We all know - in theory anyway - that regular and focused practice on our instrument makes us better players, and that the more regular the practice, the faster our progress. But it can be difficult to turn that theoretical knowledge into practical action and create a regular and disciplined practice habit.
I've just started to work it out. And it's all thanks to running...
A few years ago I was living with a difficult housemate. Unbelievably anxiety-inducing. Almost panic-attack-as-you-turn-the-key-in-the-door level.
So I started running: it was the only way to reduce the stress and it gave me a positive outlet for my anxious energy. Even after the living situation was resolved I continued running because the physical and mental benefits became so clear during that time. From being a complete beginner 3 years ago, I now run 5km 3 times a week (with fairly regular success).
I run in the local park, without music or headphones, enjoying the greenery and scenery, making the most of fresh(ish) air, and let my brain wander where it will. One regular train of thought has been contemplating how I managed to turn running into a regular habit, what the pitfalls are in terms of keeping the habit, how I overcome them and, crucially, how this could benefit my singing practice.
If I know I need to run today, I will get myself out of the door, even if events or the weather seem to be against me, even if it is impossible to do my full 5km for some reason. If I have to take a break because of illness or other unavoidable situation, I will start running again as soon as I reasonably can.
When I run regularly, it becomes incredibly clear that my base line level is higher; I run faster, I can run further without stopping, my lungs don't feel like they will burst after 3mins, I have more motivation to go so I am more efficient with my time and getting myself out of the house. As an added bonus, I feel good about myself for getting out for a run and my mood is lifted by doing it (this last one is of course partly, but I would argue not entirely, due to the obvious fact of running being exercise).
Logically I know that these same principles are true when I practice singing regularly.
But I really struggle to be this disciplined and regular with my singing practice. Perhaps because it's my job, because I expect myself to be good at it (and don't want to be disillusioned!), because I have a love/hate relationship with my voice, because a bad practice session can have a more negative effect on my mood than I am comfortable with, and because, for all those reasons, the pressure feels much higher.
But without regular practice I am standing still (excuse the pun). So how can I learn from my running and maximise my music practice?
4 ideas to improve practice:
Since first drafting this blog, and with my own advice in mind, I have managed to sing very nearly every day. Sometimes just 5 minutes, rarely more than half an hour, sometimes snatched between two pupils, always juggling round a busy schedule. And I've had major breakthroughs and feel more positive and excited about singing than I have in months! Apparently, practice really does help....