Sirithiri | Practice Makes Perfect (or at least better)

Posted in Blogs, Music

Feb. 7, 2014

I have always had a secret disdain for football – but not anymore. “Go Hawks!” is all I can say. We all love a winner, but coach Pete Carroll is bigger than the win. Wow, talk about leadership! Here is a man who has committed his life to inspiring others to do difficult things and do them well.

Carroll and his Seahawks have captured my imagination and I can use some inspiration right now. How about you? Do you have a new goal for the year? Are you going to learn something new or try to improve what you already do?

And just what helps us humans become really good at something? Dropping my disdain, I did some research and found a video of the coach talking about football practice. Let’s see if there is something for us in his playbook.

To hear Pete Carroll tell it, practice is everything. I learned to practice my cello a long time ago, fifty years ago to be exact. What practice means to me, how it feels when I sit down, the process and format of how I learn something new on the cello is as familiar to me as my own name. But the truth is, I’m not getting good results. I have new goals and I feel stuck.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll

Carroll talks about practice as an energetic, competitive-level activity. His daily planning includes specific goals for every practice session, from warm-ups to drills to group work. The competitive edge he insists on bringing to all aspects of practice is nothing less than his constant refinement of the process vis-à-vis specific goals. The moment practice begins for the players, the focus is on improvement, improvement, improvement. There is constant movement; no one stands around, and the athletes are guided by their coaches.

In the video, Carroll uses the words focus, intensity, discipline, structure, organization, competition and energy in rapid-fire succession. He doesn’t speak directly to reflection, but he must do it constantly to achieve the goals he sets for the team. Reflection, discovery and using the information to inform and refine an idea lie at the heart of critical thinking and all creative endeavor.

By comparison, my practice session starts with a very generalized idea. “Hmm,” I say to myself, “I have a gig in two weeks.” Then I make a cup of tea, gather my music stand and instrument, tune and then warm up with scales and an etude. I do not enter the practice with a specific goal in mind. In fact, I think I enter into a historical trance littered with the way I used to play and not the way I play now. Lastly, I don’t have a teacher and I am guessing that a good teacher and coach is not a DIY proposition.

Just what is my game plan?

I have a terrific concert coming up at WICA. The pop jazz duo, “Siri and Steve,” that I play in will be featured in the 2014 “Local for Locals” Concert Series at WICA in March. This goal has been on our minds for most of the last year but now, as we get down to the last five weeks, it’s all about applying the polish to the set list. I am so happy that I watched the Super Bowl because now I can organize my practice.

Here are some new ideas that I’m going to act on. I want to practice smart, listen well, reduce critical judgment, maintain a positive mood, eliminate time-wasters, have a specific plan that identifies the size of a project and the look of the necessary practice, and inject new practice material. I want to be competitive with clear goals and accountability. I want to be better at what I do.

Football and Art, who knew? I’m looking for more connection and cross-pollination with things far removed from my cello playing. What can energize me and motivate me to acquire the discipline of better performance?

So I’ll see you out there on the creative field. Keep your eye out for me; I’ll be the cellist wearing the blue and green dress.

Here is the link to the Pete Carroll video:

Siri Bardarson is a musician who writes a lot. She is ecstatically happy when she makes stuff!


  1. Siri: This is your Swedish teacher from your undergrad days. Sounds like you’ve been having a wonderful and exciting life., I’d love to get in touch with you. Will send you a FB request. Hope to talk to you soon. Marilyn

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