Sure, it’s a catchy saying. But that doesn’t make it true.
Practice doesn’t make perfect.
Practice makes consistency. It’s repetition. Rote-learning, for the pessimistic among us. Practice is a really good way of being able to do that thing you’re practicing on time, every time. On demand. No matter how you’re feeling. Even if you don’t want to.
Of course, practice is important.
And it’s not just your musical skill that you need to practice – it’s all the other skills you need too. Discipline. Conversation. Writing. Personal health and hygiene. Generosity. Focus. And just like your musical skills, you might find yourself slipping a bit from time to time. And when you do, you have to remember to pull yourself back up to the standard you expect of yourself.
But practice doesn’t make perfect.
If you practice the wrong thing, you’ll get really good at doing that. And it’ll hold you back. A piano player who practices poor posture will have trouble performing with power and precision. A mix engineer who practices applying compression to every track without listening first will have trouble making mixes with subtlety and space. A recording engineer who practices using an SM57 on everything will miss out on the colours and flavours that other microphones can capture.
So, how do you know if you’re practicing the right way?
For starters, a good teacher helps. This isn’t a plug for my consultation service. I’m talking about teachers across all musical disciplines – from composition, to performance, to recording, mixing and mastering. A good teacher will see what you’re doing and apply personal and tailored guidance to help you get from where you are to where you should be. YouTube won’t tell you that your left hand is applying pressure to the fretboard in the wrong way. Blog posts won’t tell you that a good way to improve the stereo space in your production is to apply random autopanning to your background percussion. A downloadable guide won’t tell you that your master sounds too clipped and that you can back off the loudness for that more atmospheric track.
Good teachers can help you by drawing from their broad experience, identifying your weaknesses and providing practical guidance to move you forward.
If you don’t have a good teacher available, you might have to rely on your peers. Again, you’ll find the best assistance comes from those who have broad experience, can accurately identify your weaknesses and provide practical advice.
Failing that, you can learn from a combination of clever observation of your mistakes and other’s work. It takes a particular style of learner to do this effectively, however. And it usually takes quite a bit longer than having a good teacher.
I should know.