This TunesDay I want to focus on something that every musician does – woodshed. That isn’t a non-sequitor.


(Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

With respect to music “woodshedding” means practicing your instrument but it’s so much more than that. The term comes from that people would go to their woodshed to practice without being overheard.  Well, more like not imposing their unrefined craft on people until it had been honed.  As a young guitar player, I’d sit in my room for hours listening to music and trying to play along.  I think I did that all the way through college even though I was playing in a band (for pay!) by then.  It wasn’t just about learning to play – I knew how to do that after a while.  It was about getting better, internalizing the actions my fingers would take on the fretboard so they’d happen without thought.  The goal was to let my brain hear what I wanted to play and for my fingers to play it, almost like walking or breathing.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule.  While “Outliers” may have popularized it, the concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.  The notion is that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.  But Gladwell (“Outliers”) oversimplified the concept and ignored the fact that talent has something to do with the progress one makes.  You can practice all you want and you might get better, but the true elite at an activity generally have some natural gifts that are brought out and improved by all the practice.

Why this thought today?  Sometimes when I encounter a young businessperson they ask about how to grow:  improve their skill set, learn more, make better decisions. We talk about woodshedding and the fact that a musician plays something wrong the first dozen times but eventually learns it.  Making mistakes – playing it wrong – is an important part of the process.  So are the hours you put in practicing.  In business terms that can mean reading books, going to seminars, or taking online courses to refine and grow.  You want to pick the right instrument too.  You must have some basic talent – if you are terrible at math and not detail-oriented, accounting might not be your best choice.

If you aren’t always practicing, you’re falling behind those competitors who are.  Your call.


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Filed under Helpful Hints, Music

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