A while back I had a conversation with a director about a student who kept receiving the note to practice at home to perfect something. The student came back week after week doing the same things, frustrated, and the director was getting frustrated as well telling the kid he needed to practice at home. The student happened to be also a private student of mine and once in his lesson he said “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I keep running this at home.” After further prodding I came to the realization that the student was reinforcing the deemed “incorrect behavior” at home, further sealing his fate to be yelled at in rehearsal for not practicing when in fact he WAS practicing, he just wasn’t practicing in the way that was helping to change the old habits, in this case his posture. Later the director realized he needed to be more clear towards the student about what to be working on at home and all turned out well in the end. But it’s not always that easy.
In this scenario, the student was missing step 1: awareness. The student was confused of what specifically was being asked of him/what he was doing wrong, and the more he practiced at home running his lines, songs, and blocking, the more he solidified his body posturing in the moment. Once we discussed what the issue was and where it stems from (tension and anxiety, more on this in a later post), it became easier for the student to practice effectively at home.
A lot of music teachers and directors teach “practice makes perfect” or “don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” In other words, they believe that you should be running things over and over at home to get them right. I think this is a mistake without addressing quality control in practicing effectively, and us teachers should be teaching you how to practice. It is simply not enough to be running something over and over if what you’re practicing doesn’t include what you’re actively working on in lessons or with your director to better yourself.
If in private lessons you are working to free tension and you take 15 minutes of lesson time stretching the body before you sing or doing vocal exercises before you dive into your pieces, do this at home as well as part of your practice. If in rehearsals you continuously perform a gesture or stance by habit that the director wants done differently, practice with the new intention until it becomes a natural habit you do not have to think about anymore. If you find that you are stuck in rehearsal or lessons and the end goal seems far away ask yourself if what you’re practicing at home is reinforcing the new habits or the old habits, and do not be afraid to ask questions for clarification when you’re unsure of what goal the teacher or director is trying to accomplish. We want you to succeed with our direction because we have your best interest and the show’s best interest at heart, not to mention when we’re working with a group of people we may not always have the time or focus to get really person-specific on how to practice at home, but if you ask, we’ll do our best to help you learn to practice effectively.
Building neural pathways in the brain to create intentional new habits can take 18- 66 days or longer depending on what you’re asking to change. So give yourself some grace and be intentional about what and how you’re practicing to ensure it’s producing the desired outcome.