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Book Sm{art}: Practice Perfect

Barron Ryan

I didn't want to learn much from Practice Perfect and its '42 Rule for Getting Better at Getting Better'. I had the irrational thought that occurs all too often, 'I think I already know everything about this topic, so I better not read something that will prove me wrong.' Foolish, I know. You'll be happy to hear that I read it anyway.

And fortunately for me (since the plurality of my work is spent practicing), I did already know some of the lessons the book taught. Rule 1: 'Encode Success'—ensure that the success rate of practice activities is reliably high and test for mastery constantly. Check. Rules 10 and 12—'Isolate the Skills' then 'Integrate the Skills'. Double-check.

But there was plenty I learned about practice that has already helped dramatically. Rule 2: 'Practice the 20' instructs that you focus 80 percent of your time practicing the 20 percent of material that will reap the most value. So I stopped running through a battery of technique in my daily routine and started focusing on getting my major scales up to speed. Then I'll move on to arpeggios, then minor scales, and so on. My C major scale has never been faster.

Rule 11: 'Name It' recommends giving a title to your most commonly-used practice techniques. Even though I don't have to communicate how I practice to anyone (especially since I don't teach), this has helped me identify the strategies I use to master a passage: 'Repeat & Prepare', 'Swing Set', 'Carousel', '7th Heaven', and so on. Now it's much easier to keep a practice journal so I know what I accomplished the day before and what I need to do next.

There are many other rules that were helpful, but I'll wrap up with Rule 31: Normalize Error. Here I don't think I can summarize it any better than the authors themselves. "Failure is normal and not the indicator of a lack of skill." Not only that, but lack of failure means that you're not learning enough. Encoding success means having a high success rate, but not a perfect one. Test your boundaries to increase the limits of your abilities.

This is such a great book. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get better at anything. That probably includes you.

Click here to purchase the Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi.