Category Archives: Brain

Review: Three Words for 2014

In January I wrote about my Three Words for 2014. It has been very enlightening reviewing that post and thinking about the past thee months.

Today I’ll review my three words very generally, then over the next three weeks, I’ll take a closer look at each of the words on their own.

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My Three Words for 2014 Word Cloud

My three words were Intention, Choice, and Consistency. Each of those words are informing my life in very different ways so far this year.

Intentions are related to habits. If you are intent on beginning a new habit, then it will form more quickly and more easily than if you don’t have that intention. I am still working on building my intentions for my personal singing practice habits. Sometimes life (or death) just happens and your intentions are skewered for a while.

Choice – we always have a choice of what action (or inaction) we will take. In my case, every weekday when I get home from my morning job, I choose to eat a square or two of chocolate and read for pleasure for about 15 minutes. I choose to get up 20 minutes earlier than last year so I can spend time writing and starting my day.

Consistency is something that can be harder to maintain. I’d like to say I’m consistent in my writing habits, but the truth is, I write (on average) three mornings a week. I want to be more consistent with my personal singing practice, but I need to adjust my choices to make that happen.

I want to draw your attention to a phrase from my original post Three Words for 2014 that has grabbed readers’ attention.

‘The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!’

In reviewing this phrase, I am struck by how true it is.

But I also want to share that I have learned the following in the past three months:

My choices lead to consistency in my intentions. 

My consistent intention will inform good choices. 

My intention will direct consistent choices. 

It’s this wonderful trifecta of related words that is swirling around my being and guiding me through the year.

Did you set up three words for 2014? It’s not too late! Reflect on the past three months and see if any specific words make themselves known to you. Share them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Part 3 of 4

Did you breathe today? No, I mean really take a conscious inhalation and exhalalation? Was it an exhalation of peace and joy, or was it one of of indignation or irritation?

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Stop reading for a moment and inhale to a count of five, hold for a count of five, and exhale to a slow count of five. Do it again if you want!

Did it feel good? Did you feel inspired? What you just did is inhale slowly and consciously, but you also performed an act of ‘inspiration’.

Physical inspiration is a simple inhalation. The physical act can influence and inform the mental act of inspiration.

When was the last time you held your breath for any reason?

Do you remember doing it?

Do you remember how it felt?

Did time stop?

Did you feel uneasy?

Was it a moment of suspense?

The next time you find yourself holding your breath – ask yourself why this might happen at this moment. Then release that breath and take a naturally deep breath. I use the word ‘naturally’ as it is possible to over-inhale and create more tension instead of releasing. Go ahead, over-inhale – fill your lungs – feel your shoulders tense up and your back get tight.

Now exhale and slowly inhale about 70% of what you just over-inhaled. Focus on breathing low into your belly. Do this a few times and see how you feel.

As your breath slows and your mind slows down, try and be open to what inspires you and makes you happy. You will find that both with and within your breath.

We all need reminders to just stop and breathe. What are you waiting for?

As always I love to hear from you – please feel free to reply below or drop me a line on social media.

Movement

Do you like to move? Do you feel trapped and tense in your body when you sing? How does movement (or stillness) inform your singing? I’m not talking about a dance background being necessary for you to sing, but by being free in your body, you can improve vocal function and freedom in your sound overall.

internal views of body movement

When first learning to sing, it can be challenging to even move an arm voluntarily, let alone coordinate it with your singing. That’s not to say you don’t move – maybe you have some involuntary movement happening? It could be hand tension that is coming down from your neck, it might be a little knee wobble you do when you sing. Or maybe your shoulders get a little tight when you run out of breath? The next time you’re practicing, check in on that. As distracting as it is, get in front of a full-length mirror and observe.

You are your own best teacher.

There is a direct correlation between vocal tension and unnecessary body tension. By giving yourself permission to move, you create new pathways of freedom in your sound.

Voluntary movement is very freeing, but coordinating it with singing might feel a little weird at first.

Below are some simple movements you can do to free your body from involuntary tension while you sing. You can practice all of these movements first without singing, then try singing a phrase or line while doing them. If you have mobility constraints or pathology, trust that your body will know how far to go with these movements.

  1. If you’re not already standing while practicing, you should be.
  2. Walk around your house/practice room. Swing your arms freely. Sing!
  3. When singing a descending line, raise your arm or arms from your sides to shoulder height, in a shape as if you are holding onto a very large beach ball. This move is intended to counteract a tendency to ‘sink’ while singing a descending line.
  4. When singing an ascending line, start with your arms raised in front of you and slightly to the side (large beach ball), and then slowly lower them to your side as you sing that line.
  5. While singing a phrase with an ascending line, bend your knees, bend your torso slightly at the hips (as if you are about to sit in a chair) and let your back and head be long. Imagine a long, free line from your tailbone, up your spine to the top of your head). You can place a chair behind you for reassurance, if you like.
  6. While singing a phrase with a descending line, reverse the movement of number 5. Start in that ‘nearly sitting’ position, then slowly stand up tall while singing your descending line. Your torso should be roughly 45 degrees to the wall and you can start by looking at a point where the floor meets the wall. As you stand your vision moves up the wall, and your body lengthens naturally. You can start in the chair, if you like. Be sure to watch the video below for more information!

