One of the keys to success for any singing actor is an effective practice habit. The ability to practice frequently and productively is an essential skill, but one that requires cultivation. In fact, I would go so far to say that cultivating this skill is the single most important thing you can do to make progress toward mastery of the art of singing acting.
Singing actors are no different than instrumentalists, dancers or athletes when it comes to the development of technique. You have to “train to gain” – put in the time if you expect to make progress. Whether or not you subscribe to the validity of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule,” based on research that has shown it takes that many hours of practice to achieve mastery in any particular field, the unarguable fact is that you won’t improve if you don’t put in significant amounts of time. During this semester, my expectation is that you will spend a minimum 90 minutes in the practice room – three 30-minute sessions per week – and that you will use the online practice log to document your practice time.
Of course, what you do with that time is also terribly important. It is crucial that you learn to practice with purpose in order to achieve meaningful gains. Your practice must be deliberate – persistent training in which you give your full concentration rather than just your time. Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s recently published book Focus, the subject of a recent post in the blog Brain Pickings, delves into the idea of deliberate practice, and offers ways to tweak your practicing for greater effectiveness.
Performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama considers the question of how (and how long) to practice on his blog, The Bulletproof Musician. Dr. Kageyama endorses Goleman’s idea of deliberate practice. He recommends keeping practice sessions short and planning them for times in the day when you have good energy and clarity. He recommends establishing goals for your practice sessions, and using a notebook to keep track of those goals as a way of becoming more mindful about your practicing. In his view, we need to learn to practice smarter, not harder, using problem-solving strategies that he describes in his post.
“When most musicians sit down to practice, they play the parts of pieces they’re good at. … But expert musicians focus on the parts that are hard, the parts they haven’t yet mastered. The way to get better at a skills is to force us to practice just beyond your limits.” This advice comes from an interview with author Joshua Foer, whose book Moonwalking With Einstein is an account of his personal foray into the cultivation of mastery. You can read about Foer’s ideas at the challenge of getting past the “OK plateau” here, and view his TED talk and learn more about his experiences at www.joshuafoer.com.
The SAVI online practice log you will be using provides a way to record your goals at the beginning of a practice session and reflect on the quality of your work at the end of the session. In addition, it is designed to increase your awareness of the three different types of work that singing actors should do in the practice room:
1. Conditioning. This is the equivalent of the work that an athlete does in the workout room and the drills that a musician does to build skill, strength and coordination. In class, you will learn a variety of exercises you can do in the “behavior gym” part of your practice session.
2. Exploring. When preparing repertoire for performance, you need to investigate all your options for bringing technique and creativity to your work. In class, you will be introduced to procedures that will inspire you to explore your work more thoroughly and imaginatively.
3. Crafting. In the final stages of preparing repertoire for performance, you will want to finalize your choices and coordinate and polish your execution of those choices.
The quantity and quality of your practicing will count for 25% of your grade in my class. The online practice log gives you the chance to fine-tune your practice room habits, and documents your practice room experiences in a way that will enable to compare your work in the practice room with that of your classmates.