Tag Archives: listening

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!

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.

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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.

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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:

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.

Listening vs. Hearing

Have you ever thought about the difference between the words ‘Listening’ vs. ‘Hearing’? For me, listening involves an active participation or engagement in what  I’m listening to, whether it is a lecture, recorded music, live music, an audio book etc.

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Perhaps you heard a noise that that caught your attention and you’re listening to trying to ‘hear’ it more clearly (which is a different kind of active engagement). The definition of ‘hearing’ could also include that very human trait of gossip, or passing on information that you ‘heard’ but may or may not be backed up by proof, further investigation, etc. ‘Did you hear?’ vs. ‘Did you know?’

So, ‘Hearing’ and ‘Listening’ are both active words, but in somewhat different ways.   

Now, if you enjoy music as much as I do, listening to music is not necessarily a ‘passive’ activity. Sometimes it enhances or accompanies an activity I’m already doing – for example, I like to have renaissance or baroque choral music playing when I write. I find the melodies interesting and they stimulate my brain without interrupting or grabbing my attention writing.

 When I go to a concert of the same style of music, I am VERY actively listening, and not at all interested in doing another activity.

But what I am I listening to? I follow different melodies in the music, I try to find the thread of specific vocal lines and follow them, then listen to and hear how the notes work together to create an engaging piece of music.

Ah, here is that word ‘hear’ again. Hearing and listening then appear to go together – you can’t listen to something without hearing it first, but you can hear something without necessarily first actively listening.

Why is it you can damage your ‘hearing’ but not your ‘listening’? Hearing perahps has a more physical association with the biological act of taking in sound vibrations in the ear and interpreting them. To listen to something, you have to HEAR it first, then make a decision to actively engage in and be intellectually involved in what you are hearing.

However, you can first hear music, listen to and process it, then all of a sudden, HEAR an element in the texture that you never noticed before. Another way to put it might be that you noticed something new to you in the music.

When I teach my students, I am teaching them how to sing, but I am also teaching them how to hear, and how to listen. Sometimes I ask them to plug their ears so they hear their voice differently, and also so they don’t ‘listen’ to the exterior feedback their ears are giving them about their voice.

How about listening to music with lyrics as opposed to listening to music without? With the introduction of a language component I feel there is a difference in how actively we engage with the music – but that is the subject for another blog post!

The next time you are listening to music and/or doing an activity, stop for a moment and define for yourself what ‘listening’ is vs. what ‘hearing’ is. You will have a better understanding of how music works, how your brain processes music, and how you can be a better musician overall.

In the words of Michael McMahon, one of my coaches at McGill, “Go and have a listening experience!”

Singing? I can’t sing!

I am a singer. What does that mean exactly? I love singing and could sing a tune back before I could speak coherent words. I didn’t start formal singing training until my early 20’s, which is quite late if you’d like to have a career as a performer (as I did and still do).

Singing lessons are an exercise in patience, perseverance, but also letting go and having fun. When I tell people that I’m a singer, the most common thing I hear is “Oh, I can’t hold a tune” or “I can’t sing at ALL”. Now that I teach singing, I find that is not true. I have had students who couldn’t match a single pitch when they started, but several weeks later are singing a 5-note pattern accurately. A very small percentage of the population is clinically ‘tone deaf’  http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/tone-deaf-test

I want to tell you something profound right now:

Practically anyone can learn how to sing. YOU can learn how to sing (and enjoy it), and not just in the shower!

If you are sitting on the fence about taking lessons, or you were told as a child ‘please don’t sing with the choir”, “Stick to (insert instrument here)” or some variation of that, then ignore that little voice inside and go and take some lessons.

Singing for fun is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do for your self. Even if you already play an instrument and would like to learn how to sing along with yourself, just go and do it.

Here is your challenge: Find a teacher and register for at least one trial lesson. I will be writing a future blog post about how to find the right teacher, but just take one lesson and see if you enjoy it. If you like that one lesson, register for at least 6 more. Expect to be asked to practice a little bit each day. As with anything in life, 15 minutes a day when you’re first starting out is progress. (I gave myself 15 minutes to write the first draft of this blog post).

Remember: Sing, breathe, and have fun!