Practice Without Ceasing: Redefining Practicing, Part 2

Don’t panic; that doesn’t say what you think!

Anyone who is familiar with that old injunction to “pray without ceasing” will get the gist of this, but for everyone else, let me share this…

Singers, unlike other musicians, always have their instrument out and ready. It never gets put away. And I’m not just talking about the larynx, I’m talking about the whole body as the singer’s instrument. It’s always in use on some level, whether it makes sound or not. So consider the possibility that a singer is always practicing.

Practice is not something reserved for one distinct time in your day but something you can access at any moment of any day. How you breathe, move and hold yourself, how you tune your awareness to things–all make a difference whether we’re singing or not, and so you can practice them anytime. Spend time away from your normal “practicing” routine (like right this moment!) to try on these things:

  • Notice your posture. (Even better: check it in a mirror.) Are you hunched or slouched?
  • Notice your breath. Is it shallow? Do your shoulders hunch up when you breathe? Is your abdomen relaxed and moving with each breath? Does your breath get easier with better posture?
  • Notice where your speaking voice lies. Does it feel chesty, heavy and throaty, especially when you’re stressed? Can you ease up on it with more relaxed breathing and less tension?
  • Practice a 360-degree awareness when you’re not doing anything particularly musical at all. Are you functioning as part of a greater ensemble or as a solo diva?
  • Access and expand your listening skills by flipping to a new channel on your car radio and discovering a new genre.

You don’t have to be a singer to try these things, either. Whose life wouldn’t be enhanced with better posture, breathing, awareness and listening? In fact, working with just posture and breathing alone can make a huge difference. Madeline Bruser, author of The Art of Practicing, would agree:

“Good posture allows free movement of all the breathing muscles, and all the abdominals. Collapsing the spine and chest constricts these muscles. Arching the back also makes breathing difficult by constricting the back muscles. Both a collapsed and an arched posture also put a strain on the neck, further restricting air flow.”

A fellow voice teacher also said to me, when you watch a baby in a crib, they breathe with the whole abdomen naturally. They don’t move their shoulders; the air is never forced. Our bodies already know how to breathe correctly from go. In fact, our bodies know how to do LOTS of things naturally and with ease in early childhood, including things only yoga instructors seem to do the best–sit cross-legged on the floor for long periods, bend over and touch toes, put a foot in your mouth, and so on. We can access this ease of functioning in many ways through body awareness, movement work, and relaxation.

Besides which, if you made proper posture, breathing, awareness and listening part of your daily life, imagine how quickly you can access these elements when you actually go to practice music. For one thing, your teacher may never have to tell you to straighten up again! Who doesn’t remember a choir director from high school who would tell the group to straighten up every ten minutes? And you grumbled about it because she sounded like your Mom–well, turns out Mom was on to something.

She didn’t want your body to be starved for oxygen.

Being in practice–as opposed to just practicing–goes well beyond spending thirty minutes a day on exercises and stuff. So the next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store thinking, “Crap! If I have to get the kids next, I won’t have time to practice!” …slow down and breathe in that moment, like you are sitting with your music. Answer the cashier’s greeting like the counterpoint to her melody. Hum the song to yourself. There’s a deep enough level where your brain won’t tell the difference.

Try it; what difference does it make for you?

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