In this article we will build on everything have previously learning in these two articles:
I recommend checking those articles out before you read any further, so you have the full context, and to get the very most from the knowledge below.
Today, we will cover what Deliberate Practice is, what it looks like in terms of scratching and how you can use it to spend more time in the Scratch Learning Zone and make progress.
I am using the framework outlined in the previous two articles.
Let’s take a deeper look at deliberate practice
- Deliberate practice involves:
- Breaking down abilities into component skills.
- Being clear about what subskill we’re working to improve.
- Giving full concentration to a high level of challenge outside our comfort zone, just beyond what we can currently do.
- Using frequent feedback with repetition and adjustments.
- Ideally engaging the guidance of a skilled coach, because
- activities designed for improvement are domain-specific,
- great teachers and coaches know what those activities are and can also give us expert feedback
Let’s take a look at what deliberate pracitice looks like for scratching.
Breaking down abilities into component skills
Essentially this is breaking down scratch techniques in terms of:
- Moving the record forward / backward,
- Turning the fader on / off
- The timing and rhythm over a beat.
Being clear about what subskill we’re working to improve
Be clear about which scratch technique you deliberately practicing, or even which part of a scratch technique you are working on if it contains multiple parts. When I learned the Fast Autobahn (9 sounds) I learned it in 3 sets of 3 sounds, very slowly. Eventually I could link them together.
Be clear about which timing you are working on e.g:
- no beat (to get the scratch technique mechanics into your muscle memory)
- 8th notes
- 16th notes
- triplets etc.
If using a beat, be clear about which bpm you are working with. Start at 50 or 60 bpm to give yourself the best chance of locking in the technique.
Give full concentration to a high level of challenge outside our comfort zone, just beyond what we can currently do
When learning a new technique, the high level of challenge is usually simply being able to do the mechanics of the scratch (record and fader movements) without a beat.
We may learn the scratch in sections – forward sounds and reverse sounds for example.
Next, the challenge might be to link all of the individual sounds together consistently to create the scratch in its entirety.
Next, we start to practice over a beat at a tempo that challenges us. 50 or 60 bpm is usually a good place to start.
We then can move on to using a slightly faster tempo to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone.
Using frequent feedback with repetition and adjustments
You can get feedback by recording yourself and watching or listening back. You might be surprised what you hear! Recordings tell the truth with no filter. Which is a great thing!
Learn to really hear if you are on-beat or offbeat. You can do this by learning how to count beats and bars. Improving your undertaking and sense of timing will help you critique your own scratch timing. I call it ‘developing your listening.’
Self critique is essential for when no one is available to help you or give you feedback.
When you can hear of you are on or offbeat, you can practice deliberately and hear instantly how you are doing, make adjustments and continue. You might hear that you are offbeat on a 90 bpm beat and slow it down to 86 bpm until you can execute that in time.
Engaging the guidance of a skilled coach
There are many wonderful in person scratch schools who can offer guidance and in the moment feedback from excellent teachers.
Working one on one with a tutor can really boost your progress.
There are even tutors you can work with online over video call.
School of Scratch is an online environment where you can get feedback from your peers. Once a month we run a scratch challenge where you can post your videos and receive feedback.
I’ve created a complete program designed for you to learn from even though I cannot be there to coach you in person. I help you understand how to critique yourself and hear how you are doing so you can make adjustments and make progress.
On time task performing / plateaus
It is this type of practice in the learning zone which leads to substantial improvement, not just time on task performing. For example,
- Research shows that after the first couple of years working in a profession, performance usually plateaus. it happens because:
- once we think we have become good enough, adequate, then we stop spending time in the learning zone.
- We focus all our time on just doing our job, performing, which turns out not to be a great way to improve.
- The people who continue to spend time in the learning zone do continue to always improve.
- The best salespeople at least once a week do activities with the goal of improvement. They read to extend their knowledge, consult with colleagues or domain experts, try out new strategies, solicit feedback and reflect.
- The best chess players spend a lot of time not playing games of chess, which would be their performance zone, but trying to predict the moves grand masters made and analyzing them.
- Each of us has probably spent many, many, many hours typing on a computer without getting faster, but if we spent 10 to 20 minutes each day fully concentrating on typing 10 to 20 percent faster than our current reliable speed, we would get faster, especially if we also identified what mistakes we’re making and practiced typing those words. That’s deliberate practice.
Plateaus in scratching usually occur for the following reasons:
- Once we think we have become good enough at a certain scratch or overall, then we stop spending time in the learning zone.
- We focus all our time on just scratching, freestyling, performing, which we know is not a great way to improve.
Loading up a beat and just scratching and freestyling is what most people are doing when they start to plateau. This is the scratch equivalent of ‘time on task performing’.
You are unlikely to improve very quickly if freestyling and jamming to beats is your sole focus.
Incidentally, this was exactly how I learned to scratch and the reason it took me so long to progress. I had no idea what deliberate practice was back then, or what steps to practice until some years in, when I started to teach others.
Teaching allowed me to see and learn about the deliberate practice process that people needed and then apply that for myself so I could teach some techniques I didn’t know how to do before that point.
Scratching has always been a creative, freestyle, expressive, experimental art form. By it’s nature it is innovative and progressive. It can sometimes feel weird to put a deliberate practice structure around it, when we just want to scratch and have fun! Ironically, it is this kind of practice that can help us have more fun when we are performing.
Think of it like dancing – breakdancing – there are certain moves that are possible. You have to learn and practice the moves individually before you can link them up in a free flowing dance which expresses who you are in your own style. It is the same with scratching. Deliberate practice helps you create the skills you need to be able to perform and express yourself at a very high level.
To be able to perform well at scratching, I recommended that you start to engage in deliberate scratch practice. The students I have worked with over the years who have made the most progress are those who implement consistent deliberate practice. It really works! I myself use it whenever I am learning a new technique that I later go on to teach.
More on Deliberate Practice
You can learn more about deliberate practice and get ideas on how to implement it with this guide: