Practicing Singing: Three things we need to do more of
Most of the time my Facebook posts and tweets are inspired by something that happened in a lesson or in my own singing. They are anecdotes based on real life experiences that I hope will be helpful to all of us who are pursuing more success with our singing voice.
My September 22nd posts were no exception, because I found myself practicing, struggling and simply not adhering to my own advice. Gahhhh! If I’m not doing it, how can I expect them to? So, I made a three-point list of things I’m not doing enough in practice and shared it publicly as reminder to myself and hopefully to all of you.
I wanted to share it here as well in an effort to flesh it out more thoroughly and help enhance our experience as we practice singing. So, I give to you: In practicing singing, three things we’re not doing enough of.
I recommend to every single singer who comes through our door that they take out their smart phone and turn on that voice memo app to grab the audio from our session together. Often I get a response like… “Uuhhhh, I don’t like to listen to myself sing!” To which I give my tough love reply… “There’s only one way to get over that.”
Really, we’ve all had the experience of listening to ourselves on a voicemail or a family video and go “Whoa! That’s how I sound!?” It’s weird, right? Gizmodo posted a great article scientifically explaining this phenomenon and it is definitely worth the read.
But, the fact of the matter is, you’re in your head and the rest of us are not. Despite the trauma it may cause initially, it is helpful to hear what the rest of us hear as to more accurately critique what you do or don’t like about the sound. Notice I said “critique” and not judge. As learners, it is important to think critically and not judgmentally as judgment assumes to finality where critical thinking assumes the possibility of change. Or, be nice to yourself, ok? It’s only then that you’ll be able to really hear what’s good about your voice and what you could work to make better.
Even further, the educated ear can hear sounds that tell us the story of our bodies. See, when you sing, it is a physical act. A coordinated movement! Therefore, if you start to understand the physical act associated with certain types of sounds, you can start to draw conclusions about what you may be doing when your voice behaves a certain way. Further, you can make changes. Cool, right? Really, this is the job of your voice teacher to help educate your ear by calling attention to certain sounds and explaining to you what that means for the function of your throat and body.
Look, we’ve all got the tools. Why not use ‘em? Sing through exercises or your song. Record it and listen back. What do you think? Pretty good, right! What could you do better?
Look in the mirror or turn on your video camera.
What’s worse than listening to ourselves sing? Watching it.
I look like, what!?
When you’ve been teaching for a while, there are certain conversations that, despite the client, seem to happen quite frequently. One of those goes something like this.
“Hey, do you think you could sing that with your mouth more open?”
“Did that feel like you opened it more?”
“Ok, let’s look in the mirror.”
“Whoa! I thought it was way bigger than that.”
Perception is not always reality, and the reality is, your body is giving you all sorts of clues that you might not be able to feel, so you’ve got to SEE them. For instance, if I showed video of you singing with your chest sunken down and your weight placed primarily on one leg, would you imagine that you were taken a full breath? Or what if I showed you a picture of yourself with your face all scrunched up and your shoulders raised to your ears and asked you how easy it was to make the sound you were making?
The answers to these scenarios are obvious, but often times we simply don’t know because we don’t look. So, if you’re like me and you don’t LOVE to stare in the mirror to problem solve all your singing woes, I have another idea. Turn on your computer or phone’s video function and record yourself while covering the screen. This can allow you to sing freely and return to problem solve after the fact.
A few example questions we can ask ourselves while watching are: Does my body look as I imagined it to? Do I notice any specific points of tension on my body? Do I see a lack of engagement? Do I hear those things in the sound? If so, how and when? Does it remain consistent or does it change?
The first step to making change is identifying the problem. That’s why you and me? We gotta get in front of that mirror or video to find more freedom in our voice!
This is a message I have to remind myself of daily and I’m still not very good at it. Why? Well, it goes back to my earlier point on judgment versus critique. Most of us are great at judging ourselves, and not very adept at thinking critically about where we are and where we’ve come from. It’s a skill that only a few people I know seem to have successfully acquired and the rest of us are left all beat up by the army of self. But, in that battle, I’ve learned a couples ideas that seem to help me out.
There are no quick fixes and the process isn’t timed by my watch. Boy, do I wish it was! I’d for sure be selling a nice little voice technique DVD that promised a better singing voice in just seven days! But, I know from my own experience, it ain’t that easy. Sure, things can get better in seven, but some things don’t get better for seven years…. Or longer. Brutal, right? This journey is not about the ending, but the process, which points us in a better direction. (Ahhh! Why do lessons about singing always apply to life in general?) This is why it is not uncommon for great singers to study their craft throughout their whole career. Actually, think about artists in general? The good ones keep learning. They enjoy the journey. They trust the process. They continue to improve.
Honor the successes, no matter how small. In an earlier blog post, I talked about using your practice to make new sounds. My friends, new sounds are a success! New sounds mean you asked your body to do something it had not done before and it did it! That’s a miracle in and of itself and without gettin’ to hippy dippy up in here, we need to be thankful for that. That’s it. End of story. Don’t even worry about doing it again. First, be thankful you did it and then worry about doing it again. If it happens again, lucky you! If not, oh well, for now. You did it once and didn’t it feel good? Try again later.
Why does it seem like the last one is the hardest? Cause it is. I suppose I need to get better at being patient with the process of learning to be patient.