The Pareto Principle and Music Practice

Today’s topic is working on what really matters.  Not every practice routine is created equal, nor is every exercise created equal. Some things are created for specialization, or detailed work. Not all causes have an equal effect. In this article I want to discuss the Pareto principle and give you some examples of how it benefits your musical practice.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This means that for every 10 things that could possibly make you better, 2 of them will cover 80% of your growth. This is very good news. If we focus on the important stuff we will gain much greater improvement in a shorter time frame.  I will give you an example of how the Pareto Principle works.

Consider baking a cake. It starts with mixing all the ingredients together and putting it in the oven. Once it is done cooking, icing is added all over the cake. the baker decides to decorate the cake with a guitar on top, getting every detail the guitar has. Once it is all done, what part took the most time? The details that went into making the icing look good, right? That did not make the cake much bigger though.  80% of the cake was finished with 20% of the time it took to finish the cake. There are many more examples in our world of how the Pareto Principle works.

My point is that you can get a large bulk of the information and skill you need to play music well with less work. If you focus on the important stuff, then it will be easy to gain success. If you start working on the decorative icing without the cake being baked first, you may not see any improvement at all. Making wise choices in the practice room can make great improvement in your skill.

The Pareto Principle is a valuable tool that reminds us to focus on what is important. If you are doing something and don’t see improvement then you may want to consider if it is really part of that 20% that makes the 80%. Time is limited and if you use it wisely you will get more from what time you spend than if you didn’t use it the best way. Best luck and have fun finding that 20%.

The Pareto Principle is like baking a cake with a guitar on it.

The Pareto Principle is like baking a cake with a guitar on it.


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2 Responses to The Pareto Principle and Music Practice

  1. Jason says:

    Why don´t you mention how someone can actually become a better musician by applying the 80/20 rule?

    What 20% of guitar playing will make me a better guitar player?

    • gitguitar says:

      This is a wonderful question, but there is not a one size fits all answer to your question. Every guitarist is at a different place in their musical journey and the 80/20 rule will change accordingly. Someone who is just picking up a guitar for the very first time will need to focus on something different than a guitarist who has been playing for 10 years.

      Let’s equate learning guitar to learning how to run. When someone first starts to run they may jog for 5 minutes, then the next time they run they may jog for 6 minutes. If the runner cannot jog for 5 minutes then he cannot jog for 6 minutes because it builds on top of each other. When we look at music, the same is true. A person who just picked up a guitar for the first time needs to work on running for 5 minutes. Once he has accomplished that, he can then try to run for 6 minutes. The musical equivalent to time is technique. If a beginner guitar player cannot play open chords, he is not ready to learn how to do 2 handed tapping.

      This is a long answer, but I hope it will clarify your question.
      Best of luck!

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