Practice makes Permanent, in Improv and in Life

Before studying improv and becoming an improviser and an applied improv trainer, I was a classically trained musician.  That’s where I learned the power of practice. Practice doesn’t make “perfect,” as the saying goes, practice makes “permanent.”

I remember I had learned a saraband by Bach. When I first read through the saraband, I learned a wrong note.  I practiced it with the wrong note for about a week.  Then, at my lesson, my teacher at the conservatory corrected me.
Great.  So I started practicing the piece with the correct note.  No big deal.

A couple of months later, I gave my first recital at the conservatory and played the saraband. When I came to The Note, my hands reverted and I played the wrong note. I had spent months practicing it correctly, but with the added pressure of a recital and an audience, I unconsciously reverted to what I had first learned.
That was very interesting to me. “I unconsciously reverted to what I had first learned.”

25 years later, as I was beginning to facilitate corporate improv sessions around leadership and fostering innovation, I remembered that moment.
Under pressure, we revert to old habits and learned behaviors.

In my workshops participants had learned and practiced new ways of listening, responding, and collaborating, but how do I help them actually use them when under pressure?
 I had been shown that I’d learned a wrong note.  I knew it.  I had even practiced it correctly, but I hadn’t really given it much attention.

Focused practice.

After I played the “wrong note” in recital, I gave that passage focused practice.  A lot.  The next time I played it in recital it went fine.

Now, in my corporate improv sessions, I have participants come up with a practice to keep the improv skills alive, present, and ready to use
Often, they come up with a way to begin their meetings that reinforces the improv skills. Sometimes it’s an improv activity.  Sometimes it’s just a word. I help them come up with what will work for them, and be fun, easy, and lasting.

Focused practice for new ways of being, because practice makes permanent.