Daily practice is essential for learning. Right now I am beginning to learn how to play the piano, which is an interesting experience for me as a teacher. It’s quite fun to be an absolute beginner at something, and experience all the joys and frustrations that come with learning something new.

As an absolute piano beginner, I am starting from the very beginning. I bought a course, Piano for All, and am working through it starting with Book 1. I am also getting advice from my daughter, and from my friend Darryl. Every day I practice for about thirty minutes, separated into two sessions of 15 minutes each, or three sessions of 10 minutes each. I figure that multiple sessions per day is better than one 30-minute session. Regular repetition is key in learning mathematics and physics, and it is the same with learning to play a musical instrument.

So far, the results are OK. I started out with a basic chord progression (as suggested in Piano for All), and I am learning some scales, as suggested by my two personal piano advisers. I’ve got the C-major scale going pretty good with both hands (one octave each), and am just starting to get the hang of the D-major scale with the right hand, although it’s pretty shaky with the left hand. Next steps: first go to two octaves each hand, then practice the scales with both hands together, then continue the process with other scales.

Is it fun? Well, I can appreciate that a certain kind of person would find this absolutely boring. Playing simple scales and chords, over and over again, session after session, day after day. Boring. When do we get to play an actual piece of music?? But this is the point; it’s unrealistic to expect that after two weeks of practice a beginner will be able to bang out Debussy’s Claire de Lune on the piano. (This is one of my goals, by the way.) A large number of boring, repetitive, drill-like tasks must be mastered, made automatic, if you wish to become even a marginally competent musician. To become a master, of course, is much more difficult.

So expecting every step along the long, long process of moving towards competence to be fun and enjoyable is unrealistic. To be an effective learner, don’t be superficial about this! Keep your long-term goals continually in view, and understand that there will be periods of time, possibly long periods of time, where you have to slog through tasks that might seem boring. But if you alter your perspective, you may view these boring tasks differently, and in a way that will keep you motivated to continue your work. For me there is a lot of satisfaction in not being able to do a piano scale very well, and then after several days of several practice sessions per day, to be able to do the task a little bit better. This is satisfying, and it keeps me motivated.

It was the same with learning to shoot a basketball, which I also practiced daily for a long while as a teenager. You can see the same focus in lots of children who have been “grabbed” by some passion.

It’s the same with your academic studies. Practice daily for best results. Don’t expect every single academic task to be fun, but rather bring your own internal sense of fun to each task. After practicing repeatedly, do regular check-ins every few days to assess your progress, and feel the satisfaction that comes from being a little bit better at your tasks each week.

Start each practice session with a review of what you have practiced in the past few days; repetition is important. End each practice session with a review of what you have just studied. Do this for each course, every single day.

If you work at it, you can achieve a reasonably good level of competence at just about anything you put your mind to. The key is commitment to daily practice.

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This is part of a series of posts on how to learn; the previous one is here. These posts on how to learn will all be linked on this page for easy reference.