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How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, Practice, Practice?

How and what do you practice? Practicing is a commitment to excellence that starts with a solid strategy, defined goals, a realistic tactical plan, plus a brand story that will continue to develop your brand voice (singing voice) with authority and authenticity. This means getting relentlessly fierce mentally as you focus on how you do what you do. This then is backed with uncompromising accountability on your part. Annie Murphy Paul, the author of “Origins” and “The Power of Smart Listening”, says “The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect.”

This might sound simplistic, even obvious, but it’s something most of us avoid. As you practice singing, play the piano, dabble at speaking another language, get your resume in order for a specific audition or competition, work on your plan of action, it’s usually because you like doing it or know it is a means to an end, getting to do what you want to do. It’s usually a quick fix or Band-Aid that you use to patch something up because you don’t want to spend your time, energy or monies on finding the source of the problem or issue, that will finally give you the solution. This often gives you a certain feeling of achievement, a level of competency that makes you feel good about yourself.

"Maintaining a complicated life is a great way to avoid changing it." - Elaine St. James

But what you don’t do is to look intentionally for the evidence, the ways that you are not fully committed to finding each shortcut, stumbling block, shortcoming, mistake or problem as they occur and addressing each immediately. If you identify the precise location and source of each error, then practice that part again and again until it’s corrected, it gives you a sense, a level of confidence that you are actually changing your mind and attitude about how you do what you do. This puts you on the road to becoming the expert in whatever part of your life you are working on at that moment. It stays with you as you move through your day and as you apply it to all that you encounter. This creates a much deeper sense of “feeling good” about yourself. You have gone the extra mile, as they say. Probably no one but you will notice the change in you right away, but over time both you and they will be amazed at the level of expertise and success you have reached.

When talking about vocal technique, I have noticed that singers often when practicing or working in a lesson, want to imitate by sound, what worked previously without digging deep to find the physical aspect or feeling that provides concrete evidence you can then practice over and over again getting the results you can count on. Practicing by listening to the sound of your voice will not get you where you want to go.

"Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again." - F. P. Jones

Another trend I have noticed is that when working on the business aspects of a singing career, most singers waste so much time, energy and money trying to practice someone else plan of action. Because we are all wired differently internally with our preferred behaviors, inner language systems, our patterns and traits, it is imperative that you spend the time figuring out and practice how you work best at this important aspect of your career. Here are some of the stumbling blocks.

  • Technology and the virtual world are fabulous and can make many tasks much easier; however it is also very easy to get wrapped up in too much technology by trying to use it all when it’s not necessary. Use only what makes sense to you and always keep it simple.
  • Pick one day of the week to faithfully always do business. Continually practice creating a plan for the upcoming week, a “to do” list and construct it in a way that makes it easy and achievable for just you to accomplish. It will probably only take an hour or so to put it in place, blocking times for phone calls, appointments, tasks, etc. Starting the next morning, you have already done all the thinking and can just be an employee to the events on your calendar. This keeps the chaos at bay. There will be fewer fires to put out during your upcoming week and this will also make it easier to rearrange if need be.
  • At the beginning of your work week, print a copy of your planned calendar and set it aside. As you go through that week, modify your calendar to what you actually did, making changes to the areas where you deviated from the plan. Be honest about what you actually did! If you decide that you are not going to complete a task and would rather take a nap, actually change your calendar to say so. At the end of the week print an updated copy of this revised calendar and compare it to your original plan and celebrate where there were successes, and revise the areas that need improvement. Also use it in the beginning to notice whether you put too little or too much on your plate and adjust as you get more familiar and comfortable with practicing being the employee.
  • Here’s a great book on this subject if you need help. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris.

"The shortest answer is doing." - Lord Herbert

Without deliberate practice, even the most talented individuals will reach a plateau and stay there. This is true no matter the industry or job. For most of us, that’s just fine. But don’t delude yourself that you’ll see much improvement unless you’re ready to tackle your mistakes, shortcuts, stumbling blocks and problems. So step up your game, get mentally fierce about how you do what you do, and start becoming the expert by practicing deliberately. It will pay off big time.

Now, let me know what you think.

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