, she is essentially playing the basic notes in a thousand different ways. You can bet that she’s made a million mistakes offstage.

Practice your grammar by making as many mistakes as possible. Studies show that you are the average of the 5 people closest to you, and that your friends will motivate you the most. So, grab a grammar book and practice with a friend.

6. Scare yourself

Creativity means breaking away from order, drawing a new box when the existing one is in a rut. Studies find that improvising, especially on an instrument, engages the creative-thinking parts of the brain; jazz pianists are known to be more creative than their classical counterparts.

Let yourself break away from order to explore new territory. Your best performance will be scary, exhilarating, raw.

Do you play an instrument? Here are The Top 17 Ways Learning a Musical Instrument Gives You The Edge.

Featured photo credit: José Eduardo Deboni via photopin.com

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