Practice Makes Permanent: Part 1

Practice Makes Perfect…
Or Does It?

We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” 

At KLI we take a stand for deliberate practice. This is practice that is ongoing and continuous, and opens up big learning (and even bigger possibilities) with our chant practice. 

Some folks up the ante on this phrase in a way I find to be quite useful. They note how "slapdash practice" is different from “perfect practice” through the saying, perfect practice makes perfect.” 

Learning is a miracle that makes the impossible possible... and it requires some time and effort. This hold true when we are learning something fresh - ie a brand new chant. 

Practice Makes Permanent

Recently I heard a third variation on this theme through the saying, “practice makes permanent.” Wow! This really landed. The more reps we do, the more we build our learning into our nervous system, neural pathways and muscle memory. Once it’s in there it takes a LOT more energy to get incorrect movement, timing, and pitch out of our system and replace it. Here’s a story that illustrates how important it is to pay close attention to how we learn a new chant. 

The Real World Consequences of Practicing Incorrectly

After a several year hiatus we resumed our in person Kirtan Leader intensives this summer in Boulder, CO. It was such a delight to meet many of the several dozen students in person for the first time! Most of these students had worked with us virtually (in classes and Sacred Chant Mentorships), so this was the first time we really got to see them in action, in person. 

It was super amazing to see how much they had learned around chanting, repertoire, chords, chord voicings, chord progressions, mantras, melodies, chant writing, rhythm and more!

And, a few breakdowns got revealed. One was how many people were sloppy (or even way off) with the melodies of the chant. The other was how haphazard people could be with the fingers used to the play the chords. Here's an example:

One dedicated student was determined to lead a beautiful chant in the Kirtan Leader Showcase, but unfortunately had embodied the melody incorrectly. The melody (and chant) sounded good in some places, but only OK or even kinda terrible in others. It simply didn’t work. 

She worked diligently for several days to get the melody sorted out, but it was deeply ingrained in her being. Thankfully, with a lot of practice to unlearn and re-learn the melody, she was able to share this chant beautifully in the Showcase. However, as she, I and others noted, this took a LOT of extra effort compared to learning it correctly from the get go.

Un-learning and Re-Learning

Practice incorrectly leads us to EMBODY an incorrect way of playing chords or singing a chant melody. When this happens we often have to go back, unlearn the incorrect way and re-learn the correct way. This is much harder, takes a lot of attention, and requires a lot of time because (let’s say it together)… practice makes permanent!  Some might give up and just keep doing the chant incorrectly. But this unfortunately undermines one's ability to really "taste" the chant, share with others and play with other musicians. 

Learning freshly is the easiest. Unlearning and re-learning is the most difficult form of learning. Years ago I outlined some principles and practices for being a good learner, but here's another take on why "how we learn" is so important for our spiritual practice. 

Good Embodiment Frees Up Our Attentional Resources!

Why is learning correctly so important? Because embodying a chant is the key to being able to drop deeply into the spiritual nature of sacred chant, and good practice is key to building that embodiment. 

Here's the GOLD STANDARD: We want to build embodiment through repetition so we can play the chords of a chant in perfect time, while holding a conversation

Embodiment is key for freeing up our attention. Imagine that you have 100 units of attention to give to your community while leading a chant. If you're using 90 units of your attention to navigate the chords, melody and lyrics, you only have 10 units remaining to lead your band, connect with your audience, and drop deeply into your heart. 

But when you've fully embodied your chant with perfect practice, you can use only 10 units of attention focused on music (chords, melody, lyrics) and now have 90 units available for spiritual techniques like dropping into our heart, visualizing light, imagining a deity, etc., as well as connecting with the audience, our band and more. That is where the magic happens. If you're struggling with your chords and your melody, how can you lead others to a place of presence and devotion?

This is why we make an extraordinary effort to practice perfectly--to create the embodiment we need to allow us to drop into the profoundly spiritual side of our chant practice. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Practice Makes Permanent: A Six-Step Recipe for Learning a NEW Chant Like a Pro!


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