One of the keys to mastery is building up a large body of knowledge that you can access when you need it (“Domain Knowledge”). For musicians, one of the most important subjects we can learn
is how to practice better. Here are nine books that can help you build that domain knowledge. Learn, and then put the lessons to work right away.
Mastery by George Leonard
The original book about discipline and mastery. Leonard is an Aikido expert who offers useful advice on motivation, energy management, and becoming a practice zealot.
The Dip by Seth Godin
A simple idea: things will get hard before they get good. Godin teaches us to see the difference between dead ends and dips, and how to get to the good stuff on the other side.
Mastery by Robert Greene
The controversial author of The Art of Seduction and The 48 Laws of Power turns his focus to the arts. His book is filled with insights about apprenticeship, developing the creative impulse, and the social skills you need to spread your work.
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Coyle takes a look at “talent hotbeds”—places where large numbers of young people build impressive skills at a rate that defies expectations. His book is chock-full of examples: Russian tennis camps, Venezuelan Baseball players, Brazilian soccer champs, and lots of music. There are a ton of takeaways, even for those of us who never got to experience a talent hotbed.
Peak by K. Anders Ericsson
Ericsson is the researcher who defined Deliberate Practice. He takes us through what it is and how to use it. A primary source that every musician should own.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur Genius Grant for her discovery that “grit”—perseverance over the long term—is what determines success. She offers prescriptions for developing this elusive skill, in yourself and in your children.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Your phone is destroying your practice. So is every interruption that keeps you from going deep. Newport makes a compelling case for blocking out the world and offers useful tools to help you make time for your most important work.
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
Filled with helpful tips and examples from the workplace and more traditional practice arenas, Colvin’s unique contribution is in showing you how to practice the soft skills that seem to defy deliberate practice. For us musicians, think interpretation and performance.
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
His name is a mouthful, but his writing is clear and easy to read. Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who discovered that we are happiest when we are engaged in activities where our skills match the challenges in front of us. Too hard and we get frustrated, too easy and we get bored. His book will help you understand and unleash your natural motivation to get better.
What other books have helped you improve your practice? Share with us in the comments.
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