I'm more commonly known as a singer/songwriter/pianist these days, but I used to study classical flute. Like, proper study. Anyone reading this from school (especially primary school) will probably remember me as the kid in band. So when I was taking the exam for my Associate Diploma, I felt an appropriate amount of nerves, but I was also so damn prepared that in many ways, it was a breeze.
I was prepared because of the large amount of exercises I practiced on a daily basis. Because my teacher told me to practice difficult passages in a variety of different rhythms - forwards and backwards. Because she had me visualize a Baroque court when I was playing Bach like Debussy (mmm classical French music). Because I left no stone unturned.
When I started seriously getting into the popular music side of things - writing songs, recording, playing shows; I got so caught up in the 'freedom' and 'creativity' aspect that I lost sight of how important focused and consistent practice is.
If I'm to compare studying a classical instrument to being a singer/songwriter, I believe they each have completely different sets of challenges. Their common denominator though, is practice.
Firstly, I think everyone is different and I'm sharing this blog as a token of my own thoughts from my own experiences.
I've found it necessary to practice more than just the obvious: singing. writing songs. playing piano.
I've found it necessary to also practice things like combat negative feelings. This requires a strategy.
If you ever experience self doubt, nerves, fear or any other unpleasant emotion that can creep up before a performance, song/album release or just out of the blue (N.B. you're far from alone); then pre-empt these and have a strategy in place to fight them.
HOUR OF POWER:
So in light of that, my daily practice now looks a little like this:
20 mins - vocal exercises
20 mins - piano exercises
10 mins - stretching
10 mins - meditation
You may find you end up spending more time on each, but on most days, this is pretty achievable, right? You don't even have to do it all in one hit!
LEADING UP TO A GIG/RELEASE/IMPORTANT EVENT:
This is where it's important to step it up a notch. Pre-empt those unpleasant feelings and fight fight fight!
Firstly, on the performance side of things, this is where I like to bring in the 'one man show'. Play your set to one lucky person. This is much scarier than playing to a bunch of people. (Unless it's Ric's Bar on a Tuesday night and you're playing to seven friends whose eye colours you can make out from the stage).
This should do two things:
1. Boost your confidence.
2. Make you very quickly aware of the things you want to sharpen.
Make sure you've timed your set so you can relax when it's time for the gig!
DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY
I feel like this can be the harder battle, and the one people tend to talk about less.
I still experience negative feelings before I release music or play an important show. I'd like to say that I've found a way to get rid of them but that wouldn't be true. What I can truthfully say, is that I've found a way to not let those feelings overrun me.
The picture above was taken right before one of my favourite gigs. I'm here with my lovely, talented friend and make up artist and we're wearing Athan Jon.
I was SO nervous before this show because I wasn't sure what people would think of this type of outrageous fashion at a local rock show in Brisbane. But then the next time I did something similar, I was less nervous. I still get nervous whenever I do something new. But then the new becomes familiar. What a great pattern to repeat.
Sounds easy in theory, but I know it's harder in practice. Remember, it's a muscle that can be trained.
Here are some things I recommend to fight negativity. Call upon these when you need them:
1. Hang out with a friend who you have fun with and uplifts you. You know the difference between procrastinating and spending some quality time with someone to take a break and gain perspective. Don't feel guilty about doing this.
2. Keep a notebook with quotes from people you admire.
3. Keep a notebook and write down the times where you've felt at your best - it may be after a good performance, it may be a comment someone left you on social media. When someone leaves me a comment saying they can relate to a song I wrote or that I've brightened their day, I remember that for me, being a singer/songwriter is about sharing with others. This activity can shift my mindset in a heartbeat.
4. Setting a daily mantra in the morning and repeating it whenever negative thoughts arise.
Negative thoughts are tricky and there's no quick fix. These are some of the things I do to nip them in the bud when they arise - hope they'll help you!
What do you all do? Share your tips below!
I'm Holly! Songwriter, singer, writer and musician.