For today’s video, I was inspired by reading (as is often the case). I’ve been re-reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work, in which he mentions the “4DX practice framework”. This is from a book called the Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey.

So why is this important to you, as a piano player?

Each of these four disciplines is meant to improve your practice and results. It’s actually quite similar to how I practice/teach already, but I’ve gained a few new ideas from this framework, and I hope you will too.

Let’s get started!

Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important

“The more you try to do, the less you accomplish”. Pick a few goals that really matter, instead of trying to do everything. This is always my own personal sticking point, because I always want to do everything.

The goal(s) needs to be specific, not generic. It won’t do to say, “become better at the piano”. Yawn. The goal should be something inspiring, and for it to be inspiring, it should scare you a little bit. If you’re just starting out and it’s your favorite piece, “learn to play Chopin’s first Ballade” is a scary goal, but can also be highly motivating.

Also essential is that your goal has a reward attached to it. Learning the first Ballade has the reward of being able to play the first Ballade – the goal and the reward are one in the same.

Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures

The second discipline, “act on lead measures”, is one where most people fall off the bandwagon. When you have a wildly important goal, you need to be able to measure your progress toward it.

In the book, they differentiate “lag measures” and “lead measures”. A lag measure is where you evaluate something after it’s happened, like a customer satisfaction survey or a weekly review. A lead measure, on the other hand, is proactive, not retroactive.

As piano players, our lead measure is basically the same, and I’ll quote Cal Newport: “Time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal”.

Creating weekly reviews is useful (I’ve been doing them for years), but you also need to tweak the thing that’s actually going to make the most difference in your progress – your practice sessions.

Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scorecard

It’s true – competition can drive better results, even if it’s just competition with yourself. If our goal is to have deep and productive practice session, then it would be helpful to have a physical artifact in your practice area that shows your practice count in some way.

One simple way to do this would be to post a chart of each week. Inside the square for each week, you mark with an “X” the number of practice sessions. Any time you achieve a milestone, such as learning a difficult piece, you could circle that X as a way to see your tangible results, and how long it took you to get to them.

I like X’s on a paper because it’s simple and tangible and you can see at a glance how well you’re doing. But there are a myriad of ways you can track your progress in a visible way.

Discipline #4: Keep a Cadence of Accountability

Accountability is the thing that helps keep us on track. For many, that accountability comes in the form of a weekly lesson with a piano teacher. With or without a teacher, having a weekly review helps keep you accountable to yourself. Did you accomplish what you wanted? How were your practice sessions, both their duration and quality?

The 4DX framework

I encourage you to read the Four Disciplines of Execution if you enjoy these ideas, as they’re expanded on in much more depth with plenty of case studies (it is a book, after all). I’m very interested in growth, exciting goals and creativity, so I tend to read plenty of personal development books on those topics. And many of them, like Deep Work and the Four Disciplines of Execution, are immediately relevant to piano players.

Hope you enjoy this quick but powerful idea, and I’ll catch you in the next video!