Happy Monday! We are back with another Micro Action Monday all about practicing. Practicing is really the thing that makes it all happen. I mean, it’s core, foundational, it’s the part that everything is built off of. One of the most impactful tools I have in my toolbox is a practice schedule. This tool helps you become efficient with the time that you have to achieve your goals. A practice schedule is really connected to our idea of systems. You may have encountered my coaching framework around offers, clients, and systems. Part of the systems aspect is making sure that you are doing the work in the practice room so that you can shine in the audition room or onstage. We need to create an efficient practice schedule is to make sure that that can happen. A few clicks around the internet will net you thousands of search results for the overall basics. However, I want to put the focus on a practice schedule for when you are working on repertoire. It’s important to have a plan when you are getting ready for something you’re going to be putting on stage. It is imperative to show up to the first rehearsal knowing the entire work front to back. It’s not just about knowing your part. That’s the very first step.
Your micro action for today is to set up a practice schedule.
Step one of setting up your practice schedule is to figure out when it will happen. I don’t believe that everybody has the same type of practicing mojo or the same type of practicing brain. You need to know your style.
- Do you like to batch it and work on a specific section or skill for a longer amount of time?
- Or, do you like to do smaller chunks?
- Do you like to do a mixture of those things?
- How do you like to practice?
Identify your style and set yourself up for success. It may be that you’re in a season where you don’t have six hours on a given day of the week. Even if you wanted to, you don’t have that kind of time or that’s not how your life is working at the moment. You may have to work in an off-type situation. That’s okay. We all have those seasons. If having a longer amount of time to practice is important and valuable to you, start thinking about how you might be able to change some of your schedule around. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen immediately. But, you can start to ask,
“how would I envision my life so that I gave myself the practice style that worked the best for me?”
If you are the kind of person that likes to do 20 minute chunks every single day, ask yourself,
- “How can I maximize these shorter bursts?
- “How can I give myself consistent periods of time that aren’t quite as long?”
- “Are there more ways that I can provide interest and novelty during my practice sessions to align with how my brain likes to work?”
Add your practice time to your calendar.
This brings me to values. Can I look at your calendar, whatever you’re using, and see that you value your practice time so much that it’s showing up on your calendar and isn’t getting booked over or double booked? Where does it logistically go? I want to know that you’ve already committed to yourself by putting it in your calendar. I always like to say, “A budget and a calendar are moral documents because it tells me how you plan to spend your most precious resources: time and money.” If you go through the act of adding your practice time to your calendar, then it also forces you to consider where you might be when that happens. You may get some practicing done at a school, or near your office, or at home, or even score study on your commute.
Include your warming up in your practice time.
How much time does it take to actually get warmed up? Hopefully you are getting more and more efficient with that so that your body is ready to respond. It’s ready to do the work. But, we all know that warming up can take longer on some days than others. I want you to be aware of that. Are there times of the week or times of the month or times of the year in which you need longer warming up time to make sure that you’re vocally ready and healthy to rock and roll during your practice session?
Plan what you’ll practice before you’re in the practice room.
Then, we turn our attention to repertoire. In my ideal world, you’re writing down what rep you’re going to be doing when you’re putting your practice time in your calendar. So when you’re putting it on your schedule, you’re also identifying how you will use that time. In education, we talk about instructional scaffolding. I’m asking you to apply this to your own learning and practice. You will be both the teacher and the student. When you’re learning an entire act or an entire song cycle, it is necessary to break it down into chunks. To apply some of our knowledge of scaffolding, you could pair a technical skill along with each section. You may also include other instructional models as part of your scaffolding which could include working with a coach, listening to recordings, etc.
If you have multiple gigs coming up in which you’re singing different rep, I want you to be able to look at that practice schedule and say, “I see that I have time set aside to work on all of these things and not just the scariest one, or not just the one that is the largest. Yes, the requisite amount of time is showing up for me to learn and and execute this repertoire.”
Make scaffolding or chunking down work for you.
One of the reasons scaffolding works is “chunking it down.” When you’re getting ready for something, especially if you’re working on something large-form like an entire orchestral work or you’re preparing a role, I really want to see it chunked down into clear, manageable parts.
Use the form to guide your practice.
It may not be enough to just focus on working on a particular aria and then switching to the duo or trio that follows. I’m If there are parts that are particularly challenging or thorny, I want you to chunk that down even further. For example, you might say, “I’m working on measures 70 through 95 because there’s a ton of text in that area or the intervals are particularly challenging and I really want to make sure that I nail that. They’re not as straightforward or not as intuitive as I might have assumed first.” Also, use the form to guide your practice time. Pay attention to rehearsal letters or rehearsal numbers in your score, because they often are big goal posts in the form and are the convening points during rehearsal. Use this to your advantage by saying, “I’m definitely going to practice feeling really confident going from rehearsal letter A to rehearsal letter B, because we will probably either stage that section or we’re going to be rehearsing from here to there.” Please also rehearse and memorize the music that is happening when you aren’t singing. You never know when a director will ask you to stay on stage through the end of the scene even though you may not have more sung lines.