Some of these movements are related to a form of body awareness called The Alexander Technique. You can find many videos on YouTube about this technique – here is a short one that clearly shows the sitting to standing position. Scroll to about 2 minutes in and you’ll see the sitting/standing position I describe above. Feel free to watch more Alexander Technique videos – they are a wealth of great information.

Try the above movements and see if they work for you with finding more freedom in your sound. Do you already move when you sing? What do you do when you sing to keep freedom in your sound and in your body? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment in the Reply box below – or better yet share this post with those you think would find it useful.

As always, thanks for reading, sharing, and singing!

Motivation

How much do you love to sing? Is it all shiny and new and you sing every day? Do you love choir practice, but find it hard to find the time to practice on your own? How motivated do you feel to practice the things you need to do, in the best possible way?

Yes, it can be terrifyingly uncomfortable learning to practice on your own. The quote ‘Sing like no one is listening’ can be pretty hard to do when you’re first starting to sing.

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Maybe you find some other important things to do instead of opening your score and practicing singing. I know I fall into this category. I have an ever-evolving to-do-list that provides endless distraction when I would be better served by practicing.

There are several keys to motivating yourself to practice regularly. Writer Stephen Pressfield wrote about ‘Resistance’ in a great book called The War of Art. Pick it up, borrow it, read it.

If you don’t have that book at hand, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to help you find the motivation to practice!

Tip 1: Manage your time

Put your practice time in your day planner. That time is sacred time. Even if you just open your music and look at it – that is practice time. You don’t have to be singing the whole time!

Tip 2: Prioritize

This is related to Step 1 above. If you are just starting out on a singing adventure, set aside 20 minutes a day to start – make that time a priority. Done.

Tip 3: Minimize distraction

This is a tough one. Distractions come in many forms, from family members, email, phone(s) ringing, television, the internet! Turn off the computer, turn off your phone, and sit at your keyboard, piano, whatever, and focus for 20 minutes. Set a timer if you have to. I do.

Tip 4: Be inspired!

This falls into the realm outside of practice time, but might be something you do to prepare to practice. Find some videos or recordings of what you’re working on and observe and enjoy them. You can do this anytime and anywhere. I recommend you use headphones to minimize distractions!

Tip 5: Be flexible

Life happens. Sometimes your practice time will be eaten into by other activities. But don’t NOT practice because you didn’t get to it ‘at your time’. Some of the most productive practice I have had has been in the 15 minutes before I have to do something else. Review your music on the bus, hearing the sound of your line in your head. Review it while listening to the recording, without singing. If you record your lessons (which I highly recommend), listen back to them several times before your next lesson. I prefer to do this while walking places.

Tip 6: Have fun!

Remind yourself how much fun you have when you do sing. Go to that fun place and let that motivate you to look at your music with fresh ears, eyes, and enthusiasm.

Do you have any tips for motivation? I would love to hear from you! Hit Reply under the title in this blog and leave me a comment. As always, feel free to share your own experiences. Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Related Posts:

Discovery

You know that feeling when you finally ‘get’ what someone is talking about. Up until then, you think you understand what they mean, then Presto!, something clicks, something falls into place, and you realize that what you knew before was the tip of the iceberg, and now you know there is more under the surface….

That’s discovery. How exciting is that?!!

As a student, it’s thrilling, and as a teacher, doubly so, as it means you, as a student, are taking risks and discovering new ways to explore singing and sound.

There are external and internal discoveries. External discoveries are those outside of your body – perhaps you found a new restaurant, found a hidden drawer in your antique desk, maybe it was forgotten treasure at the back of your closet?

I am talking today about internal discoveries. Those real moments when your brain makes a connection with a physical act of exploration.

Internal discoveries don’t just happen in singing, as you probably know. Discoveries happen in yoga class, in the classroom, in the workplace, etc.. Sometimes they are new methods of doing things, sometimes it’s a whole new process that works better for you overall, and sometimes it’s a simple as adjusting your big toe slightly!

Re-discovery can be tricky, though…especially when you’re learning singing, or even another instrument!

Have you ever discovered something then went back later to try and find ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ may be, and it’s been harder to find? Sort of like chasing a dragon?

Don’t despair! Sometimes the harder you chase, the more elusive it is. Here is a process to try, the next time you are returning to a discovery.

  1. Think back to the date, time of day, and location of that discovery.
  2. Remember in great detail all aspects of that time, including what you were wearing, who said what, how you were feeling.
  3. If it helps, close your eyes and envision that moment in your head
  4. Now try to replicate what you ‘discovered’ in the present time.

