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The Person in the Booth: “Practice Makes WHAT?”

A note before we start: I have chosen to use the sound console operator as my example in the following article, however, the concept presented here can be applied to all technical areas of the church.

One of my personal life lessons was learning to play the piano. I don’t remember whose original idea it was for me to take up this instrument, but I do remember my first lesson. It was during this lesson that I first heard that dreaded phrase “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.” And I kept hearing it over and over and over again, until my last piano lesson.

My mom even picked up the phrase, using it just before I sat down to practice, saying, “Now remember, practice makes perfect.” The tragedy of all this was that I believed them, and it was not until much later in life that I came to the realization that only GOD MAKES PERFECT. As humans, we will never obtain perfection until we are in the presence of God.

So if practice does not make perfect, what does it make? In my opinion, practice does not make anything. Practice will only lead to excellence. I did not say practice makes excellence. I said practice LEADS to excellence. It is an ongoing process that can only bring us closer to perfection, not to the attainment of it.

As Techs, it is our natural instinct to want to excel at what we do. We want to learn everything there is to know about the equipment we run, to the best of our ability. We want to be admired for our skills, not criticized. This may be our desire, but oftentimes the reality we find ourselves in does not match our expectations. Why? Because as Techs, we simply do not know how to practice our craft. So let’s take a look at the elements needed to practice.

When I was learning the piano, I quickly discovered that it was very difficult to practice if I had not paid attention during the lesson. For it was at the lesson that I learned what I needed to practice. So the first step in practice is obtaining knowledge. In tech, if we do not know what the knobs control on the sound console, how can we possibly practice using them? Just like the keys on the piano, if I did not know how they related to the notes on the sheet music, how could I practice? A sound console operator cannot practice effectively if he/she does not understand the functions of the knobs and switches on the sound console.

Knowledge is a key element in our quest for technical excellence, and without knowledge there would be no reason to practice. Practicing without knowledge would be an exercise in futility.

Just as practice serves no purpose without knowledge, knowledge cannot be properly applied without practice. When I first started playing piano, I had no knowledge of the instrument or the music I needed to read in order to play. The only thing I could do was sit and pound out unpleasant sounds. It was not until I gained a little knowledge and coupled it with a lot of practice that I was able to change those unpleasant sounds into a recognizable song.

Can the same be said about our technical abilities? Well, in the case of a sound console operator – absolutely. Without knowledge, I guarantee unpleasant sounds. Even with all the knowledge in the world, no measurable level of skill can be obtained without practice. I could have sat at the piano forever, knowing everything there was to know about playing it, but until I put my fingers on the keys, nothing was going to happen.

So when does a sound console operator get a chance to practice in our church environment? The answer should not be during the first service. Why not practice alone when no one else is around? You can use a CD, play it through the sound system, and see what effect changing all those knobs has on the sound. Show up at a rehearsal of the praise and worship team, and practice while they are rehearsing. This will also have a side benefit in that it will show the musicians and vocalists that you really do care about them and their sound. Practice with the choir during their rehearsals, the drama team during their run-throughs, and the soloist or the instrumentalists during their warm-ups.

Now that we have the knowledge and we are taking time to practice, all is well, and we are on our way to technical excellence. There is one more step in our process as it relates to successful practice. To illustrate this final step I need to take you back to my childhood days at the piano one more time.

Just as I remember that first lesson, I will never forget getting the first GOLD star placed on my lesson book. The star was given to me because I had gained just enough knowledge and applied that knowledge through just enough practice to play that first song “perfectly.” Maybe not played perfectly, but played with excellence. You see, I had to be evaluated and compared to a standard to see if I had attained the level of “the gold star.”

Evaluation is critical in our movement toward excellence. It is the measurement of our successful attainment of knowledge and adequate preparation through practice, to perform our task. It is a response we should not only willingly receive, but also encourage from those who observe our efforts. The problem with evaluation is, we do not always receive a gold star. Evaluation sometimes brings criticism, and if we want to move toward excellence, we must cherish the criticism, as well as the praise.

As a sound console operator, ask others what they think, encourage feedback (no pun intended), and listen to criticism. Then apply that evaluation to your knowledge base, and if needed, seek more knowledge. Maybe it’s not a knowledge issue at all, but simply a case of needing more practice.

The cycle is simple: develop your skill through knowledge; perfect your skill through practice; and measure your success through evaluation. This cycle never ends, as we should always seek to improve our skill through more knowledge, more practice, and more evaluation.

After I got that first gold star, I quickly discovered there was another one waiting. Of course, getting the second one was going to be more difficult, which is also part of the process that leads us toward excellence.

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