The more you practice something, the better you become at it. Doesn’t matter if it is singing or playing a guitar or drawing a picture, the more you work at it, the more improvement you make. Sure, it sounds like an old wives’ tale, but it is true. So why does it work?
One reason is that practicing allows your brain and your body to get used to a certain experience. Maybe it is something new or maybe it is something you have decided to get more serious about. The thing you are practicing is not important. It is the process of learning that makes the difference.
Take walking, for instance. You didn’t jump out of your crib one day and strut off into the living room. There were a lot of actual baby steps involved. You had to learn how to get up on your feet. Once you were up there, you had to figure out how balancing worked so you wouldn’t fall down again. Along the way, you did fall, over and over again, but the more you got up, the more your muscles and your brain learned about coordination. If I put my left foot here, I stay up longer than if I put my left foot there. It’s a lesson baby horses have to learn within minutes of being born. Human babies take months longer, but the process is the same. Finding out what works and what doesn’t work. How do I stay up instead of falling down?
But practice is about quality even more than it is about quantity. If you practice a hymn wrong for an hour, it is still wrong. If that baby scoots around on one hand and one foot, it will move, but it won’t be walking. Doing something over and over reinforces the neural pathways in your brain. If you have been making a mistake at a certain point in a song, that mistake becomes etched into your brain tissue. Practicing creates a new neural pathway to replace the old one. And the more you rehearse, the more that mistake is erased. Your brain changes physically to make a process more efficient, but that change only happens when you practice.
Practice is different from rehearsal. A rehearsal is where a group of people get together to work on a group project, like a concert or a band recital. Rehearsal is all about harmony, all about putting your part into the group endeavor. Practice is what you do at home. That is where you figure out how the song goes, what the rhythm is, where the emphasis falls. Practice is over before the rehearsal even begins.
Choir members need to focus on three things: learning the words, learning the music, and learning to match the voices of the people around them. Those are the three things that make a choir sound like a choir. It doesn’t matter if your voice is hauntingly beautiful if you stumble over the lyrics or mangle the tune.
And how do you make sure that doesn’t happen?