Getting Better: Correct Mistakes Immediately

Last night, I was learning to play “Silent Night” on the keyboard. I try to practice everyday, and I try to set a goal for each practice. Usually, that goal is to play one song all the way with no mistakes. Now the way that I WANT to do this is to go all the way through the song, mistakes and all, and then start again. But experts recommend a different approach:  proceed up to a mistake, stop, and correct that mistake before proceeding.

This makes sense for many reasons:

  • Remember we learn what we practice. Repeating the same mistakes in an assignment starts to imprint them in our brains.
  • By fixing one mistake at a time, we build a basis for future learning.
  • Also, it’s simply easier to correct one mistake than seven or seventeen or seventy.

So how does this work when you’re not learning “Silent Night” but doing homework?

Let’s say you’re doing math homework. You work out a problem and check the answer. It’s wrong. What do you do?

  1. Look at all the problems you have to do, think that your instructor doesn’t really grade homework but gives credit for trying and move on to the next problem.
  2. Find the mistake and fix it. Then move to the next problem.

This is not rocket science. We all know that “2” is the right answer. We just need to do it.

That’s why I played the first ten notes to “Silent Night” 32 times last night. And that’s also probably why I could hear my neighbors’ groans through the wall.

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