Ability, Capacity, and Efficiency

Very quick thought today, with the intent of helping you to think a bit more critically and with neutrality about your singing.

Believing the wrong thing

Many people convince themselves that they can or cannot do something based on incorrect or incomplete information. For example, just because you can squeeze out (say) a particular note in a song with a good run up and a following wind behind you does NOT necessarily equate to having the ability to hit that note. Similarly, if you find you can do something (say) during a lesson in exercises without issue but then coming to a song it doesn’t carry over, this doesn’t mean you lack the ability to do that specific thing – if you can do it once, you can do it twice, thrice, and repeatedly… what you lack is the capacity to repeat it in a more demanding context.

What I’m trying to point out is that there is a difference between ability, and capacity. Let’s define this difference more precisely:

Ability = Can you do something correctly, even if it’s just once or twice?

Capacity = Over what repetition range or duration/level of difficulty can you sustain doing that thing for? Especially

Efficiency = What you need to turn a “one and done” into something you can repeat over and over.

The difference between having the ability to do something just once, and the capacity to stretch that ability over a whole song or set of songs is governed by your efficiency.

It’s a bit like driving

When we first acquire the ability to do something, we are horrendously inefficient at it. We overmuscle things, we commit lots of mental resources to focusing on the task at hand. It’s physically and mentally hard, and it takes a LOT of energy to deliver. We fatigue quickly, even if we’re doing it right.

Think of it like when you first learn to drive a car. Think about how mentally and physically taxing it was at first. After a year, how easy was it? After 5-10 years or more, how easy has it become? And yet, the actions involved in driving don’t change or become easier, and our ability wasn’t lacking in the first instance. What changed was we became more efficient at the actions involved in driving, and in turn our capacity for driving grew. This all hinges on correct repetition, in order to became more efficient at the task in question.

The same is true with singing

Simply focus on acquiring a basic but correct ability, then work on improving your capacity through correct, repetitious practice. This will inherently make you more efficient at the task in question, and in turn grow your capacity. This is powerful because it works, but totally lacks glamour. Put in the work in the right way, and the results will inevitably follow.

Go and practice – keep up the hard work!

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