Tag Archives: community

Breaks

I took a break from writing over the past three weeks. I love writing and sharing my thoughts on singing with you, but I also needed the time and the rest to focus on a performance project that culminated on May 24th.

Breaks are important. Short or long, they allow you the time to step back and refresh yourself so you can return with better work, ideas, and energy.

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Enjoying a break on the beach near Sooke, BC.

My performance project was an opera performance of Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte, put on by Fear No Opera, a local company for emerging artists. It was a really fun show with a wonderful cast and production team. We had just one show on May 24th. Many laughs were shared by both the cast and the audience.

Putting that much energy into one performance is extremely demanding – the week before the show particularly, is what’s known as ‘production week’. It is an all-consuming, rehearsals nearly every night, week; where the show grows and changes to prepare for the performance. The intensity required for this week is one of the reasons I took a break from writing.

When it comes to singing in general, consistent practice is good, but so are breaks. Consistent practice will help you add to your skill sets and open your voice. But breaks are necessary to create space for you to physically and mentally integrate what you have been learning.

Athletes don’t train the same way every day, they have rest days built into their training program. Singers should do the same.

Vary your own practice; where you practice, how you learn (not all practicing is singing), what you practice, and how you practice.

Variety will give your brain the constant stimulation it needs to learn your craft. Breaks will integrate that practice on a deeper level. In the summer of 2010, I participated in a five-week intensive singing program in Austria called the Franz-Schubert Institute. I was singing several hours per day, starting at 8:00 am and often not finishing until 10 pm. I made amazing friends, learned 26 new German lieder, and it took me 6 months to integrate what I learned there into my practice.

Immediately after that program, I didn’t sing for 4 weeks. But once I started again and reviewed what I had learned in there, I found that I hadn’t ‘forgotten’ a lot, simply because my body was processing that intensive learning.

As we approach the summer months (at least in North America), I encourage you to sing intensively, then take a break. If you normally take 30-minute lessons once a week, take 60 minute lessons for 4 weeks, then take a break. Write down your observations at the end of the intensive period of singing, then return to them after your break.

Let me know how it goes for you, or if you’ve taken a break from something and returned to it refreshed, share it in the comments below!

 

Words

Learning notes has always been easy for me. I have the proverbial ‘ear for music’. I can follow and pick up a melody, even predict a harmony to a certain extent, with little to no trouble. Uniting music and words together in memorization is what challenges me!

A singer's best tools: score, pencil, cue cards, and memory.

A singer’s best tools: score, pencil, cue cards.

Separating text from music gives us a deeper insight into the structure of a piece or song. In most cases, the words existed first in the form of poetry or a libretto (the words of an opera). In an oratorio, the story is usually taken from a religious (Christian) context.

When you have experienced German art song (Lieder) spoken as poetry, the true beauty of the language shines through. Poets like Heinrich Heine, Eduard Mörike and Wolfgang Goethe were masters of the written word and inspired multiple composers’ Lieder. I have participated in several programs in Austria where poetry written in German was studied, translated, recited, sung, and performed. It gave me a wonderful insight into the beauty of the words and the environment in which they were written.

The next time you are listening to a favorite song –  no matter what the genre, find the words and read them out loud to yourself. See if it changes your experience of the song.

What was the writer trying to say? Does it change when removed from the music?

If you feel inclined to compose, try to set the words to a new melody.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Did you experience words and music any differently after reading this?

Inspiration Part 4 of 4

Over the past three weeks I’ve written about different forms of inspiration, physical, mental, creative, etc. The fact is, there are many different forms of inspiration that you can use every day to improve your life.

 

inspire - Hugh Maguire

Inspire by Hugh MacLeod

By simply taking the time to inhale a slow breath, you slow down your pace and your rate of observation.

By slowing down, you may observe something you never noticed before. Study it. Ask if it inspires you further.

It may not inspire you today, but down the road you could find yourself recalling that moment and how it affected you.

I started writing publicly to share my knowledge and thoughts on singing, but also to encourage and inspire anyone to sing for themselves. It doesn’t matter if you take lessons, it doesn’t matter if you just play in a band for fun and/or sing back-up vocals. Even if you just sing along to your favorite songs on the radio, maybe ask yourself why you do it and have fun!

Go enjoy music and singing for what it is. Think about your own voice and how others hear it.

Then let that go and be inspired to create whatever it is you do best.

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply below if you feel so inspired 🙂

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.

Distractions.learningfundamentals

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!

Opposites

Have you ever been so firm in your convictions about something  you were so certain about, and the opposite ended up being correct or true?

