Live Now, Procrastinate Later

Weekly Teaching Tip by MaryAnnKehler
Live now. Procrastinate later.

I saw those words painted on a small box in a home decor store a few days ago and immediately bought the box and placed it in my studio lobby.

Before you groan that I’m off on a self-righteous rant, know that I readily admit to being a world-class procrastinator. Tax returns, driver’s license renewals, and cleaning the guest room are typically on a last-minute basis in my world. I’m writing this teaching tip at 11 p.m. and it’s due by midnight. Again.

Where is this going, you ask?

I’ve recently reached the conclusion that highly creative people, especially musicians, are among the worst procrastinators. Think about it. How many times have you heard: “I’m not going to audition for the show because my voice isn’t at its best.” “I’d love for you to hear my new song, but it isn’t quite ready.” “I really want to get better at guitar, but it’s discouraging to practice because I’m such a long way from playing for an audience.” “I have an idea for a book (or an article or a song lyric) but I haven’t started writing because I don’t know where to begin.”
Not long ago, I was working with 55-year-old student who performs with an excellent community chorus, plays guitar and sings with a folk group, and is a pretty good musician. We had been working together for about a year and he was singing well that night; he was on track for every goal we had set. As we wrapped up the lesson, I asked if he had ever considered performing as a solo folk musician. “Yes!” “How long have you wanted to do that?” “Twenty years.” “Are you planning to wait another twenty?” Much laughter. He performed three songs at an open mic a week later and loved it so much that he’s now a regular. He just needed a nudge.

I often work with singer/songwriters who hesitantly bring in a new song and spend five minutes apologizing because it’s not “perfect.” I’ve started reassuring them that the best time to work vocals is during the writing process, so they can avoid developing bad habits during the first 500 run-throughs.

If a musical theatre performer’s voice isn’t in top shape, but is acceptable, I tell them to go to the audition. Good acting can create a good performance, even if the singer is recovering from a cold.

Although I somewhat laughingly say that I’m not trained as a therapist, the truth is that part of our work as voice teachers is in encouraging our students to go for it. We owe it to them to be honest if they aren’t ready for that performance or audition, or if the song needs a lot of work. And sometimes all they need is a cheerleader to give them a little push.

Have a great week!

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