Never underestimate the power of doodling

Years ago I had a philosophical difference with my esteemed vocal coach, who was of the opinion that his students shouldn't sing between lessons, for fear they would practice incorrectly, and further cement bad habits.

Although I understood his point of view, I disagreed with him. I told my students they should practice. Optimal would be at least once a day, six days a week, I said. Acceptable would be at least once a day three days a week. Any less than that, they'd be running the risk of slowing their progress.

I knew that they might do things ineffectively in their practice, with the best will in the world they would not always know if what they were doing was the ‘right’ thing. Their existing habits and old ways of thinking would be with them, and possibly taint their execution. I wanted them to practice anyway.

Indeed sometimes they would return to their next lesson and as we worked I would see where they had stepped off the path. They’d demonstrate what they had been doing and I would see where the misunderstanding was and set them straight. We’d repeat the ‘right’ way in the hopes that the experience would remain with them between lessons.

Still, I told them to practice. Why?

First, as Julia Cameron says, they would be ‘filling in the form’. 

“Make your practice part of your daily life, as much a habit as brushing your teeth,” I’d tell a student. “Get up every day, practice, and then go out and do your daily things carrying the knowledge and energy that comes from knowing you sang that morning. It will feel good.”

Secondly, those voices in our heads can easily defeat the burgeoning creative. ‘You suck, you’re too old, you don’t even try, who are you kidding, you don’t practice enough, you may have done it okay that time but you’ll suck again soon.’ The only way I know how to defeat the doubts is to take action. And taking action is practicing. Whether it’s singing scales, or playing riffs on the guitar, or penning a lyric, or sketching a tree, or writing morning pages. We need to ‘do’ in order to grow beyond our programming.

I was watching an interview with Hans Zimmer yesterday, and one of the things he said is that you have to have the courage to fail. He echoes other creative gurus such as Julia Cameron. Part of our daily practice is to experience without expectation, to experiment without judgement, to ‘play’. In this we build a foundation of consistency. Our creative muscle is toned. We open ourselves to the flow.

I have an ongoing dialogue with people who are at odds with me, who say that routine or discipline is the enemy of inspiration. I have to disagree. I think the muse will visit me when I’ve created an attractive place for it. It will come when my antennae are up and I am ready to receive. When I have done the job of practicing my instrument or my craft so that I am ready. If I tinker and play. If I doodle.

If I do not take the time to practice my skills, if I do not ‘fill in the form’, my imagination will not take flight.

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