Tag Archives: Vocal pedagogy

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 ūüôā

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.

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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?

Inspiration – Part 1 of 4

Welcome to the first of four shorter blog posts on Inspiration. You may want to review my posts in inspiration and breathing here before reading further.

Inspiration is a word that has several meanings or implications – there is the mental condition of being inspired to do something, and then there is the physical act of inspiration, more commonly known as inhalation.

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Today’s post is the first of two on the ¬†mental condition.

What inspires you to make music? Have you always been inclined towards music, or is it simply background filler for you? What styles of music move you?

Inspiration comes in many forms Рas varied as the human condition itself. For me personally, I have always been drawn to music. According to my mother, I could sing a tune back before I could properly speak words. My grandfather taught himself to play the accordion and when I was young, I used to go  down to the basement where he practiced and we would play tunes together, me playing the melody on the keyboard, and him playing the chord buttons and squeeze-box.

Those memories of being immersed in music still inspire me today. Music is such a personal experience – no matter what we do musically – it’s still all about us and what we share.

As a teacher of singing now, I encourage my students to explore their passion for music. It can be scary, allowing music to open your soul – but that is what leads to true inspiration!

The next time you listen to music, make music, or are inspired by music, take a moment and think about how you feel inside. Record these feelings and start a ‘music inspiration journal’. It may help you hone in on other factors in your life that require attention.

Be inspired, then be inspiring to others.

Happy music-making – whatever form that takes for you!

As always, I love to hear from you! Your comments, feedback, and experiences of inspiration and music are welcome!

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  Рyou 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!

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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.