Performance as Practice

The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them. ~Alfred North Whitehead


Nicholas Barron says he’s never practiced. A lot of people can say that, right? But how many are musicians who can play, sing, and write songs like this:

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

The idea of “practice” is a meme, an idea that sticks in our collective consciousness and can continue for generations like Santa Claus, or briefly, like lolcats or other fads of the intertubes. The meme we think of as “practice” is sitting alone in a room, hammering away at scales or some other boring and repetitious exercise. We keep this meme separate from the meme of “performance,” and this could be a hindrance. You’ve probably made the connection that Nicholas Barron got as good as he is (and he has some serious guitar chops that the vid above doesn’t show), not through the conventional idea of practice, but through performance. He started as a street musician, performing from the word go, and sat in with other, better musicians, in order to learn by playing with them, always soaking up what he could and paying attention. This, too, is practice and it should be clear from Barron’s skills that it can be effective. In an earlier post I mentioned that performance is a hyper-focused musical experience that may teach you some things more quickly, similar to the way playing futsal can make for a better soccer player, as Dan Coyle mentioned in his book, The Talent Code.

Barron is exactly the kind of musician (in addition to those with a more traditional approach) whose stories need to be told and they’re the type of musician I’ll be interviewing for my PhD dissertation project and for my next book The Practice of Practice. The interview w/ him about practice can be found here. We need more models of practice than those of the Western classical musician, and Barron is a great example. However, not everyone has the gregarious chutzpah that is evident from even a brief conversation with Barron. I don’t. I actually need time in the practice room honing my skills because I’m shy by nature and it takes a lot of effort to screw my courage to the sticking point before I’ll step into the spotlight. Which brings me to the point of the post.

In The Talent Code, Coyle relates a great quote from football coach Tom Martinez, who says, “The way I look at it, everybody’s life is a bowl of whipped cream and shit, and my job is to even things out. If a kid’s got a lot of shit in his [or her] life, I’m going to stir in some whipped cream. If a kids’ life is pure whipped cream, then I’m going to stir in some shit.” It’s brilliant. Now say the sentence again and substitute “practice” for shit, and “performance” for whipped cream. In my own musical life, I’ve got way more practice than performance and so, for the past eight years, I’ve been trying to stir in more performance into my musical life. In fact, after a brief little jam session, Barron has invited me to sit in at one of his many gigs in the Chicago area and I’ve gladly (though nervously) agreed. It’ll be a fun, spontaneous time and I’m looking forward to it despite the nerves.

In nearly every endeavor, balance is crucial. The balance between practice and performance is something only you can figure out for yourself, but it’s something you should consider. If you’re shy, try to push yourself to get out there and play for people. If you’re gung-ho and only perform, try to spend some time alone really honing your skills. You’ll probably find that either approach will help you improve a lot more than you would otherwise. Balance is the key.

Good luck and have fun with your practice (and performance)!

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Tsufit says:

    Yes, practice is important. But at a certain point you gotta just step into the spotlight!
    Author, Step Into The Spotlight! : A Guide to Getting Noticed

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