Do you ever have trouble getting started on your singing practice?
Or maybe you feel like you arrive at a lesson, rehearsal or gig with your brain still firmly lodged in that last activity at home, work or uni before you left?
This toolkit is useful if you often rush from one activity straight to your singing activity. You will get a lot more out of your singing if you feel mentally and physically ready for it – AND if you set yourself up to make it fun and restorative.
These ideas which help to pivot your mindset, energy and focus are just a sampler set of stimuli to inspire you. From perusing these, you can start to experiment with what works for you. I’d love to add more ideas to these lists…so send me a message with the transition tools that work for you and I will credit you and add them in.
Full disclosure – I need to work on this for my teaching mindset as well as my practice mindset. I have an unsettling habit of lingering a little too long down relational or mental rabbit holes and then I am not ready for what comes next. I’m working on using transition tools to create buffer time for myself.
Credit: the prompt for this topic came from a live Instagram session with Dr Shannon Coates.
QUESTIONS TO INFORM YOUR CHOICES:
Taking half a minute to evaluate where you are at can guide you to what you need for that moment in time. In a way, these questions can lead you to greater mindfulness – that zone where the voice responds so beautifully when you are “in the moment” or more present in your mind and body. This state of being means you will be less likely to strain or injure your voice, and more likely to notice useful things about your singing.
Does your energy need to ramp up or settle down?
If you have been taking a nap prior to heading out to rehearsal, or if you are exhausted from studying, you probably need to ramp up. The tools that help you wake up may not be the same as someone else’s. But perhaps starting with dancing, movement or rhythm could lead to ideas that suit you.
If you have been rushing around from errand to errand, your mind might still be back in the place your body was an hour ago. So, you probably need to settle down and let the whole of you come back together. You might choose a body scan, breathing or listening activity.
Of course, a tool that ramps one person up might settle another person down. It will be fun to try them in different situations and see the effect they have on you individually.
It is worth remembering that there is probably an optimum amount of arousal that is right for you and right for your singing.
‘There are many theories about motivation, including the arousal levels that favor learning.
It appears that an intermediate arousal level is best, a sort of Goldilocks approach that falls midway between “make music or die!” and “I think I might want to, maybe”.’
Does your attention need to expand outwards or focus inwards?
In many ways this is like the energy check above but is more cognitive. For example, if you were doing a task at work that was highly detailed, you might appreciate broadening your awareness outwards – into your body and beyond into the larger world around you.
Or if you feel heightened from taking in large amounts of information in the world around you, you might want to try some activities to bring you back into the current space and time.
How can you make this fun?
If you plan a transition sequence that you enjoy and even look forward to, that will improve your vocal function, your training choices, your performance confidence and vocal joy.
STEP ONE: PIVOT
Set aside some non-singing space to sketch out a timeline to help you pivot from whatever you are doing before your singing activity. Elements in this timeline might include:
- Stop what you are currently doing – shut down your computer, write a note to remember what you’re up to, send that last email, finish that conversation, end the game…
- Carry out pivoting activities like going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, packing a bag, changing clothes, having a snack…
- Go – to the practice room, to the car, to your skateboard….
- Then choose a transition tool to prepare yourself for the activities about to happen.
How many minutes would each of these elements take? 5-10 each for the first three steps? 30 minutes for travel? Count backwards from the appointed singing time and pop an alarm in your phone for each stage. Be generous, especially if you think you are likely to ignore the prompts, procrastinate or be interrupted by others. And allow for traffic conditions at the time of day or night you are travelling.
NB…I hope you noticed that this implies that you have made an appointment with yourself for practice time too. Treating it as a diarised engagement means that you are valuing it as a valid, worthwhile use of your time and energy. Rather than leaving it to last, or hoping you’ll just remember to do it sometime, this heightens the value you place on your singing.
If you are prepared to invest money in lessons, costumes and equipment, then I encourage you to be prepared to invest a portion of your time regularly to preparation. Time when you can give it your best energy, not your leftovers.
STEP TWO: CHOOSE A TRANSITION TOOL
This list is like a sampler box of chocolates…try them and see what you enjoy personally and what you enjoy vocally. Let fresh ideas spark off them and give them a try this week.
Movement is so important for your voice, particularly if you have been at your computer for hours. Come back to your 3-D frame and feel that tension melt away. Blood will flow, your temperature will rise, your endorphins will ignite, and you will feel more like singing.
- Put on a favourite song and dance for the whole track.
- Fist Shake
- Hold your arms in front of you, bent at the elbows. Form soft fists with your hands
- Pump your hands up and down as quickly as feels good for you. First trying the two hands going up and down at the same time. Then try one hand going up as the other goes down, in an alternating pattern.
- You could add a vocal siren to this activity.
- Shoulder Rolls
- Roll your shoulders backwards slowly, as though you are swimming backstroke.
- Alternate between small circles and large circles.
This is a type of mindfulness exercise that brings your focus out of your mind’s activity and into your body. It gives you the opportunity to slow down your breathing and become aware of where you are holding your muscles in tension. You might like to try:
- Mindfulness/body scan apps
- Breathing exercises that include counting (internal or out loud)
- Musculo-skeletal activities like Feldenkrais, Alexander Method, Yoga etc
Rhythm is a fabulous connector of neurotransmitters across all the centres of the brain. There is nothing like a couple of minutes of clapping or counting to shift your mindset – particularly when you’re about to need to concentrate and be self-aware. Some rhythm activities include:
- Clapping along with music, perhaps in rhythm with the vocal melody or another instrument you can hear.
- Improvising rhythms – with or without music. Try transferring them between hands and feet to really light up your brain!
- Drumming – some beginner drummer patterns of left and right hand strokes can be applied as just tapping your hands on your leg. R-L-R-L, R-L-R-R, L-R-L-L.
- Apps – there are some fun rhythm training apps and digital games available if this is your jam.
A fun listening activity is to identify a bird or voice that is moving between two pitches (an interval). See if you can sing that interval in your mind and calculate it’s size. Is it a third? A fifth? Warning: you might feel compelled to find an instrument and see if you were right.
Any type of quiet listening will shift your gears in lots of ways. To enhance the experience, try it with your eyes closed so that your sense of sight doesn’t dominate or confuse the aural landscape.
You might want to listen to your natural environment, specific music, or even a meditation script or audiobook. Either way, a couple of choices to make are:
- Analytical or active listening – where you zone into what you are listening to and think about it. If it is music, you might notice how many instruments you can hear and what melody, harmony or rhythm they are playing. If it is nature – how many bird sounds can you detect and which direction are they coming from around you?
- Mood changing listening – where you identify how you want to alter your mood and choose what to listen to based on that desire.
This isn’t rocket science. But I do think there is something that really relaxes in us when we give ourselves some gentle massage. I would focus on these three areas for ease:
Now engage in one vocal activity such as humming, straw bubbling, sirening or lip trilling. Notice how ready you feel for the singing activity you’re about to participate in. Hopefully you feel self-aware and able to make decisions about how your voice needs warming up.
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Dr Shannon Coates (live Instagram video)
Chris Johnson & Stephen King – Movement Webinar
Helding, L. (2020). The Musician’s Mind: teaching, learning and performance in the age of brain science. Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland.