Tag Archives: audition

Listening

How do you listen? Do you notice or make note of unusual sounds you hear in your day-to-day life? Have you ever thought about how you listen? Have you caught yourself drifting away from active listening?

Recently an article from the New York Times on Auditory Sightseeing came to my attention. It got me thinking about how we use our sense of hearing, but also how we disregard some sounds entirely.

In my post Listening vs. Hearing, I quoted one of my coaches at McGill University, Michael McMahon, who often said, (referring to a piece of music),

Go and have a listening experience!

How does one have a ‘listening experience’? As humans, we are encouraged to listen to one another in conversation and actively respond to what we’ve heard.

As a musician, I like to think that my listening skills are specially developed when compared with someone who didn’t necessarily study music. But even within the genre of musicians, there are groups of people with a specific set of highly developed listening skills.

An audio technician will have ears finely tuned to what she or he hears when mixing together different tracks. The conductor of an orchestra will have a highly developed sense of hearing so they can ask for different instruments and colours of sound from the orchestra; in order to create a unique experience for the audience.

As a singing performer and teacher of singing, my ears are highly tuned to the human voice and tonality. I can often hear tension in a student’s voice before I see it in their body. What sounds good to them inside their own head may not be optimal singing outside their head!

Sometimes a singer will be listening to their own voice so intently that they forget to be ‘in the moment’ of what they are actually singing (I used to do this a lot!). Public speaking is a similar situation – when we’re nervous, we often get trapped into that running dialogue ‘oh, I said that word incorrectly’, or ‘wow, that sounded stupid’, or ‘hey, they laughed at my joke’.

This train of thought means you’re listening to yourself too much! If you take your attention to listening inside your own head and away from the message you are trying to communicate, then you are robbing your audience of a fuller experience.

Take yourself on a ‘listening tour’ the next time you are out for a walk. Notice different sounds and how they may or may not be pleasant. Notice the rumble of a diesel truck, or some high ‘ping, ping, ping, ping’ sounds as you pass a construction site. Notice the high tonality of birds chirping in the morning. Take note of your neighbourhood sounds and maybe consider starting a ‘sound journal’ – noting the sounds you hear, recording them with your mobile device, or something similar.

One last thought – the following short piece was composed based on birds arranged on a set of wires. Music and sound may be found where you least expect it. How did you listen and what did you hear?

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Inspiration Part 2 of 4

On Monday night I saw a friend and colleague’s graduation recital for her Master’s in Voice. It was inspiring for a number of reasons.

The selection of music was both varied and moving. Oldest pieces were from the  late 16th/early 17th century and newest pieces were from the 20th Century. Her performance of them was both sincere and moving.

inspiration - picasso2

A single event can inspire someone to get out of a rut (in my case a non-practice rut, since I’ve had a cold for the past two weeks).

Being inspired by a musical performance is an external factor that motivates internal inspiration. As Picasso says above, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Even though we don’t feel inspired at a particular moment to do, create, work, whatever, we must be open to the moments when inspiration will find us.

I wasn’t ‘working’ while at my colleague’s recital, (although I was listening closely), but it took some motivation to get me out of the house that evening. I am glad I went though, as I was inspired by the performances of all involved!

Inspiration doesn’t always strike when you’re working – sometimes it happens in the breaks between work. In which case you make a note of it in whatever way you can, then go back and use it!

Inspiration doesn’t have to be big or epic to be ‘inspiring’ either. It can be as simple as moving a house plant to a different location in your home, walking down the street and noticing a painted telephone pole, or just seeing kids play at the park and being inspired by their carefree ‘joie de vivre’!

The point is, be open to inspiration and it will find you – whatever form it may take. It’s up to you to act on it!

As always, I love to hear your comments, thoughts, and suggestions. What has inspired you lately?

Interference

Do you interfere with your own success? Do you put up blocks, distractions, negative thoughts to stop you from making progress? If you do, the good news is, you’re human! We all, at some point or another, impede ourselves from learning. Interference plays a huge role in that (non) progress.

It’s easy to say, ‘Just sing, be free, and let your sound come out.’ The mechanics and physical reality of doing that, however, is very different. Our command of different, minute muscle groups, our coordination of those muscle groups, and the openness of a space in which to resonate, all affect the final product.

Mentally, we often provide just as much interference! In the book ‘The Inner Game of Music‘ the authors discuss Self 1 and Self 2 and how Self 1 sends instructions that hinder you from making progress, but Self 2 is perfectly capable, and even more so when Self 1 is not interfering. Interference is part of that ‘inner voice’ that critiques what you are doing, instead of being open to, and exploring what you are doing. I encourage you to read the book, as it’s an excellent insight not just into musical practice and performance, but more widely applicable life skills.

So, what can we do to reduce interference? First of all, you need to recognize it.

