Fiddling With Deliberate Practice

You’ll see more results if you learn to practice well. Deliberate practice is a process which helps you to learn more efficiently. In a nutshell: Focus on hard parts that need work. 

5 things to remember about Deliberate practice

  • Improve One Small Thing
  • The Plan-Do-Reflect Process
  • Practice the Hardest part of the hardest part
  • Embrace mistakes
  • Document your practice

Improve One Small Thing

Each time you practice, aim to improve one small thing. Take this one thing from unreliable performance to 95% reliability in one to three 25-minute practice sessions.

If you can’t do this, then simplify the practice task: work on a smaller chunk or remove complexity from it.

How do you discover the hardest part of the hardest part?

Plan, Do, Reflect

Let’s learn the Plan-Do-Reflect Process. This helps us to find and then improve all the hard parts of a tune.


Plan what you’ll practice

Do that practice task for 5 minutes. Pay close attention. Record.

  • Notice what’s hard as you practice
  • Record your practice 🎙

Reflect on how it went.

  • Ask yourself, What is difficult? Why? What specific things can I work on? What smaller thing can I work on?

Continue the process.

  • Each step of the way, you’ll become more aware of what needs work and then refine your approach.

Let’s practice

Let’s work through the Plan-Do-Reflect process a tune called Arkansas Traveller. We’ll approach it in three phases: Discovery, Refinement, Integration

Discovery phase. Play a piece to discover what needs work.

Plan: What piece?

Do: Play the piece.

Reflect: What was hard? Where did you make mistakes? Document this in your practice journal

  • A3-2-3-0-1-3-0-D3-2-0-1-2
  • E3-L2-1-3-L2-1-0-L2-1-0-A3-E1
  • A3-2-3-E1-E0-A3-E0-L2-1-0-A3-E1-0

Learn to Embrace mistakes. They tell you exactly what you need to work on.


Refinement phase. Deeper focus on what’s actually hard.

Plan: Pick a hard part to practice.


A Part, First Quarter

Do: practice the hard part.

  • Embrace mistakes.

Reflect: Discover the tHardest part of the hardest part. Where did you make mistakes?

  • Mistakes are a sign that you’re learning.

I made mistakes here: A1-3-0-D3. So I’ll work on that in the next cycle.

Further refinement

Plan: Hardest part of the hardest part

Do: A1-3-0-D3

Reflect: Document this in your practice journal. This helps you to make practice decisions.

Repeat the process until you improve one small thing. Then move on to other hard parts.

Integration phase. Practice the hard part in the context of what surrounds it.

Weave that part back into the whole piece.

Plan: Pick a hard part and the transitions into and out of that.

  • IN: A3-2-3-0-1-3-0-D3
  • OUT: A1-3-0-D3-2-0-1-2
  • IN and OUT: A3-2-3-0-1-3-0-D3-2-0-1-2

Do: Practice the hard part with each transition.

Reflect: Were you able to play the hard part within a larger part?

  • If not, you may need more work on the hard part.
  • Or you need to practice the transitions more.

Deliberate Practice is an ongoing process, without beginning or end.

Embrace mistakes

See mistakes as opportunities. They tell you exactly what you need to work on.

Knowing this helps you to be kinder and more curious as you practice. Rather than being upset, be excited and happy because you now know what to focus on.

Document the journey

Take note of what you did today so you can go further tomorrow.

Two ways:

  1. Writing  List everything you practice.
    • Take note of hard parts and metronome tempos. Take notes on anything else that will be helpful to your future self.
  2. Record Audio or Video
    • Add a descriptive title and date. This gives you immediate feedback on performance.

Learn more here: How To Track Your Practice


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2 responses to “Fiddling With Deliberate Practice

  1. Hey Jason, thanks for the motivation in this post. I’m a beginner fiddler who over the years keeps losing my way. I’m on a 3-month hiatus from fiddling now and I don’t want it to go any longer. Traveling and life stuff got in the way but I had my fiddle with me so it’s totally all my fault!

    As I exercised on the treadmill this morning I listened to you and I’m ready to hit the strings again! Thank you for being the awesome teacher that you are and for being so supportive and motivating! You ROCK!