Tag Archives: Education

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!

 

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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.

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!

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!

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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.