Friday, October 14, 2016

Your Car Is Not A Practice Room

Pittsburgh.  Yes, Pittsburgh.

It happened again last week.  A student told me about a recent practice session in their car.

Which reminded me that I had yet to publish this post.  Which serendipitously complements this recent post.

I would like to remind you non-musicians that these ideas can be applied to any task that requires persistent attention. This includes eating, exercising, relationships, even cleaning the bathroom.  Not creative, but a task that requires attention on a regular basis (unless you're a teenager).

Let's quickly review the purpose of practice.  Practice is “the daily rite of discovery that is how learning really happens". We practice – to discover. Discover mistakes? Sure. Discover the notes and words we don't yet know? You bet. Discover ourselves? Oh my friends, my friends, indeed. To discover ourselves.

That is why you cannot call what you do while driving a car, loading the dishwasher or watching TV (all mundane tasks that students have told me they do while practicing) practice. You cannot be attentive to the YOU in your art while doing those mundane tasks. Don't tell me you can. I know; I've tried. It is not possible.

Are there other aspects of mastering a musical instrument or artistic form that you can work on while doing those mundane tasks? You bet, and in my work as a voice teacher, I point out exercises that could successfully be done while driving, cleaning, walking, etc.. I must remind you, though, that for the best work to happen, you need to be wholly attentive to who you are and what you are doing at that exact moment.  This is how we find the best possible way for our bodies, brains and souls to release the sound that is the essence of each of us.  Then we must repeat this new process over and over again that process - with all of the frustration, sweat, blood, tears and beauty it brings - until our bodies, brains and souls embrace it.  

This, my friends, is the Cleveland Public Library!

The other big reason I think practicing in the car is a bad idea?  Talk about distracted driving! What a fine example of a dangerous habit.  Good practice requires awareness of what your body is doing to communicate in the best possible way what the music asks of us (see above rant). When done well, that's the highest form of multi-tasking. From my understanding of our society's continual concerns about distracted driving, multi-tasking while driving is not a good idea.

That said, I know why many people practice in their cars. First of all, too many people in this country spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars commuting to work.  Secondly and I think more importantly, for many people, the car is the only place in their lives where they are alone. Time that feels wasted + time alone = Hey, I think I'll try practicing in the car.  

I can't do anything about your commutes, but I do have some ideas to help you find time and space in your life for attentive practice.  I know these aren't all easy solutions.  Give them a try anyway:
  • Talk to your families/roommates about the importance of a  judgement-free zone where you can feel free to practice and explore the possibilities of your voice. This means you will fail, That means you will make sounds that aren't ideal. That's okay.  That's called practice.
  • Find a time when everyone agrees they can and will leave you alone. I don't mean they have to leave the house; they just have to leave you alone. They can put on their headphones, they can shut the door.
  • Seek a space in your house that feels private, so you can feel free to try out new ideas and make mistakes. (In an upcoming post, I'll have some nifty, ripped-from-life practice space ideas. Let's just say people can be very inventive.)
  • Set the bar low. Start with 5 minutes of attentive practice in your house. As you get comfortable and more confident, increase the amount of time.
Am I saying you shouldn't sing in your car?  No!!!  Please, sing away!!  Open the windows and give the world some joy. The world needs more of that.  But let's be real - singing along with your favorite songs is NOT practicing.  That's feel-good time, to which I have no objections. Unless you call it practicing.