How Practice Is The Secret To Being a Genius

Your child can be a genius too. All he needs is some practice and a little bit of inspiration. Here’s how you can help.

By Aruna Raghavan  • 9 min read

How Practice Is The Secret To Being a Genius

Imagine a young adult of sixteen doing two hours of yoga-mantra at dawn, followed by three extensive sessions of taalim (education) and riyaaz (practice) till nightfall of just three ragas: Todi in the morning, Multani in the afternoon and Poorvi at night. And this, for three years! This was the making of Bhimsen Joshi.

A seven-year-old requested that his riyaaz be done in a room at the Balaji Temple. Bolting the door from the inside, he practised for four to five hours a day. At seventy, he said that the secret of practising just one strain, one chosen bandish, (a firmly constructed musical composition) at precisely the same time every day without fail, helped in the making of a true musician. That was Bismillah Khan.

Only a genius will practise or concentrate, you might say.

Your child is a potential Bismillah Khan. Just watch your child concentrate. The expressions are innumerable: a small pink tongue peeping, a repressed giggle, complete silence, brows together, mouth moving in tandem with the work at hand. Those are Kodak moments.

You wonder at your child’s ability. Watching quietly will give you a clue: if your child comes out of the task fully satisfied, he will put away the stuff even without being told. If he has not finished his work, he will leave his work ‘on the table’ and get back to it after a while.

The interim time has been spent in subconsciously unravelling the intricate knots. He will go back to the task frequently until he completes it. Then he will move on and never go back to it again. He has finished learning all that he wants.

Every child intuitively knows that the essence of setting oneself a task is to take on one aspect at a time and finesse it, to get a sense of accomplishment.

Joyous learning

Suppose we cut down a job to bit size? Suppose we set stations on the way to the terminus? Stations that are themselves exciting and interesting. A child is incentivised to practise only if the learning is fun.

Take an example. All children love stickers. The first pack is all about peeling stickers, placing them on a blank page and slapping them down, and looking up for approval. Smile. It takes a pack before the peel-place-whack rhythm is satisfied. It really does not matter how many stickers there are. The first pack is always pure excitement.

You can plan the second pack. Suppose they are animals, you might sort them in any way you wish - wild / domestic / herbivore / carnivore. Then taking only one lot at a time you might have your child repeat his peel-place-whack routine. To add to the excitement, you can make him colour the rest of the sheet with thick wax crayons. You could put them up like a wall paper.

For the third set of stickers you could draw suitable sized rectangles on the sheet. Have him peel and place the sticker within the rectangle before he whacks it. He will figure out that he need not whack a sticker.

It will take another set of stickers before he understands that there are other ways to classify them; then he will suddenly move from the old routine. Now he will want to classify the stickers. Again, the first lot will be so wild that you will wonder if that little mind works at all. Later, as the sheets go up and you look at the ‘wall paper’ objectively you will actually see a pattern emerge.

You are now ready to move to the next step: to space out the stickers.

In any task that you set for your child, the process will invariably follow a standard. There will be the excitement, the becoming aware of a learning possibility, actual learning, completion of the immediate task, moving on to the next level and repeating the entire process all over.

Setting up stations

By setting up stations for each task we can ensure that the child learns one step at a time, even as the practice remains continuous.

  • Handwriting: The stations could be well-formed letters, neatness and finally speed. The excitement could be in using colour pencils instead of normal ones.
  • Dance: The stations could be rhythm and expression. The excitement lies in blending the two. Teach dance a stanza at a time or a taal (beat) at a time so that the learning is continuous. The joy comes from having mastered a movement.
  • Drama: It could be learning the lines, learning to say it with expression, the expression on the face and body and finally getting on to the stage. Appreciate the child's arrival at each of the stations warmly and sincerely.
  • Embroidery: An eight-year-old may find the initial learning lessons of tacking and hemming – ‘eee sooo tacky’! However, the simple back stitch and satin stitch is enough to capture the learner. The pleasure lies in seeing a flower come alive under one’s fingers. The faster we can move to that, the better.

What your child should know about perfect practice

Myth about talent

Talent alone does not glide one comfortably to greatness. Practice, even without talent, does. Child prodigies have been known to fade away during adulthood with insufficient practice.

Practise more often

Twenty minutes of practise each day is better than practising for an hour and a half once a week. Is he an amateur or a professional

Define your child’s ‘interest’ in the task

Amateurs can do work for fun; for them it is a release of tension. Professionals instead, increase intensity of concentration and practice – it is serious business!

Practise with focus

Instead of setting aside the time for practise, set up a target for each practise session. For example, instead of playing an entire song in a half hour practice session, the child can select one small section of the song that she is struggling with and practise it till it is mastered.

Focus on the destination

Sometimes the mind can get tired of doing the same thing and would like to move on. It needs to be motivated sufficiently to do repetitive practise. Can it be made more fun by making it a game? What is your child’s passion/aspiration? How is this current activity helping him focus on the journey?

Learn to improve

All tasks can be improved, from the simplest ones to the most complex ones. Feedback helps. The child should understand what he is doing and why he is doing it that way.

Do not delay the ‘aah, so good’ moment. The more frequent the ‘aah, so good’ moments, the better the chances that your child will become ready to do taalim and riyaaz for four or five hours at one nuance, at one bandish.

Genius, they say, is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. The trick is to convert the hours of work and perspiration into hours of joyous discovery

Aruna Raghavan is an eminent educationist who runs a school in rural India called Shikshayatan.

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