This blog is the third in a 4-part series which aims to explore the way your voice is the interface between mind, heart, body and soul. We will explore how this interface can give your singing wings, your confidence strength and your storytelling sparkle.
I recently noticed something about singing practice while I was out walking.
You see, for most of my life I’ve tended to change myself to fit in with those around me – long story, and I’m now getting help for it 😉 And lately I’ve noticed that I even change the way I walk to fit in with the gait and pace of the person I’m walking alongside.
BUT…I didn’t really become aware of this habit until one day when I was out walking by myself and started noticing how free and strong I felt. The dawning awareness began…I was returning to a gait and pace that worked for me.
So, I tried to be mindful and observe what it was about my walking style that I was enjoying. And the next time I walked with someone, I returned to that mindful awareness of my gait and found I could replicate it and avoid synchronising myself to my exercise buddy. Now this is a new skill and I need to practice it by doing some regular walking alone to consolidate my confidence and muscle memory….then one day I might be able to retain it with another walker nearby and actually also concentrate on something else at the same time, like conversation or scenery.
You can see where I’m going with this, right? If I only practice my singing when I’m singing with other people (like at rehearsal or in a show), then I will not gain the unique awareness of what is healthy and comfortable for ME. I will find it very easy to adopt the habits of those around me. And what works for someone else may not work for me.
This blog is not a treatise on practice overall, merely a look at two areas you can start exploring in order to enhance your mindfulness while practicing singing.
CREATING A MINDFUL PRACTICE SPACE
“There are two kinds of privacy that a practice room of your own will give you: one is inward and the other is outward. The inward privacy is the knowledge that nobody can hear you, allowing you the freedom to experiment with any sound you want without fear of being judged. But it’s the long hours and the repetition that gets to others. In a private space, you can repeat something over and over and over again without fear of annoying anybody…The benefit of a shed of your own is that you get to explore sound without annoying anybody or feeling self-conscious. No matter how good you get, the exploration of sound is endless.”
Don’t panic…I’m not advocating that you start building a shed in your backyard just for practice.
It’s just that we can’t deep dive into what mindful singing practice looks like without first exploring WHERE you practice. If you’re a little like me, nothing sends me down the mindLESS practice rabbit hole faster than being preoccupied with who can hear me…or by notifications going off on my phone….or by the distracting clutter on my desk…
So what makes the kind of practice space that supports your mindful singing practice?
You can download a tipsheet here to further unpack these ideas and come to grips with what you can and can’t control about your practice space.
Think about the following elements as you set up a space that encourages the type of mindFUL singing practice that mines the gold that turns into sustainable, reliable muscle memory. The stuff that stays rock solid when you’re a little nervous on stage.
- Goals/progress chart
- Music stand
- Sheet music (
- Lesson notes, plans and goals
- Mobile devices with practice/music apps
- Instruments and associated tools
- Acoustic factors
- In the room – inner voices
- Outside the room – cohabitants and neighbours
- Have a conversation with people who can hear your practicing about what will help them and what will help you.
- Choose a time to share your progress with people in an intentional way.
- Do unto others…does another musician live nearby? Don’t comment on their practice either 😉
- Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb.
- Adjust banners and notifications.
- And if you can’t achieve this, then leave them OUTSIDE your practice space.
- Absence of a plan
- Plan your practice BEFORE you walk into your practice space.
- Use a timer or alarm so you don’t have to worry about remembering your next appointment.
- After your practice, take a moment to jot down the following:
- Something that went well that you want to reinforce in tomorrow’s practice.
- Something that you are in the middle of solving – note what you tried today and what you want to try tomorrow.
- Something that you want to discuss with your vocal coach/singing teachers at your next lesson.
- In the room – inner voices
CREATING MINDFUL PRACTICE INTENTIONS
“…the breakthrough comes from a shift within the learner…to mindfulness and acceptance…with a shift to mindfulness, the music practice room – instead of teaching us boredom and defeat – can provide us with breakthrough moments of discovery, of pure process, of the wholeness of experience and the ‘juiciness’ of learning.”
