The Deep End

The Deep End: How to Learn Fast

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of learning really quickly. We’ve all experienced it. When we have a deadline, an exam, a performance or a meeting – one that really matters – we stay up all night cramming, preparing, practicing, learning.

If you learn something without the pressure of necessity, chances are that it won’t really stick. If you read a book of Jungle Survival Tips while relaxing on the sofa you might remember a few interesting snippets but not much more. If you read the same book while stranded in an actual jungle then you can bet most of it will sink in.

How can you harness this accelerated learning? Go and get yourself a deadline. Book a gig at your local venue for a month’s time. Join a band, group or ensemble – one that plays a style or level of music that you’re not comfortable with. Book a grade exam. Enter a competition. Invite your friends over to hear a recital of pieces outside your current comfort zone.

Anything that commits you to demonstrate your progress at a specific time in the future will do. It needs to be at a level that stretches you. It should be right at the very edge of what you think might be possible for you. It also needs to have other people involved because it’s too easy to back out if you’re the only person you’ve committed to. You’ll be amazed what you can learn and achieve when you know that there will be other people judging you on it in the near future.

Does that sound scary? If you answered “Yes” then that’s good. You’re doing it right. I didn’t say this would be easy or nice. Make a commitment that’s well outside your comfort zone, then work your socks off to achieve it. It’s the fear that will propel you. It’s the fear that will focus your mind and make you learn faster than you ever could otherwise. You have to decide if you’d rather have rapid achievement or comfort. Choose comfort if you want, but don’t be disappointed when everyone else achieves more than you.


I’m doing this myself at the moment. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m playing in a musical theatre production. I got the score last week. It’s well outside my comfort zone. It’s a big band style cabaret show with lots of jazz chords and upbeat fast numbers. I have 10 days until the first rehearsal. If I can’t nail it then I can’t expect to get any more work from this musical director. If I mess up there’s no chance the other musicians will recommend me when they hear of potential work in the future.

The show itself starts in 13 days. It’s nearly sold out. The band will be on stage, visible, in front of 200 people a time for 5 nights plus a matinee. If I get it wrong everyone will see.

I can tell you something – in 10 days time, I’m going to know how to play fast big band style jazz tunes. There’s no other way I could be sure of that if I didn’t have this pressure on me. That’s why I do it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go practice!

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