in his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle referred to this method of practicing as "deep practice." According to Coyle, "Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways--- operating at the edges of your ability, making mistakes-- makes you smarter. Or to put it in a slightly different way, when you are forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them, you end up becoming graceful without you realizing it."
Additionally, I recently attended a clinic at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic that provided some further insights into the practice mystery. One thought that I found intriguing at this session was the clinician's thoughts about the use of time in practice. Music is one of the only subject at school where students think about their "homework" in terms of time spent on a subject. In most other subjects, students are asked to complete assignments for mastery, however, when students practice their instrument, there is usually a timer going in the background. (or at least in their head) This makes the primary goal of practicing to get to the end of the activity.
My major focus as we return from winter break will be helping students begin to shift from time-focused practice to goal-orientated practice. I would much rather encourage students to practice for 5 minutes and actually work toward a specific goal in their playing than to see them practice the same passage for 45 minutes without actually thinking about what they are doing. We will be helping students learn both how set specific, obtainable goals and how to best use their practice sessions to meet these goals over the coming months.
The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle
UTA's Center for Musical Learning