Five experiments examined how practice early in skill acquisition affected variability and accuracy during skill retention (Experiments 1–5) and skill transfer (Experiments 3, 4, 5). Lag constraints required that each path from apex to base of a computer-generated pyramid display differ from some number (the lag) of immediately prior paths. Location constraints specified end points at which paths must exit the pyramid. In all experiments, an early optimal period for acquiring a variability level was identified. Both low and high levels of variability were sustained during retention; high levels facilitated transfer. The results suggest that (a) early practice that requires high variability sensitizes learners to changes in condition and (b) such perception–performance links facilitate transfer by activating appropriate alternative strategies/schema or initiating their construction.