Practice is imperfect
With less than a month to go till the start of the Mid-Somerset Festival, the sound of practising will be resonating somewhere in the soundscape of Bath. There will also be the silence of not practising, and perhaps the noise of heated discussions about its absence.
Practice doesn’t come naturally to many, and for some it is an anxiety inducing chore to be avoided. Practising the art of practice is a good place to start.
We practise all the time in our everyday lives, repeating various actions until they become second nature. Making pancakes, putting on makeup, or throwing a ball, doing anything more than once is practising, even if not consciously. The first pancake is a disaster, the tenth might be almost perfect. You can’t make a great pancake without making a few terrible ones first.
How much practice is enough?
The person who knows your skill level best, your teacher, can advise how much time you should spend practising. Realistically, most students aren’t able to live up to the practice ideal, so sometimes it’s tempting to give up altogether. However, progress can be achieved unexpectedly in short bursts – even five minutes can make a big difference.
A key thing to remember is that practice is not the same as rehearsal. For example, practice could be standing on your head in the garden saying some of your lines in a silly voice. Going over a piece after supper all the way through, with mum or dad watching, is a rehearsal. Presenting your work to Granny and Grandad in your best clothes is a performance.
Practice is personal, that’s why it’s best to try and accomplish it alone, without help, and develop your own methods and routines without pressure.
Too nervous to practise?
For those who find it hard to practise, all the usual advice and the shoulds and shouldn’ts can make the problem worse. Breaking something down into extremely small compartments, or practising in an informal location (not easy with a piano) makes the end goal seem less daunting. By running something without trying your best, and starting in the middle and not the beginning, improvements can still be made without getting stressed if something goes wrong.
Advice to practise mindfully is relevant for some, but perhaps not for anyone trying to practise in a busy household at the end of a long day. If there is a quiet moment or two, going over a piece in your mind is still practising.
Take a break?
It’s easy to assume that at the next session you’ll be picking up where you left off. That’s not the case at all. During a break of a few hours or days, the actions, words or notes become settled into the subconscious, ready to be retrieved in a more confident form.
Incorporating technology into practice is a way to make it habitual without ever having to put down your phone. It’s possible to get an app for learning lines, a duo can practise together on a video call, lessons and music can be recorded.
The best excuse to get out of a practice session is that spontaneity is destroyed by practising too much. This applies to drama, but perhaps less so for music.
Is live performance ever completely perfect? Something can always be better, therefore practice can’t make perfect. The end goal is just the next step, not the finish line.
Rosemary McEwen Speech and Drama teacher and Committee member