Do you make this mistake when practising?

Practising is something I have always found hard, and often found myself avoiding or putting off. It wasn’t until recently I discovered the reason why.


Hello lovely people, how are you today?

Today’s vlog is called ‘Do you make this mistake when practising?’ and for some of you it won’t chime at all – you will have no difficulty practising at all. For others practising can seem hard work at best, and deeply unpleasurable at worst.

Practising has always been a bugbear for me, I’ve always, always struggled with it, and it wasn’t until three years ago, when I was coached on it, that I realised what was going on for me. I certainly have not got it nailed yet, but it is way better now than it used to be.

So what was I doing wrong?

Well here’s where I’m going to talk about the difference between non-judgmental and judgmental observation. I used to see every mistake I made in practice as reassurance that I was not any good as a singer, that although there was this big part of me that knew I could sing and I just wanted to get my voice out there, was this other bit that every time I made a mistake was going ‘Yeah, you’re delusional, you’re not that good, you’ll never get there,’ and it used to frustrate me; and every mistake would lead to frustration that would in turn lead to tension, which would in turn lead to me singing really badly anyway.

So it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then I would avoid practice, or when I did practice I’d work really, really hard and get nowhere. So not only was I not enjoying my practice, but it was ineffectual as well.

Now anyone who seen my house will know I am NOT a perfectionist in every area of my life, but for some reason I wanted perfection in my singing. For me it was so important that I demonstrated nailing it, even in practice. It almost felt like life or death, it mattered so much, and when I didn’t achieve perfection, it hurt so much. So no pressure hey?!

What changed? Well with the coaching, this was step one of the change, with the coaching I realised that I was searching for perfection, instead of playing around. Practice was a very serious business that I needed to take seriously and work hard at, and if I was making mistake I just needed to work harder at it. But didn’t I sing for pleasure? Shouldn’t messing around at the piano be pleasurable? When I made that connection, I sang and practised every day for at least a month, without thinking about it, because suddenly I was doing it for fun and that made a huge, huge difference. And it became effective as well, because I was doing it for fun.

But what if you want to improve a particular aspect? How does playing around help with that? Well this is where step two comes in and I start to talk about non-judgmental observation. Step two happened when I read the Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Galway and he talks about non-judgmental observation. So instead of, when I’m singing, my singing being good or bad, or when I miss the note it being good or bad, I could say ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I wonder what’s going on here?’ and by asking that question I would start to encourage myself to observe how it felt. So if I miss that top note, ‘That’s interesting’. I could then ask what was that about, and I might feel a tension in my throat or a tension in my jaw, or realise that there’s support missing here, and ask myself why that was. And if there was tension then maybe it was because of the “confrontation” I had had with my children half an hour before, or maybe I was worried about where I was going to sing this, or maybe there was something particular about the phrase that was making me feel tense and nervous. So instead of looking at it with all that criticism and frustration and self-flagellation, I could just simply go ‘That’s interesting’ and that helped me unpick it. So instead of it being about it being good or bad and therefore me being good or bad, it was simply interesting, and instead of the grrr of frustration and pushing harder and pushing harder, I could look at what was going on and that would enable me to do it differently next time. Not better, differently, and hopefully more in the way I wanted it to be.

This is the sort of playing around that’s enabled me to really, really progress with my singing. I have not got there by any stretch of the imagination, I have a long way to go, but I’ve made way more progress since I’ve done this than I ever did before, and it’s allowing me to enjoy the journey of my singing more, and to take that journey, and voluntarily take each step, without pushing myself, and to have a spring in each of those steps so the journey is fun.