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How Deep Practice is Changing My Student's Lives - Part Two - Katie's Story

Girl practicing on her guitar

Katie's story - When deep practice changes your mindset.

In my first blog on deep practice, I told Lisa's story about how she used deep practice to strengthen her skills in singing. She had a competition to prepare for with little notice, so with a combination of some effective vocal tools, and applying deep practice principles, she improved substantially in the matter of a few weeks, and had a very successful experience in her competition.

This story will focus on how deep practice, combined with learning about a growth mindset, helped my student Katie* improve her attitude and mindset. Katie is a high school student and has some seriously good vocal skills. She is incredibly talented, and she is a hard worker. She's been the lead singer in several teen bands and she's been studying voice for years. She's also becoming a skilled song-writer and guitarist. She is currently recording her original music and doors are opening up for her in some pretty amazing ways.

Katie is a hero of mine, not because of her talent, but because of what she has endured and overcome in her young life. I've worked with her for about five years now, and we've walked through some pretty tough situations together. She is American, but was raised in Afghanistan for a while, and moved back to the US. She faced the reality of moving to a new area and starting a life where she didn't have any friends. She came to me for voice lessons, and I invited her to join a teen rock band that my son was played lead guitar in. She really grew as a singer with that band. Sadly, there had been some member changes and she found herself a target of teenage jealousy from one of the new band members. The drama was so intense that the entire band fell apart. She's also had to overcome her own perfectionism and other setbacks, but she hasn't let any of that stop her from moving forward. Her mom is her rock and does everything in her power to support her daughter (but not in that overbearing stage mom kind of way).

Last year, Katie made a huge leap when she started learning the tools of deep practice. Deep practice is based on failure. When a singer makes a mistake, technical, musical or otherwise, that's when the real growth begins. It is only in our failures that we learn and refine our skills! It's how we build muscle memory and become better and faster. However, most people don't usually see it that way in the beginning.

Katie was in a lesson one night and we were rehearsing part of a song that she was struggling with. As she went further into the song, her attitude began to change. She became more and more frustrated, almost to the point of tears. I stopped right there and shared with her what I was reading about deep practice, and how making mistakes was a good thing! I explained that those little failures were necessary for growth. I walked her through the steps of stopping at the point of the mistake, breaking the phrase down into little pieces to isolate the problem, replacing it with the tool that would correct the problem, rehearsing it slowly, over and over again, until she could feel the change. Of course, we saw immediate improvement in her skills, but I was more amazed at the improvement in her attitude. She kept deep practicing all through that session and she walked out in a much better mood. She learned not to fear failure!

Now when she makes mistakes in her lessons, she immediately stops, breaks it down and completes all the steps until she gets it. It's completely different in our rehearsals because she knows now that perfectionism isn't the goal. Not only has her voice improved, her total mindset has changed.

In the book, Mindset, by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, we learn that a person with a growth mindset will be open to making mistakes and improving, whereas a person with a fixed mindset thinks they need to be perfect. So instead of working on the skill, they work to cover up the fact that they aren't perfect. Over the course of the next few lessons, I watched Katie's mindset change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. She responds quickly to the adjustments we make in her lessons without letting it affect her negatively, and she is flourishing.

It's become apparent to me that anyone who suffers with perfectionism, can overcome it through deep practice. I can see how these two ideas work in a cycle. Deep Practice can help a student overcome a fixed mindset, because they accept that it's good to make mistakes. They can see their mistakes as they are, opportunities for growth, which further develops that growth mindset. With a growth mindset, they are open to deep practice, and the improvements are faster and more permanent!

In part three, I will tell you Sandy's story of how Deep Practice affects every area of her life!

*Katie is a real person, and this story is true, but I've changed her name to giver her privacy!

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