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Practice in Public Makes Perfect: how playing for your fans makes you better

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Price, 57, has played music nearly her whole life, starting with piano when she was five years old. But in the fall of 2009, the guitar was still something of mystery to her. She had been playing for only a couple of months and was struggling a bit with the new challenges. Yet, instead of holing up in her living room to practice until she felt more confident, she did something totally unexpected: she packed up her guitar and sheet music, headed into downtown Los Angeles, and set up outdoors to work through the new techniques.

Twice a year, Active Arts, a series of programs run by the Music Center in Los Angeles, invites recreational musicians to the arts center’s campus for a 30-minute outdoor practice session called Public Practice. There are no rules about what participants can and cannot play, and mistakes are more than welcome.

“I looked at it as a way to make the time to practice, because I’m always so busy,” explains Price, a legal secretary. Having participated in Public Practice three times, she’s found that bringing her music outdoors helps her focus. “Playing out in public encourages me to approach things a little bit differently. Even though it’s not a performance, knowing that I might have observers helps me to organize my practice session,” she says.

On the other hand, Eric Oto, a saxophonist and two-time participant, has occasionally found himself sidetracked during outdoor sessions–but in a good way. “The acoustics were so fascinating that I ended up, for a little while, just strolling around the campus plaza listening for different sounds,” says the 48-year-old lawyer. “Hearing the sounds bouncing off of the granite, concrete, and everything else outside was really interesting, and it got me to think a lot more about sound production, rather than just technique.”

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