What’s In A Space: The Importance of Where We Create

Justin SwainMusicologie Lewis CenterLeave a Comment

About the Author

Justin Swain

Justin is a teacher and performer with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Arts in Vocal Pedagogy. He is the Community Manager of Musicologie Lewis Center and Director of Musicologie U.

Anyone who has stepped into my room at the Lewis Center studio (or room 4 at the Grandview studio prior to my embarking on co-ownership of a studio) knows instantly the emphasis that I place on having a space that feels like art is meant to be created inside of it.

From gifts that students have given me over the years, to my own original artwork, photos of myself with colleagues and friends, plants, awards and diplomas, and a color scheme that ignites my creativity and helps prepare me for the work I get to do on a daily basis, I’ve invested a great deal of time and thought into the space within which I practice, teach, and create.

Just as there is power in having a lesson book or binder full of music that is inherently our own, it is my opinion that the space within which we create should serve to stimulate our senses, inspire us, assist in driving our attention and focus on making music, and feel like our own.

Very few among us are lucky enough to study music at the collegiate level, and while some institutions have buildings dedicated entirely to practice rooms, most simply have one floor allocated to providing enough rooms for students to practice in, and most of those rooms (at most) have a piano, mirror, chair, and if you’re lucky: a highly coveted music stand. The walls are typically all white, and sometimes you might score a room with a window (and it may even open), but more often than not, the rooms are uncomfortable, devoid of any individuality, and feel like a prison cell. I recall going into the practice rooms at my alma mater and feeling incredibly uninspired to do anything other than scroll through Tumblr and Instagram, let alone practice arias or piano.

While I served as a graduate teaching associate at the Ohio State University, I decorated my shared office and teaching studio to overwhelmingly positive feedback from colleagues and students. As a graduate student on a very tight budget, I couldn’t afford lavish décor or furniture (honestly, I still can’t), but I had a printer, construction paper, and Pinterest. Over time I purchased cheap inspirational posters (that I now have affixed to the walls of the other rooms here at the studio) and my students gave me gifts like faux plants, artwork, and other “teacher” related items, all of which I proudly displayed and added a splash of color to the space. “Coming here for my lesson is such a highlight to my day because it’s such a welcoming space compared to what I’m used to seeing around campus.” and “I just feel so inspired when I’m in here singing!” were common things my students would tell me on a regular basis.

Using my experience as a collegiate musician and apartment dweller, there comes the issue of noise while performing, as well as limiting distractions, and creating a space where you’re also physically comfortable to create, make mistakes, and keep going. I’ve never been blessed to have an entire room where I live to dedicate to music besides my bedroom, but I have been fortunate enough to have had a room to create in, even if it was a shared space. As a college Freshman, it took several weeks to feel comfortable singing loudly in the practice rooms and I often felt that I was performing for those around me, so I figured out the times of day that were the least busy and I’d practice at those times. Because I knew other people could hear me, I was terrified of practicing during high-traffic times.

This reminded me of practicing trumpet or solos for choir at home as a child. There really isn’t a whole lot one can do besides insert a mute into the bell of a trumpet or put towels and pillows along the floor gap of the bedroom door to provide “privacy”. Although I knew my family members acknowledged that I was practicing and they wouldn’t disturb me during those times, I was always self-conscious about making a mistake as I knew the entire household could hear every note. Later in high school when I had my own keyboard, I was able to practice in my bedroom with headphones in and wasn’t nearly as self-conscious about making mistakes.

What’s The Goal?

I challenge you the reader to consider where you (or your budding artist) create, whether you’re rehearsing music, writing stories, sculpting, dancing, …, and ask yourself if it meets the following criteria:

  1. Is it a safe space? (Are you able to create with limited or no distractions, or fear of others overhearing your rehearsing?)
  2. Do you have access to the things you need and is the space functional? (Are all of the materials you need to create close by?)
  3. Does the space get you “in the zone” or inspire you to create? Is it inherently your own?

If you answered, “No,” to any one of those questions, take a moment to evaluate what changes you can make. Not many of us have budgets with which to build the ideal space of our dreams, but there may be smaller changes you can make to get you closer to your goal.

Should you live with roommates (or the musician / artist being considered is an adolescent), consider speaking with your roommate(s) or other family members and perhaps schedule times where either yourself or your budding musician can practice undisturbed. In homes where the piano is in the family room, see if times can be scheduled throughout the day to ensure traffic isn’t high in that room during practice.

Make sure that everything you need to create is at hand. For myself, I keep all of my music anthologies within reach and keep pencils, sticky notes, and other tools to mark my music. On days that I’m feeling like being an incredibly functional adult, I even have my water bottle filled and snacks to munch on while figuring out a difficult passage in the music.

Let me know what your practice space looks like! Send me a message via email or on the Musicologie Lewis Center Facebook page. If you have any questions or want to bounce an idea off me, feel free to do so. The photos sprinkled throughout this article are of my room at the studio in its current iteration. I’ve set it up to be functional not only for myself, but also for my voice and piano students.

Stay inspired and happy music-making!

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