Most people have heard the adage, “practice makes perfect.” However, this statement is not entirely true. Drawing from the wisdom of my former teachers, and my own personal experience, “muscles have memory” and “practice makes permanent.” Since permanence most certainly does not guarantee perfection, here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of your practice time.
Before you do anything else, make sure your mind is clear and able to concentrate. Without the ability to focus, your practice will, at best, maintain your skill, but more likely, introduce or reinforce bad habits. It is better not to practice than to do so with a foggy, tired mind. Take a nap, have a snack, start relaxed.
2. Warm Up
Just as athletes warm up before any sport or fitness activity, musicians need to warm up as well. Since muscle memory is what we are building through practice, we must be intentional about getting those muscles ready to learn. Scales are a good way to warm up. Use something fun and familiar. Five minutes is usually enough and having a set routine makes it easy.
I remember teaching a song to my worship team when my voice was not warmed up. During the service when my voice was fully warmed, my muscle memory brought back all of the straining from trying to sing the song cold. Not fun.
3. Go Slow
Especially when learning a new song, take your time. Mistakes usually come from going too fast. Speeding up the tempo after you have learned the song is much easier than learning mistakes and having to reprogram those muscles.
4. Take Breaks
Don’t feel the pressure to have a long practice time. Even if you do practice long, take breaks. Give those muscles a chance to recuperate. Play five minutes, rest five minutes. This method will greatly increase the effectiveness of your practice time.
5. Repeat Often
It is so much better to practice everyday for 10-15 minutes rather than twice a week for two hours. Squeezing more practice times into your week will provide greater and faster results.
6. Have Fun
When practice is only about learning new songs or working through difficulties, it can be hard to stay motivated. Playing songs you love or simply improvising as an emotional release is critical to an enjoyable practice. Let your heart be happy during practice time. Make beautiful music.
7. End Early
It is possible to over-practice. Knowing when you’re done and quitting while you are ahead is important. There were times in college when I worked my fingers until I couldn’t play a song at all. If you notice that you are making more mistakes than when you started, you have practiced too long. Again, as in the first tip, only practice for as long as you can concentrate. You should feel encouraged and refreshed after practicing, not exhausted.
Did I miss anything? What makes your practice time effective?
I had just sat down after co-leading worship one Friday night, when one of the other worship team members came up behind me whispering, “What kind of underwear do you wear?” Completely caught off guard and throughly confused, I just stared back at him with a skeptical look on my face. He continued, “Boxers or BRIEFS?” As I continued to feel slightly awkward still not understanding his joke, he finally spelled it out nice and simple, “Come on. We’re debriefing.”
A regular debrief is an absolute necessity in building a good worship team. Whether it happens formally or informally, allowing your team to share immediate feedback about the worship experience creates an environment for excellence to be cultivated and success to be celebrated. Teaching moments abound and the things you forget to talk about as a team finally get remembered.
Recently at The Well (my church home), we cleaned out a closet and turned it into a debriefing room. It also holds all of our extra/miscellaneous sound equipment. While a closet might not be an ideal space, its position next to the stage is perfect and it keeps us from wanting to spend too much time in there.
Since debriefing every set can be cumbersome to certain individuals, here are some suggestions to help you make the most of your time.
1. Recognize the positives.
Encourage your team members to share what aspects went really well or what they most enjoyed about the worship time. Verbal affirmation of your team is crucial. Set the tone with positive words that build up each person in their strengths. Tell your guitarist when he plays a great solo or congratulate your vocalist when she sings an awesome harmony. Your team will follow as you lead the way. Invite each person to speak.
2. Review the negatives.
Ask if there were any problem spots or challenges that the team can work through. Admit when you missed it and don’t shift the blame. As much as possible, keep the criticism low and don’t let the team beat themselves up or end the meeting on a bad note. If a problem requiring a lengthy discussion arises, arrange another meeting to find a solution for the issue. Don’t use too much debriefing time.
3. Rehearse the essentials.
What are the values of your worship ministry? What is your mission statement? Do you have a vision? Does your team know all of these things? Find a simple and fast way to constantly remind your team of the core values and vision so that it becomes part of their DNA.
4. Keep it short.
A common tendency for any group is to meander through tangential topics. Don’t go there. Whenever possible keep the group focused and on task and always end the debrief on time (10-15 minutes should be plenty long). Your team will be very grateful if you keep the debrief from becoming long and drawn out.
Remember, communication within your team is essential to its health and growth. Adding a debrief is an easy, practical way to improve and develop your team.
Thoughts? Questions? Add a comment below…