Domain Knowledge 2: How to Improve your Musical Instincts

At The Practice Habit, we’ve talked about the Three Pillars of Mastery and how they can help organize your practice and uncover missing pieces on your path to mastery.  How different types of Direct Practice can improve your skills.  How mental models can help you increase and organize your Domain Knowledge.  And soon, we’ll talk about the mental conditioning, habits, and paradigms that will help you practice and perform at the top of your game.

Today, I want to share with you a simple way to improve your musical instincts and hone your craft at a higher level.  You can do it without making your practice sessions longer, and it’s something you already enjoy doing.

It’s the key that will help you know how to approach a particular style of music, how to shape dynamics and ornaments and phrasing and tempos in a way that’s authentic to the music.  It’s the secret to creating the huge wealth of situation-specific knowledge that will make you a true expert.

Think of Domain Knowledge like a tree:  If your mental model is the trunk and branches, this skill will help you grow the leaves and fruits.  Growing them one at a time would be tedious and inefficient.  This secret will help you grow all of your leaves and fruits at the same time.

So what is this powerful secret?

It’s simply to listen to great music.

Listen to many different style periods, and deep dives into several pieces from the same style period.
Listen to different performers playing the same piece of music, and listen to your favorite performers playing many different types of music.
Listen for the sheer pleasure of it, to inspire you and reconnect with your love for music.
Listen in the background, and other times, listen with total attention.

And in all this listening, you’ll transform your playing.  You’ll know the right way to shape a phrase, even if you can’t explain why it’s right.  You’ll easily make choices about tempos and dynamics and ornaments and the millions of other decisions that go into a great performance.

Listening makes the difference between speaking a language so that you can be understood, and total fluency.  It uses the part of your brain that you used when you learned your native language.

And later, when you learn something new, it will come easily because you’ll already have hundreds of examples in your head to connect it to: This is like that.

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