Tag Archives: Vocal

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!

 

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?

Consistency

What does consistency mean for you? Do you think of food? Do you think of behaviour? How about chemistry? Music? Art?

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Art work for sale at Intrigue Winery in the BC Okanagan. Sadly, in the original photo I took, the glare made the artist’s name impossible to read.

Consistency is one of my Three Words for 2014. I think for me it has been the hardest one to keep present in my mind and in my day-to-day actions. Routine is different from consistency. Routine is your daily schedule that you perform as you move throughout your day. Consistency in that routine is what moves you forward. Incidentally, it also creates good habits!

In Three Words for 2014, I wrote:

“The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!”

 I have started getting up earlier. This consistent action has allowed me to add a few things to my morning routine on a more consistent basis. This includes a short morning meditation, writing this blog, and having time to enjoy my breakfast (most mornings!) before I head to work.

Getting up earlier also means I have to go to bed earlier! So, I have tried to be more consistent in the time I end my evenings. I finish up around 9:30 pm and start to get ready for bed. It’s made my earlier mornings much easier and I feel better overall!

It’s easy to set a routine or a daily schedule, but harder to stick to it. So by being more consistent, (even on weekends), I find I’m not as frequently overwhelmed by everything I try to accomplish in the day. That doesn’t mean I still don’t try to do too much!

Better consistency in my singing practice has also resulted in a more consistent sound and ease in singing. It has been hard to make that part of my routine because although I love singing, I often experience Resistance, that thing we all wrestle with when we have something that needs our attention!

By fighting Resistance with consistency in my actions, I lessen the possibility of procrastinating on the things I’d like to achieve.

Singing every day, in some way, shape, or form is a consistent action that makes me very happy. What makes you happy? What consistent actions do you do that help you move forward? Leave me a comment below or contact me on any social media – I’d love to hear from you!

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 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.

 

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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 🙂

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 – as 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!

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!