Incorporate repetition and variation into your practice strategies.
Now, let’s go on to what I consider repetition and variation. How many times do you need to repeat a particular practice strategy until you have a section learned and/or memorized? Also try considering try a variation instead of simple repetition. For example, if I’m personally learning a new piece, I usually start with solfege. I’m going to solfege each section and then ascertain how many times I need to repeat with solfege before I feel really confident with that strategy. Then, what’s my variation? Maybe I will move on to count singing next. Do I know it as well as I thought I did when I move on to a different practice strategy? Here are a few more to try:
- Do I know it as well when I’m singing it “only on vowels” as I do if I’m singing the text?
- Do I still feel confident with the rhythmic accuracy when I’m practicing the dynamics or expression?
- Do I retain the timbre/tone quality while I’m focusing on the physicality/dramatic elements?
What does it mean to practice? Well, it comes down to understanding:
- What practice strategies do I need to employ to fully understand and embody the music?
- How many times do I need to repeat a practice strategy before it feels like I’ve learned it that way and/or memorized it that way?
- What variations do I use and how many times do I repeat that variation until I feel confident with it? Your various strategies build neural pathways that help you understand and execute the music that you’re performing.
If you are confused about practice strategies, hit me up. I have an entire like practice plan that I’m happy to share with you.
If this feels a little overwhelming to discuss different practice strategies, that’s okay. Many vocalists learn a method that seems to boil down to, “we’ll just start singing it on the words and then like, listen, and then repeat it back or something like that.” I’m not being rude. That’s how a lot of people get started. To feel like you have a lot more control over your deepest understanding of the music, however, you will probably want to come up with lots of different practice strategies.
Repetition and variation of practice strategies leads up to a more natural memorization process. All of these different strategies help you unlock the information in the score and store it in your brain and body. I want you to understand it so well that you feel like you could simply wake up from a dead sleep and do it.
Try adversity training while practicing.
So that leads me to my next step, which is what I consider adversity training. We all know that auditions and performances can go wildly awry. You will not foresee it coming. You never believe that the nightmare situation will happen. And yet, here you are, and here it is. You will need a way to keep moving ahead. This is what I consider adversity training.
The better your practice time is, the better prepared you are for the adversity that you will absolutely run into in the world of music making. It’s not that somebody is out to get you or that others are purposefully trying to make it hard. It’s just that things happen. Say your colleague forgets a line, that happens. This is your chance to put some good karma into the world and be the person who’s able to continue on because they’ve learned their music so well. It’s not a great look to be in that situation and say, “Oh, well, that person didn’t do what they were supposed to do and that messed me up.”
It is your responsibility to show up with it so ingrained that you can absorb any of those random challenges. You know, tricky things. Stuff that just goes a little off. You can be the person who helps everybody get back into the pocket. You can continue to create music and create the experience without losing your step just because one thing didn’t go perfectly.
Plan for ‘next time’ at the end of ‘this time’.
During your session, take some notes. Keep a practice journal – it doesn’t have to be super involved. You could do this in your phone. You could do this in a little tiny notepad. What do you take notes about? Try:
- What needs more work?
- What practice strategies might you apply next time?
- Was there anything from this plan you had from this practice session that you weren’t able to get to? Okay, well, when I come back next time.
- Where do you feel super confident? Where do you feel shaky?
- Plan where you need to start or isolate next.
Having some reflection time at the end of a practice session can be a huge boon for your retention. Your brain is actively reviewing what it has just learned and is making plans for next steps. I love leaving my “future self” recommendations for the practice room. It makes me feel like I’m continuing to make the most efficient use of my time.
I want you to have an incredibly efficient practice schedule so that you can be a boss onstage! People will be so impressed with the fact that you’re able to show up ready to go. Also, you will be able to learn a ton of music!
Be a reliable colleague because you’ve prepared so well!
You will also be a better colleague because you’re reliable in the preparation that you’ve done. I understand, I absolutely wish that I got to be and do all of these things all of the time. But these are steps, strategies, and intentions that I incorporate so that I can make the most out of working together with my colleagues or making the music that I want to make in the world.
If I’m messing around in the studio without a plan without a sense of direction, then I don’t feel like I’m able to show up with all of the knowledge and expertise that I have. I won’t be able to apply it because I wasn’t being thoughtful about how I used my practice time.
Finally, don’t forget that discovery time and exploration are absolutely necessary as part of our practice! I wanted to specifically focus on the time when you’re preparing specific music for a gig or an audition. During that time, I want to make sure that every moment feels like it is charged with possibility and purpose. So, also give yourself a play time when you need that. Find ways to stay connected to the joy of making music even when you’re working really intensely to prepare something specific.
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