Category Archives: Brain

Intensity and Imagination

It’s getting down to crunch time. The next performance is less than 10 days away. I know my music and my words. I’m memorized. I’m ready. But is that all?

Of course not.

Can you go farther? Can you delve deeper? You absolutely can – you just need another set of ears and someone you trust. And you need your imagination.

One of my coaches showed up at a recent rehearsal. I was feeling fairly prepared, and then I was gently reminded of all these wonderful things hidden in the music that develop the character I was singing.  ‘Character’ doesn’t just have to apply to a theatrical character, either. It can be an art song, a musical theatre piece, an oratorio chorus – anything.

WHO ARE YOU when you sing a piece? There is you, and then there is the composer, but most importantly, there is the ‘voice’ of the music (or character), which encompasses the others.

By delving deeper, you bring these three elements more in sync with each-other. Once you have got a hold of the technical demands of a piece such as notes, words, rhythms, tempo, etc, you are freed up to explore even more!

This same preparation can be applied beyond music: presentations, public speaking, acting, job interviews, all require a certain amount of intensity in preparation.

So – you are prepared, you think you are ready, but have you engaged your imagination? 

Sing through a section of your music. Now, think about whose ‘voice’ is speaking through the music. If you are a choral singer preparing Handel’s Messiah, are you an angel? Are you like a Greek Chorus, commenting on the action? Are you a townsperson? Imagine different situations when you might possibly be speaking/singing those words.

By using your imagination, you connect at an even deeper level with the words you are singing or speaking. Visualization is an important tool for everyone!

Now, review your pieces with all the above elements – the text, the music, your imagination, the whole package. It’s crunch time – let the intensity focus those elements into the best possible preparation you can do -but don’t forget to have fun!

Thanks for reading. If my words inspired you, please feel free to follow or share!

Memorizing, Time, and Resources

I have a ‘thing’ about  memorizing. In the past I have convinced myself I’m not good at it. “I used to be good at it, but I’m not anymore. There’s too much to learn.”, I would tell myself.

Brain music image

What it basically came down to was I didn’t give myself enough time or resources to memorize what I needed to. When I first started singing, I learned pieces very quickly – I memorized them and that was that. It might have been because I would listen to my lessons nearly every day as I walked to work, drilling them into my memory. It could be that I was just working one job and had the time and energy to practice every day for 30-45 minutes. That kind of time and devotion allowed me to easily integrate what I was learning into the repertoire I was trying to memorize.

As my studies intensified, I had to learn more and more with fewer resources. This culminated in my Master’s studies at at McGill. (It’s a Master’s, it’s supposed to be challenging!) But, it also taught me that I needed new methods and ways to memorize repertoire. I was (and sometimes still am) very ‘last minute’ about it.

Currently I work an office job 20 hours a week, teach 16 hours per week, plus manage my own studio – it’s the hidden hours of life-tasks that eat up the time and energy: email, social media, paying bills, managing a household, walking the dog, preparing food, etc. Sad as it is, my own singing practice often takes a back-seat to the necessity of steady income. Then there is the task of looking for, booking, and preparing for auditions. This leads to paid performance work. I know this.

Then why is memorizing such a big deal? Because it takes time, energy, and resources that are currently distributed elsewhere.

What to do? Here are some of my tips – I also recommend taking a look at the related links I posted at the end of this blog.

  1. Take a social media fast for one week. Maybe two. Devote that time to memorization instead. You may just be astonished.
  2. Take your music to bed with you. I mean it. Just a quick review (5-10 mins) of music before you sleep is a great way to improve the retention and learning you are aiming for. I do this and wake up singing the passages I’ve been trying to learn for days.
  3. Practice your music in small sections and change it up a lot. The bulletproof musician (see link below) had a great guest post on this a few weeks back. It’s something I’ve been trying and I like it.
  4. This may or may not be obvious, but to memorize vocal music, you do not have to sing it all the time. Speak the words in rhythm, break it down (related to #3).
  5. Read the score – at first with a recording if you like, then read along and ‘hear’ the music in your head. Do this ideally when you won’t be interrupted.
  6. Listen to the music away from the score – either your own lesson/practice (preferred) or a recording – while walking, running, or exercising.
  7. Repetition, repetition, repetition – correct repetition! It can take up to 7 correct repetitions to learn something accurately, but around 21 correct repetitions to re-learn something you’ve learned incorrectly the first time.
  8. Slow things down. DO NOT sing it or speak it at full speed all the time. If you can’t do something correctly at a slow pace, you certainly cannot do it correctly at a faster one. Use a metronome to keep you honest.

Try these out and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you if you have more tips to add to this list. I’ll collect them and put them in a follow-up post. Alternately, feel free to leave a comment below with your tip(s).

Thanks for your time and happy memorizing!!