Part 1 to this article can be found here: "Top Secrets of Common Sense - Part 1".
The difference between an amateur and a professional is much bigger than some may realize. I'm not talking about money or fame. I'm talking about the difference in goals. An amateur typically has a goal to play something well. The professional's goal is to have abilities that are beyond what will ever be needed in real performance.
So let's look at the difference in mentality in mind's of most amateurs versus most professionals. Amateurs practice to "get it right"...Professionals practice to "never get it wrong"! Think about that. Consider the difference in effort and persistence. Often times, amateurs focus on playing something correctly one time. Consider what is on the line for the professional musician. Pros have to play perfectly every single night in front of thousands of people, in constantly changing environments and conditions, standing up, moving around the stage, alternating lighting which can alternate between blinding bright spotlights in your eyes one minute and total darkness the next.
I learned all this the "hard way" while on my first world tour. We played Yngwie Malmsteen's "Rising Force" and although I had no problem playing this song the first few nights of the tour, when I played the solo the first night in Canada, it fell apart for a few seconds and I actually forgot an entire section of that solo. I didn't forget that part because my mind went blank, it happened because I became very distracted by the lighting changes as well as events happening off stage in the first few rows (that's another [funny] story).
After that show I went straight to the bus and played that solo 300 hundred times! (Yes I actually counted each time!) Prior to that night I had been guilty of practicing that song just enough so that I could play it right under reasonable conditions (that means taking into account moving around the stage, not being able to hear clearly everything on stage sometimes, etc.). What I had failed to do was make sure I could pull off the solo perfectly if my mind and hands had to play it using automatic pilot if needed. By the time we got to Europe, bombs could have went off and I would be able to nail that solo anyway. It seems ironic that I frequently have told my students for years: "Amateurs practice to get it right and Pros practice to never get it wrong".
Certainly there are some rare amateurs that do practice to "never get it wrong" and I certainly do not intend to criticize amateur players, only to illustrate that the difference between "mastery" and "playing well" is huge. Students often get bored practicing fundamentals over and over again, they often just want to learn new things all the time. I stress a balance between both growth and mastery with those I teach. In my experience, both are equally important if one desires to be a great musician of any instrument.
IMPORTANT: I do not recommend this cycle as a permanent practice routine. Do it for three months only. After that time you will have much better idea about when to know what to focus on at various times and also what the right balance (mastery and growth) for you will be.
"I got that", "I know that" and "show me something new". These are often dangerous words in the mouths of many inexperienced players because usually the truth is, "they don't got it", "they don't know it" and "they aren't ready yet for something new". This is especially common in American culture in the 21st century. If it's not instantly gratifying, few people will have the focus to hang in there and master fundamental skills. It's not necessary to master everything before learning anything new, but to focus only on new material and leave all older material in unusable form is a mistake. Yes I know, it is easier said than done for most of us, but mastery has enormous benefits including enabling new material to become more enjoyable, practical and useful to you. If you are not already in the habit of focusing a significant portion of your time on mastery, do yourself a favor and start doing that now. Remember: Amateurs practice to get it right (once or twice and then usually move on), Professionals practice to never get it wrong.
For maximum results in mastery work with a great teacher, to find one, click: "Choosing A teacher".
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.