Another chestnut from Gary Marcus’ book Guitar Zero:

The second prerequisite of expertise is what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice,” a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect. Sooner or later, most learners reach a plateau, repeating what they already know rather than battling their weaknesses, at which point their progress becomes slow.


It’s one thing to have some native ability, and another to put in the time, but the mark of an artist is someone who constantly wants to get better, someone who is determined to learn and grow, and is always looking for opportunities to do so. Such people take full responsibility for making sure that they are always prepared to maximize any opportunity to learn. In even the very first emails to set up the coffee date to sign a student up for the class, there are often signs that scream out whether someone is going to be such a student. How responsive are they? How much do they attempt to put their best foot forward? How conscientious are they about following up and accomplishing tasks like providing the deposit or joining the Yahoo Group? Once the course starts, it’s on to do they do the reading? Do they do the optional homework assignments and send them to me for review? Do they revise their work as instructed and resubmit it? Do they take time at home to make sure they have absorbed the practical concepts presented in class? Do they know their lines? Do they have rehearsal clothes (a costume) to do their scene in? Have they bothered to create an environment for the scene? Have they learned the lines precisely as written? All of these are little episodes of self-revelation. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to be this devoted to their work; if the class helps them realize that acting is not the thing that they want to get married to, that’s an accomplishment. Someone learned something about themselves. But this fastidiousness about learning in a student always warms the heart of a teacher, because it is in such students that we have a hope that what we have acquired will live on.