“The fact that the human brain and body respond to challenges by developing new abilities underlies the effectiveness of purposeful and deliberate practice…musical training modifies the structure and function of the brain in various ways that result in an increased capacity for playing music. In other words, the most effective forms of practice are doing more than helping you learn to play a musical instrument, they are actually increasing your ability to play…long-term training results in changes in those parts of the brain that are relevant to the particular skill being developed.”
Ericsson & Pool
Looking at ways to mindfully begin each practice will indeed lead you to the “juiciness” of learning and discovery. We start to work with, and not against, the musical brain and body. And we grow in personal authenticity within ourselves, which will translate to authentic storytelling that moves our listeners in ways we might not yet have imagined.
The concept of taking time at the start of every singing practice to “check-in” with yourself and your instrument is designed to nurture self-awareness that empowers you to take charge of your practice time. Be curious. Observe. Ask yourself questions. You don’t need to go through the motions and do what you always do.
Most importantly – you don’t need to waste the practice you DO do by discovering that you mindlessly reinforced the bad habits you’re trying to reroute.
“…the first five minutes are the most important of all. Invite your mind to become calmer, less scattered, more ready to focus. The best way I know how to do this is to breathe deeply and become absorbed in the sensations of a simple physical warm up…”
Are you rushing into your practice space from a busy activity?
What state of mind do you need to shift to in order to sing mindfully?
Complete these statements…
… my body feels …
… my mind is …
… my emotions are …
… the time I have available is …
… the energy I have available is …
… the environment I have is …
Click here for an example of a journal page you can use for Checking In and planning a practice session.
Now that you have reflected on the here and now, how does that inform your singing practice? Mindful singing practice takes the whole of you into account and responds generously in ways that pivot you decisively to where you need to be.
- Sometimes you will choose activities to improve your mindfulness before you start to sing.
- Sometimes you will take a break instead of singing because mindfulness seems out of reach.
Both are excellent choices.
- Modify your warm-up to take into account the observations you made during your Check-In.
- Use the same song at the end of every warm-up as a barometer to reveal the condition of your vocal instrument compared with yesterday.
- Use this journal prompt to trigger a practice plan out of your singing lesson.
“Observe in detail, not in general terms.There’s no useful information in announcing to yourself ‘I messed up that time’. But there is solid information in a more specific observation: ‘I undershot that leap to the B flat’.”
“Once the wrong thing, usually affectation or tension, is stripped away, by all means, please try too hard. Try as hard as you can to express what you feel, and don’t let anyone bully you otherwise.”
“…much like ice skating, you get stability from momentum, not from clinging on…”
Consider this quote by Chris Johnson. Can you think of an example of how this concept works for you? He gives examples of momentum such as breath flow, vibrato and the continuing feeling of excitement.
The opposite of momentum, he says, is a fixed state, when we are focusing too much on the mechanics of the instrument.
One standout example for me is the use of a downward squat during an ascending phrase. Vocal stability, ease and richness comes from the physical momentum my upper body receives from that lower body movement. And even imagining that I am slightly squatting can generate vocal ease and momentum.
Noticing how my physical state impacts my singing is usually best achieved in private, when I don’t feel pressured to produce a sound or a story that pleases or impresses others.
So I would set up my practice space to have enough room to swing my arms in every direction, room on the floor for a yoga mat, and enough walking room to pace about a bit and use movement to support my singing.
And during my check-in time at the start of my practice, I will include some opportunities to move and notice what that reveals to me about the condition of my vocal instrument. Perhaps my neck is disrupted due to a poor night’s sleep and it is impacting my breathing and resonance. This information will help me choose behaviours and exercises that might improve that problem. Giving that area some attention might be more important to me than another thing I planned to practice, so I will review the time I have available and review what I expect to get done in the practice session.
These mindful steps will encourage me to stick to my values about voice even when circumstances change.
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Ericsson, A. & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things. Penguin Random House, London
Folds, B. (2019). A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A life of music and cheap lessons. Simon & Schuster (NSW)
Harnum, J. ( 2014). The Practice of Practice. Sol Ut Press.
Henny, J. The Intelligent Vocalist Podcast, Ep210 “How to Assess the Voice”.
Perris, H. (2021). How To Set Up a Happy Practice Space! https://youtu.be/4yAezsPSjyI
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash
Westney, W. (2006). The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self. Amadeus Press, New Jersey