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Integrating Your Musical Practice into Your Life

Do you wish you could sing or play an instrument better, but just struggle with motivating to actually make space in your life for practicing? I know I struggle with this now, especially as the world begins to open up again and there are so many lovely distractions...

First, I'd like to say that there are many different ways to practice. One way to practice is to set aside a 1-2 hour block of time and devote that time to practicing your instrument. Another way is to do little spurts of 10-15 minutes of really focused practicing or playing. There's another type of practice that has meant the most to me in the past 8 years, which is what I call "Integrated Practice."

For singing, the first technique I teach my students is breathing. The great thing about breathing is that you can practice it anywhere. You can practice when you are driving, or sitting on a bus, or going for a walk. You can practice while reading out loud to your kids, or while you are having a conversation with a friend or spouse. When we sing, we are using the same voice that we use to speak with. However, sometimes integrating this diaphragmatic-costal breathing technique into one's singing is so much harder than an isolated breathing practice due to all of the years of practice we have building breathing habits with our daily voice/body use. When we start integrating this breathing technique into our daily lives, we are already changing that habit.

Another technique I like to teach my students has to do with finding their ideal speaking range. So much of the time, especially for us higher voiced individuals, we have spent years speaking in a range that sits so low that it causes vocal fatigue. Practicing speaking just a little bit higher, or "pitching up" can feel traumatic at first. We hear our voice sounding so different from inside our heads, although outside of our body it often is barely even noticeable. This is another practice that you can integrate into daily life so that it feels less overwhelming. As a voice teacher, I used to speak too low on a regular basis which resulted in vocal fatigue after a long day of teaching, not from singing but from speaking. I found that I felt less self-conscious when I practiced speaking higher if I did it in a space with strangers. Luckily at the time I was working as a barista in Boston. As I would shout out drink orders like "Caramel Macchiato," I would practice aligning my breathing with a higher pitched speaking range and before I knew it, this technique was integrated into my daily speaking. I no longer get fatigued from hours of teaching/speaking each day and the transition, although at first felt impossible, became seamless.

I started playing the fiddle about 6 years ago now, and there are bowing exercises, that my fiddle teacher taught me that I can practice with a pen or pencil. So, even when in a meeting or sitting watching TV, I can integrate that practice and get to know the new little muscles of my fingers.

These are just a few examples of ways to integrate practicing into your daily life. If you have the time and space, giving yourself the gift of a lengthy uninterrupted practice is also life changing. However, especially for adult students, it's difficult to take the time or to have the privacy to be able to practice freely. I often encourage my adult students to practice singing in the car because it's the one space they have by themselves.

I also encourage you to get creative. No matter what instrument, genre, or level you are with your music, there are many ways to practice that allow it to feel more accessible, and artistic. Practice gentleness and allow your music practice to be a time for you. Try to move through any discouraging feelings and enjoy the process of learning something new, and the comfort in the vibrations of your singing or playing. If you are struggling practicing, there is probably a reason. So try not to beat yourself up, but instead grab a journal and write honestly about your reservations and what's going on. I know a huge obstacle with me and my fiddle practice is the feeling of "I'll never be good enough, so why even try?" seems like in that moment I am taking my practice way too seriously. So the solution for me is to ask myself, how can I bring some fun back into my practice? When you get to the heart of the issue, there's always a solution.

Thanks for reading. I'd love to know if you have a way of integrating practice into your life and how it helps you embrace your true power as a musician.

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