But if a line of notes goes down, we go down, right?

Nope.

keep-calm-and-do-the-opposite-2

Movement in singing (not just physical) quite often works better when we think of ‘movement of opposites’, or thinking the line goes in the opposite direction to which it is written. I have learned this from several coaches and teachers over the years, and I incorporate it into my own learning and teaching.

When you have a run of notes that descend, you need to practice and think of them as if they are ascending instead.

Another way you can practice this is to sing your written line backwards – start from the highest note and work down, or vice-versa.

By working through opposite directions, you learn your vocal line more thoroughly  – you bring the outer edges of your line closer to the centre of your vocal line. This creates a more uniform sound overall, which is generally what you want when singing.

Try it and let me know how it all works for you – I’d love to hear from you!

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.

Motivation-Monday-618

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:

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!

How to Find the Right Teacher

If you have been reading my blog for some time, then you know I’ve been encouraging you to learn to sing. Taking lessons from a person is far superior to just reading a manual or watching an online course of YouTube videos. YouTube is great, and there are many fantastic resources out there for singing, once you have gained some basic vocal technique and feedback from a real person!

I’ve outlined the steps below in more detail, but here is a basic list:

  1. Ask yourself what you like to sing? How would you like to sing? What are your goals?
  2. Community research – what musical resources are available in your community?
  3. Trial lesson(s)
  4. How much to pay?
  5. Questions to ask your teacher
  6. Personality match
  7. Opening your mouth to sing for a stranger
  1. What genres of music do you like to listen to? Jazz, Rock, Pop, Musical Theatre, Indie, Folk, Classical? Who are your favourite singers? Whose music to you like to sing along with? What exactly are your musical goals?  Answering some of these questions will help you decide how to narrow down a choice for a voice teacher. If you are an aspiring classical singer and the only teachers available in your community teach folk singing, you may have to broaden your search to other nearby communities. If you are a choral singer who is looking to improve your enjoyment of singing in a group setting, then try to find a teacher who has experience singing in a choir or training other choral singers. These are not requirements, just suggestions about how to direct your search. The basic mechanics of singing are very similar across genres, it’s the details and delivery that change.
  2. Look around your community first: ask your social circle, research music schools, church and community choirs, community theatres, the public library, etc. Are there any local performers who you admire and might like to learn from? Is there a local music school with voice teachers available who teach different styles of singing? Start in any one of these places and ask questions. How much you pay will depend on the size of your community (city vs. small town) and the qualifications of your teacher. This research will take some time, but it is important as it will help you get the right fit for a teacher.
  3. Once you have found a few teacher resources, contact them (or the school) to ask about a trial lesson. Some teachers offer a short first lesson at no charge, others will charge for 30 minutes or more. Book a trial lesson with each of your researched teachers. Take a recording device and a notebook so you can listen back and decide which teacher worked best with you.
  4. Rates vary widely across communities. As a basis for comparison, I live in a city of less than 500,000 people, I have a Master’s degree in Performance, and I charge between $45-$50 per hour. At most music schools you should expect pay a minimum of $20 per hour for training in any instrument.
  5. Make a short list of questions to ask your teacher – you can either prepare this before you call to book an initial lesson, or you can bring your questions to your lesson. Your potential teacher likely has some resources about themselves online – perhaps a website, an about.me page, a LinkedIn Profile, or a biography on a music school website, etc. If they don’t, you will have to ask more questions. Questions to ask might include: How long have you been teaching? Where did you do your vocal training? Do you play other instruments? What are some of your favorite singers/ensembles/bands/genres? What different styles do you teach?
  6. Now that you have the ‘technical’ requirements out of the way, do you like your potential teacher? Are they friendly, helpful, outgoing, too boisterous, intimidating? How do you feel after your lesson? Do you feel inspired to practice? Do you feel as if you don’t want to see that person again? Pay attention to all these feelings – this is why you take a notebook – to write down your thoughts in the lesson and post-lesson.
  7. If you are going to take a lesson, be prepared to open your mouth and sing for them. This may seem a simple and obvious request, but your voice is a part of you, and you are opening up yourself to someone for their feedback and help. I usually sing along with my student the first few times/exercises/etc. in order to make them feel comfortable and to let them hear my voice.  Just be brave, breathe, open your mouth, and sing.

Be prepared to listen to what your teacher has to say and to follow their suggestions for your own practice. Listen to your own voice with new ears. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things with your voice. Above all, have fun! Finding the right teacher will enable you to improve something you already enjoy doing.