I wanted to follow up last week’s blog with a bit more tips for you on how to practice.
I like to break practice into 4 Categories: Writing, Technique, “Free Play” and refinement.
This is the title of a great book written by Stephen Nachmanovitch about the art of improvisation. What is great about this book is it both speaks directly about improvisation and also uses improvisation as a metaphor for how to make music in general. Improvisation is the essence of creating. Every act of creating begins with improvisation, and we could say, that in music, art and life we are always improvising. I highly recommend this book, especially for those of you who, like myself, tend to be hard on yourselves in your practice time. Nachmanovitch says that “To play, is to free ourselves from arbitrary restrictions and expand our field of action (43).” I like to think of this as taking the time to tap into where our creativity comes from, that inner part of our core that knows what wants to be expressed before we open our mouths to sing or pick up the pen to write. It is important to keep a sense of playfulness all the time in ones practice, and I suggest carving out a specific time that is just for play. I start every practice session allowing myself the freedom to make any sounds that feel good, both with my voice and my violin. Then, if not every day, at lease once a week I give myself 20 minutes to 1 hour to play whatever I want. Sometimes this is improvisation, which can turn into writing a new song, and sometimes this is time to play any song I want, either original or not.
This is the time where you really practice “showing up.” (see blog about this). I recommend doing some writing every day. Not every writing practice has to become a full fledged song, but writing at least a little every day keeps your creative juices flowing and helps you learn to write no matter how you feel, under all sorts of circumstances. I think it is really important to honor how we feel, and let the song flow. And, learning to show up even when you “aren’t feeling it” sometimes allows for the true power of music to come through and support us. I’ve written some of my best songs when I didn’t want to write. In showing up, I let go, use writing to process whatever is going on for me in my emotions and life. When we write consistently, we let what is stuck and causing us to not show up begin to flow again.
For most people this is the hardest thing to have discipline around. Technique is where we focus in and hone our skills. This is where we practice the little tiny parts of music that are not necessarily exciting on their own, but when we can execute them well, help us create the whole of what we want. I always keep the sense of “play” present during my technique practice. “Technique itself springs from play, because we can acquire technique only the practice of practice, by persistently experimenting and playing with our tools and testing their limits and resistances (Nachmanovitch, 42).”
One of the most important things to help you stay focused and inspired, is to remain connected to why you are doing the technique practice. Nachmanovitch does a great job of describing this when he says that freedom in playing music is “having technique to burn.” So every time you focus on technique, you are empowering yourself to have more freedom in having choices in your performing, writing, improvising and playing in general. I call this having a “so that.” It is good to choose one or two things to focus on at a time. I usually take it week by week. “This week, I am going to work on scales and arpeggio patterns so that I can feel free in my violin soloing in my show with Cameron Powers project this weekend.” Or “this week I am focusing on x vocal technique so that I can enjoy singing x song and be more connected with my audience.”
Since this is what I spoke about in last week’s blog, I am not going to say much, only that it is important to know when to spend time on this and when to not. Again, picking a focus is important. Right now, all my focus is on refinement. I’m not working on technique, I’m not writing, I’m not taking a lot of time for “free play” because, I have a tour coming up.” But, if you are not preparing for a show, I suggest keeping your “refinement” time to a minimum and focusing instead on the things that will support refinement later, especially technique and writing (with free play time to keep you excited). See last week’s blog for more about refinement.