I classify interference into two broad types: external and internal. Within those types, there are many forms of interference.

External interference includes distractions like anything on the internet, our families, cleaning the bathroom, phone calls, to-do-list, etc.

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Create Focus rituals and habits – use this mindmap for tips and tricks when you are feeling like these things might interfere with your progress. Image is used courtesy of learningfundamentals.com.au

You probably know what I’m going to say.

Turn off your phone. Turn off your computer. Shut the door to your practice space and put down the cleaning products. Schedule a practice time and stick to it. I set a reminder on my phone to come up 10 minutes before my scheduled practice time. That gives me time to wrap up whatever I’m working on and get into the ‘head space’ to practice.

Don’t look at your desk or shuffle papers. Open your music, or set up your recording device for playback/record. Set a timer, if you have to (I suggested this in my post  focus )

When it comes to internal or physical interference, that’s a much tougher thing to nail down and you would be best to discuss this with your teacher. We all have physical habits that will interfere with our singing. Some habits are easier to change than others.

If you are a choral singer, the way you hold your music could be interfering with the quality of the sound coming out. You want your arms to hold your music, but let your shoulders and neck be free and without effort in order to get the best sound possible. Play around with different heights of holding your music so you have optimal sound, but also optimal vision of both your music and your conductor.

If you are learning to sing solo works, you have more physical freedom! Walk around while you sing. Obtain a large exercise ball and play with different positions to free your sound.

Swing your arms, bend at your hips and bend over like a rag doll, slowly rolling up while singing – observe how that affects your sound.

A solution is as as simple as your thinking of allowing your neck to be tall and free (Alexander Technique) and then singing will offer a world of changes.

Be aware of your interference, then let it go.

Interference comes in many forms – recognize it, then explore solutions to deal with it.

As always, thanks for reading, and I love hearing from you. Feel free to leave me comments or questions!

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!

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!

Focus

When starting something new (like singing lessons!), your focus is usually fairly intense. Excitement about the possibilities of this new pursuit are in your thoughts, you feel happy to be exploring a new area of interest, and you are making the time to do the work necessary to get better and improve.

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After some time, you find your focus changes. You don’t learn things as quickly as you thought or hoped, you find yourself spending a little more time on other worthy tasks (resistance!) instead of continuing to improve in your new pursuit. Since this is a blog about singing, let’s call this new pursuit ‘singing lessons’, although any new task, skill, activity etc. can be inserted here.

When singing, focus can be used in a number of different ways. In a broader sense, you focus on your overall direction – perhaps there is a goal of an audition, recital, or competition. You look at your goals for a longer period of time and ask ‘Where do I want to be?’ or ‘What do I need to focus on to get there?’

However, you also need to focus within your vocal practice on specific techniques, sounds, listening, etc. This is where the daily practice comes in.

So how do you focus when practicing singing? When my attention is distracted from practicing singing by other worthy things like the internet, cleaning the kitchen, dusting, a good book, TV, etc.,  I find it really helpful to set a timer for my practice. I start with 30 minutes, then work up from there. When I set a timer, I know I have to focus for that specific amount of time, then I take a break. If you’re just beginning your singing practice, start with 15 minutes, take a 10 minute break, then try another 15 minutes.

Another way to focus is to sing at the same time every day. Put those times in your calendar or schedule, and stick to them. That time is untouchable.

Sometimes singing practice is taking a look at a larger view – using a broader focus, if you will, and mapping out what you need to do to get there. This might include specific benchmarks such as, “I will have this piece memorized by September 30th.” or “I need to decide what pieces I will sing for X by October 31.”, etc.

In a previous post I discussed Listening vs. Hearing. Listening requires more focus than hearing. Listen intently to a new piece of music, perhaps even a genre you’ve never explored before required attention and focus. Listen closely to different aspects of the composition – high tones, low tones, bass line, percussion, rhythm, lyrics, harmonic changes, etc. – there many possibilities! Your focus will change depending on what you are listening for.

When you learn to sing, there are many different things you have to focus on separately, in order to improve your overall vocal quality. Tone, breath control, rhythm, hearing and leading your line within the structure of the overall piece, harmony, direction of the phrase or line, text, poetic message, etc. This is why we need a singing teacher or a coach. You need another set of ears that aren’t focused on the production of all those qualities to help you find the best way there.

If you have been sitting on the fence about taking lessons, go and find yourself a teacher! Try out a few different teachers (finding the right teacher will be the subject of a future blog post). Starting is the easy part. Keeping your focus on a consistent basis will deliver results, progress, and the joy and satisfaction of focusing on a specific task!

Set your timer, focus on the task at hand, and have fun!

As always, thanks for reading, feel free to share this with anyone you think would be interested and subscribe if you haven’t already done so!