Something at Stake: Redefining Practicing, Part 5

Since my voice studio is growing (woo-hoo!), I thought it would be best to get back on the subject of practicing. Lord knows we all need it, and we lapse from time to time, especially when we’ve been taking lessons for a few months and we hit a plateau, or a lull, or a point of boredom. It’s time to reconnect with what we have at stake.

Taking private lessons can be a lonely activity, and when you just go back and forth between the four walls of your teacher’s studio and the four walls of your practice room your work feels inconsequential and small. You feel like nothing important is happening, or if you do make some important progress, it’s not a big deal–it will only be a big deal for you, your teacher, and maybe your parents, if they’re investing in it.

Think back when you first started taking lessons. What did you have at stake? Could you even define it? Did you want to perform in front of others? Did you want to audition for a major ensemble? Or did you just want to learn a new skill that you never got to try before?

Get specific about this. “Oh, I just want to have fun” doesn’t cut it. What does it actually look like when you’ve achieved your goal as a musician? If your goal is to simply have fun, how would you visualize that? How do you know when you actually get there?

A live performance, whether it’s public or private, is probably the number one thing musicians have at stake. If you live to just play music in a vacuum and not let anybody hear you, I promise you taking lessons won’t be fun for long.

But then, maybe you’re interested in music for therapeutic reasons–you hear it’s a great stress-reducer, or you just want to keep your neurons firing well into your 90’s. These are also good reasons. But you have to ask yourself, what’s the milestone I want to reach? What’s the thing I’m going to have at stake? Is it to reduce your blood pressure medicine by half? Or something else? You want to make it specific and measurable. It’s like when you resolve to lose weight; you have to specify how many pounds to lose, how many inches to lose around the waist, how many laps you can swim in a day, how soon you can qualify to run a marathon or get off your diabetes meds.

Also, it has to be something that pulls you forward; it has to inspire you and put the spark in you. On days when I resist practicing, the best thing to get me going is the knowledge that my performance day is on the horizon–I will be up at the church in Clarkston in 3 days and they will be expecting me to inspire them with this specific set of songs and I don’t want to look like a fool tripping over my own fingers on the keyboard. But beyond that, I want to move people with what I play. I want to feel moved myself. When I open up to sing “Believe Again,” I want to mean it and for people to get it. That’s what I have at stake.

You know what? Having said that, I think now there’s something more to “just having fun” playing music. With all the craziness in our lives, fun and enjoyment too often take a back seat. Why can’t we have enjoying life be at the top of our list? Or on our bottom line? When did fun become something extra, something only the enviable people do? And when did fun become something we don’t practice, along with our scales and stuff? Get to it.

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One thought on “Something at Stake: Redefining Practicing, Part 5

  1. Timothy Gay says:

    Having fun is my #1 achievement in life. I do agree that defining that is important. During the passion test, we were asked to set markers. I can remember saying years ago that I always wanted to travel and perform. I had visions in high school of performing in salsa bands in Central and South America. I also remember saying that I wanted to “turn the music industry inside-out.” Those were some of my early goals. Now, having fun means something different to me. Being able to connect with the audience and have them feel on a deeper level the story/theme of my song has some real value. It does mean something different to everyone but you did present something great to keep in the forefront of our minds. As always.

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