Practicing Perfectly

DSC04439-Robin-Practice-2.jpgThe 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?


Robin Cloward
Writer. Loves cats, horse racing, things that go bump in the night. For blogs on these and other fascinating subjects, please visit 

For information on how to join 12:30 Choir or 5Choir, click here.



But I’m Just One Voice

DSC04638-1230-ChoirI often talk about people who say they can’t sing, because, shock of a lifetime, when they show up for choir, it turns out they actually can sing. And after a short while, they can even sing parts (Soprano/Alto/Tenor/Bass). Awesome, right?

But here’s the thing: ask one of these folks if they are a singer, and the answer you are likely to get is, “No, I’m not a singer, I just sing in the choir.” What? Of course, you’re a singer—you’re singing! And then the clincher, “Well, but I’m just one voice.”

As though, somehow, being one voice among many means your voice isn’t important. Or perhaps, if you feel your part isn’t important because you’re “not a singer.”

The only difference between the “non singer” and the singer is, the singer believes they are a singer. So they know that their part is important.

But how important?

Let’s say you are one of 6 altos in a choir. You’ve sung this particular song several times, perhaps even just with a YouTube video at home, and you know the alto part pretty well.

Now let’s say the other altos don’t really know the music that well at all; this means they would sort of half-mumble their part just to see if they were in the right place, except they hear you singing the part with confidence, so they sing along with you and sound pretty good! You’ve made 6 voices happen—yours plus the other 5 altos. How important is your voice now?

But first, you have to believe that you are a singer. You don’t have to read music, or have some lessons; you just have to believe. It’s hard. But worth it!

—Brian Benison
Director of 12:30 Choir and 5Choir at Saint Andrew Catholic Parish, Executive Director of Brian Benison Music, a music preparation company serving Los Angeles.

Decoding Choir Charts

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Whether you read music or not, you may find yourself with music in front of you, even if it is only so you’ll have the lyrics. But you might see indications such as “D.S. al coda” or “Coda 2” and easily get lost while everyone else is still happily singing away.

So here’s a little cheat sheet of what some of those signs mean Continue reading “Decoding Choir Charts”

Now Is The Time For You To Lead

Aimee-4-cantor-blogNever in a million years would I imagine ME as a cantor for not one but two churches! Sure, I have sung in choirs all my life from praise and worship, gospel, school choirs (high school and college) to, of course, church choirs. But being a leader and stepping out is not always easy and I have always tended to want to take the easy road and just blend in. Hence the choir setting. But then there is that inner voice of the Holy Spirit that says Continue reading “Now Is The Time For You To Lead”

Advancing With A Retreat

RetreatliteSo I had never been on a choir retreat before. I wasn’t even sure what you did on a retreat. I had only been in the choir for two weeks so everything was new to me. The songs, the people, Saint Andrew Catholic Church, all of it. Maybe it involved secret ceremonies in the woods for all I knew. The only part I knew for certain was that there would be a trip down to St. Ann’s in Burleson way early on a Saturday morning.

Continue reading “Advancing With A Retreat”