Have you ever wanted to be great at something?
Okay, maybe that’s a stupid question. Of course you have. Whether you’re a singer like me or an aspiring underwater basket-weaver, you probably have something you’ve wanted to get really, really good at doing. Something you love that you want to master.
In case you haven’t caught on by now (or this is your first time visiting my blog, in which case, my most sincere apologies and HOWDY AND WELCOME), I love singing. It’s not only my career but also my deepest passion. I want to become a great singer. I will settle for nothing less than greatness.
The thing that super-duper sucks, though? The process of becoming great at anything (singing included) is, well.. often not so great.
When I was in undergrad, I spent a lot of time in the practice room. I mean a lot of time. An ungodly amount of time. We’re talking four to five hours at a time.
I know what you’re thinking. “But Georgeanne! That’s great! What a blessing it is to sit in a practice room and just work on your craft! Didn’t Malcolm Gladwell say that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at anything? Think of all the time you put in!”.
And yeah, sure. I spent like, a lot of time in a practice room…. staring at the piano. Staring at my music. Singing through my music from beginning to end over and over and over. Avoiding singing because I hated the sounds that were coming out of my mouth. Hating myself. Hating that I couldn’t walk into that room with a new piece and come out two hours later with it learned and technically perfect. I wanted to be great.
I wanted to be great right now.
I started to dread going to practice. Which, if you’re a singer.. is not such a good thing.
This is the part of the blog where I skip ahead a few years and hit you with some magic wisdom. I graduated in 2013. It’s now 2016. Do the math (I’m really bad at math, but I think that’s three years).
I’ve stopped spending entire afternoons in practice rooms drowning in a delightful combination of self-loathing and desperation. I don’t dread going to practice. I look forward to it.
I’ve started to take things ten minutes at a time. And I guarantee you I’m a better singer than I ever would be if I spent five hours stretches in the practice room.
I’ve learned over the last few years that no matter how overwhelming a task may be, what gets it done is small, small steps. Climbing a mountain is not achieved by reaching the pinnacle–it’s achieved by the how-ever-many-steps you took to get to the top.
When I walk into a practice room or sit down to practice in my apartment (what’s up upstairs neighbors, you’re welcome, I’m not charging), I set a timer for ten minutes. I also set my intention for those ten minutes: “okay, I’m going to work [these measures] of [this song].” “For ten minutes, I will really work on some agility exercises to strengthen my coloratura.”
No matter how tired, discouraged, or frustrated I am–no matter how overwhelming a task may be, I can always give ten minutes of focused, intentional effort. And then maybe I can give ten more minutes. And ten more minutes. And before I know it, an hour has gone by, I’ve sung through all my repertoire or sung some difficult technical exercises.
There’s not enough time in ten minutes to let fear take over. Ten minutes is a decidedly non-scary amount of time. It’s long enough to get something done, yet short enough to make things seem manageable. When that timer goes off, if I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I still can’t float that high Bb the way I want to.. I move on to something else.
Do I expect to become great in ten minutes? No. Not a chance! And that’s part of the magic. You can’t go from decent to great in ten minutes. But those ten minute chunks of practice add up. I see the ten minute blocks add up in my practice journal, day after day.
How do I know it’s working? My teachers, coaches, and peers can tell. I can tell when I listen to my recordings. I haven’t become Maria Callas overnight (if and when I figure that out, I am certainly not telling y’all that little secret), but I’m definitely ten minutes closer to greatness.
Those ten minute chunks remind me that I’m taking steps every day to the top of the mountain.
So, dear reader, tell me.
What could you spend ten minutes doing today? What’s something you want to get good at doing? Can you set a timer and work for ten minutes on that thing?
I bet you can. You’ll come away from those ten minutes knowing your life has changed just a little bit.
Start the timer. The clock is ticking.
Once your work session is up, take a well-deserved break with a time-themed playlist!
Fairport Convention – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Rolling Stones – Time Is On My Side
Chicago – Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella – Ten Minutes Ago
Ke$ha – TiK ToK
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years – The Next Ten Minutes