January Musings

As we begin another year of study, work and leisure pursuits, we often fall into the trap of making resolutions.  We’re as guilty as anyone else in not always sticking to our goals.  There are many reasons for this, some justified and others, well let’s just say the shabby rationalisations file gets a bit of a workout.

How does this relate to music lessons I hear you ask?  Well, one of the biggies as far as resolutions goes, is “I will make more time to practise this year”.  Sound familiar?
So rather than go into all the reasons why we can’t, we thought it might be helpful to discuss ways to help stick to the plan.

Music practise is basically divided up into a few key areas.  There’s the mechanical “doing” stuff, the abstract “thinking” stuff, and the related auditory “hearing” stuff.  This is where it gets interesting.  The “doing” stuff boils down to repeating a set of sequenced neuromuscular co-ordinations to the point of automaticity.  This is motor learning.  We do this when we write, walk, use a knife and fork, or find our way to the bathroom in the dark at night without bumping into stuff.  Unfortunately there aren’t many shortcuts to this other than doing it.  However, we can make the learning more efficient by being task focussed on doing it correctly the same way each time.  If we do it incorrectly or slightly differently each time, we basically set up an intersection of neural pathways in our brain with signs pointing to too many destinations.  We want a one-way street that gets you to the same destination each time.   So the key here is slow down.  Do it correctly slowly.  Only do it while you’re mentally present.  It really won’t take long for the muscle memory to get secure this way and then you can gradually increase the speed if required.  This is easy to see for pianists where the visual and tactile response is more apparent.  But the same thing applies to singers.  We just can’t see the clever stuff that’s happening inside the larynx and articulatory mechanism that are still all composed of muscle, bones, cartilage and blood supply the same as hands and arms are.

The other thing to remember is to do this sort of practise in reasonably short and focussed sessions with breaks in between.  It’s very easy to spend hours at the keyboard or singing endlessly doing it over and over again without necessarily achieving any more than you would if you did it less but better.

We might save the “thinking” stuff to next month’s musings.  Don’t want to give you too many pearls at once!

We hope you have a successful and enjoyable year.

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