As a busy music tutor, I teach people of all ages and abilities. Some have time on their hands whilst others lead busy lives, some are more motivated than others to work hard at their studies, but one thing unites 98% of them: A profound dislike of study. Be it practising a musical instrument, working through your math problems or reciting passages in foreign languages to drill them into your brain, very few people smile at the thought of homework. Odd when you think students and their parents are paying for tuition in a subject they subsequently have no desire to work on, but very understandable when you consider the way the typical student studies.
Very few of us possess a natural talent for an instrument, but the vast majority of us have the ability to work hard and enjoy the rewards. Playing a musical instrument, becoming proficient in sports or getting that academic scholarship – whatever skill you aspire to, you’re only getting there with practice. Although playing an instrument and playing a sport takes different skills, the idea is the same: if you want to be the best, you have to work on perfecting your skills. This means racking up the practice hours. It is suggested that to master a skill, the student must invest 10,000 hours in it. That’s over a year if you went without sleep, and more like 4 years if you worked an 8-hour day at your studies as if it were a job. That isn’t feasible for most people, and it is very likely that such an approach would suck all the fun out of it anyway, but ‘mastery’ is 1) highly subjective, and 2) more than the majority of students need to embed a skill sufficiently to enjoy it, as well as achieving their personal goals.
We’re here to talk about how to get better results from study, but before we get to that, let’s cover some of the things people do wrong that are currently making their study time less effective and less enjoyable:
Irregular schedules. So many people set aside one giant chunk of time each week to study. Typically right before the lesson here they will be caught out for not doing it. This leads to a feeling of dread, more work than necessary and probably a rush job. No fun!
The study zone. Working in the midst of a busy home may be a fact of life, but constant interruptions make study less effective. Interruptions lead to frustration and again, make it feel like more work than it needs to be. No fun!
Technology. How many of you can leave your smartphone in another room? All those helpful alerts letting you know the cat’s birthday is coming up are great, but they don’t promote focus and distract from the task at hand. No fun!
Working on the wrong thing. Many students focus on a very narrow topic for a study period, encouraging a lack of engagement with the wider subject and a lack of enjoyment because the study does not fit into the wider context of personal goals. Still no fun!
So, to use simple language, your typical student tortures him/herself by studying not the best things in not the best place, for way too long at a stretch whilst being distracted all the time. Even a tutor can see how that wouldn’t be any fun! And every tutor wants their student to enjoy the subject.
Great question, and to buck the recent trend of the wider Internet… the answers probably aren’t going to shock you! More effective study is easy to achieve for us all, and done properly it should take less time to get better results:
It may sound counter-intuitive, but you will get better results by studying or practising for 15 minutes a day every single day than you will from sitting down for a two-hour session once a week. Even though you might not want to pick up your books and read or tune up your instrument every day and practice various pieces, it’s the most effective way to build skills over time. Muscle memory is the wordy-term for learning things by repetition, and although it applies most directly to sports, playing instruments and other activities requiring physical coordination, repeated exercise of your brain works exactly the same – My multiplication tables are burned in to my brain from the daily exercises more years ago than I care to admit. Everything is the same. Effective study in small time pockets relies on good planning, bringing us neatly to…
If the goal is to practice little and often for much better results in less time, a solid strategy is essential. Breaking down study into manageable chunks is helpful because it makes the material more accessible, which in turn makes study more enjoyable and more likely to happen. It also means one might, for example, study scales on Monday, chords on Tuesday, improvisation on Wednesday, music theory on Thursday and so on. The variety will help prevent boredom, as well as promoting a more rounded approach to the subject at hand. Once you have created a schedule, perhaps with input from your tutor, make sure you stick to it. Find time for the fun aspects of the subject – closing a study session with the reward of indulging an element you particularly enjoy is fantastic for motivation. Also, make sure to review your study schedule frequently, since your study priorities will change as you become more proficient. Make daily study part of your routine and arrange it in and around the rest of your priorities, and you’ll be amazed at how fast you progress. Which brings us on to…
This one is literal as well as metaphorical. You need a space where you can focus on study – perhaps the room furthest away from the hustle and bustle of home life. Maybe a meeting room at work while everybody else is on lunch. Perhaps the kitchen while the kids are watching TV. Part of the beauty of compressing practice into a 15-minute session per day is that no matter what your circumstances are, it is way easier to find 15 minutes than it is to find two hours. Scheduling the session daily will also have the effect that anyone else who might be impacted by your new regime will get to understand and respect that routine – if the family get to understand that you’re busy studying from 7:30 pm until 7:45 pm, they’ll likely let you keep that time special. And while we’re dealing with clutter – leave the phone in another room. All the interesting things going on in the world will still be there in 15 minutes once your study is done.
This new approach might take time to cement itself, but don’t worry. It is said any habit takes 2-weeks to make or break, so it is likely the first two-weeks will be an adjustment for everybody. But after those two weeks, the daily practice becomes normal – then study stops feeling like work, takes less time and gets you better results. Creating what we call a positive feedback loop – you do stuff, it works well and makes you happy, so you do more of the same stuff… which works well and makes you happy, so you do more…. You get the picture. So give it a try – ditch the long-winded study session under the shadow of your next tuition session and embrace your subject with passionate enthusiasm. Work little and often, and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards!
As lifelong students ourselves, at Tutorially™ we understand how hard it can be to create a study schedule that works for you. A good tutor will be able to help you create a plan, and make sure you keep yourself accountable for progressing toward your goals. Student Achievement is always the number one priority of any good tutor. Many high quality and experienced tutors are registered with Tutorially™, so come and join us today!
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