You’ll probably find that muscle memory will kick-in. You may also find that the re-discovery isn’t as strong a ‘feeling’ as the discovery. In my experience, this is completely normal. It’s just a sign that you are incorporating this ‘discovery’ into your being.

If the steps above don’t seem to work, don’t despair – just keep exploring those sensations. You will find it again!

Once you have found it multiple times, you own it! It will now be a process of refining and integrating what you have discovered into your daily practice.

What kind of discoveries have you made – external or internal? Are they special and memorable?  Hit the Reply link above and share your discoveries!

Three Words for 2014

Last year I started something new. Inspired by Chris Brogan and his tradition of picking three words for the New Year, I picked 3 words for 2013. I can’t tell you what they are, as I’m sure I wrote them down somewhere ‘safe’ and now can’t find where they were written, but hey, it was worth a try!

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This year, I thought I would write about my Three Words for 2014. I am putting them in a more permanent form  (this blog) and I’m going to share them with you today.

Even though we are already a week into the New Year, it’s not too late for you to think about three words that you would like to inform your New Year. My first two words appeared to me around January 1st and the third word presented itself to me on January 4th.

Here are my three words for 2014:

  1. Intention
  2. Choice
  3. Consistency

An overall theme for me for 2014 is Change. I know that 2014 is going to be a year of change and/or working towards larger change. What that looks like yet, I have no idea, but I’ve built some time into my life (with my husband), to guide this change. My three words will inform the changes that will happen this coming year.

Intention:

This word has come up a lot for me lately in conversation and in my teaching. If I am intent on something, it has my focus. I am starting to memorize an opera for a performance in May – therefore I am intent on studying it on a regular basis. On a smaller scale, how I form intention within the phrases of a piece of music helps create the piece. What is the intention of my message? Does this phrase need to be happy, angry, joyful, worried, etc. ?

Choice:

I always have a choice. I can consciously choose an activity that will serve my intentions, or not. I can choose to eat something that may not agree with me, but I’ve made that conscious choice and will deal with the effects. I can choose to practice in a mindful way, or I can choose to fiddle with papers on my desk while I practice, so I’m not really present (no intention).

Consistency:

This was the late one. Progress does not come without consistency. If I am consistent in my intention, then I will be working towards what I set out to do! Consistency is also a cooking/science term; how thick or thin is your pancake batter? If it’s thin, you’re making crepes, if it’s thick, you’re probably making waffles!

The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!

Picking three words is just a way to think about the coming year ahead. I’ll be reviewing my three words on a fairly regular basis. I’ve also written down my three words and posted them in my home work space so I’ll see them every day!

I encourage you to consider three words for your focus this year. Read about others’ experiences with this (a good place to look is in the comments sections of the links I’ve mentioned). When you do a review at the end of the year (see Chris Guillebeau for inspiration), your three words might inform that review, or they may not. Regardless, it’s a great way for you to think about what’s working for you, and what’s not.

Please feel free to share your three words in the ‘Leave a Reply’ link above, or  a link to anything you may have written on your three words, or any other thoughts you may have on this post.

Community

When you speak the word ‘community’, what comes to mind? Maybe a community centre where there are activities for people of all ages. Maybe there’s a small community in your work-place? Perhaps you identify your community with your neighbourhood – it has a strong identity in the larger geographic area.

SummerChoir

This image uses an unusual juxtaposition of a nun with a banjo to advertise a summer choir. Fun!

I love this image because it is advertising a choir for those who are ‘choir-less’ over the summer. It is building a new community for those who love to sing.

There is a saying printed on magnets, mugs, posters, etc. ‘Sing as if no one is listening’. It does not say ‘Sing when no one is listening’ because singing is something to be shared, either as a soloist or as a member of a choir. When you sing, it should be with as much freedom alone as when you have an audience. Tough to do, but the results are worth it!

When you start singing lessons, you should invite a few of your close friends to support you in this new endeavor. If they are involved in music-making themselves, that’s even better – you can create your own micro-community for each-other. You don’t have to be doing the same musical activity, just be there for each-other.

When I started my first year of singing, I would occasionally sing for my friends a capella (not accompanied by an instrument) – they professed to be a willing audience, and it was good to practice singing in front of others.

Your community is there for you. They support you in every way possible by coming to your performances, listening when you need to talk about your frustrations, and not interfering or offering unsolicited advice about your choices.

Your community can be musical or non-musical. They can be your neighbours, your friends, and/or long-distance friends. I am building a community by writing this blog. I want to reach out and encourage others who have been tentative about singing, to go out and sing!

You have many different circles of relationships in your community. What purpose does your music community serve for you? How do you serve your music community?

I’ll be taking a break over the next three weeks to enjoy time with my family and friends for the holidays. They are a part of my musical support community that do not see a lot of me during the rest of the year.

Have a wonderful and music-filled break over the holidays and you’ll hear from me again in the New Year.

As always, I love to have your comments and feedback. Use the form below to tell me about your community!