A Practice of Thankfulness

Here's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Sometimes singers start to get their heads all in a funk. Nervousness starts to take over - sometimes before a performance, or sometimes even in a lesson or when trying to practice at home. So here's just a little idea that could help change this around if this is you...

Try introducing a practice of gratefulness into your singing. There's a whole lot of research already out there about how gratitude can help you through the hard times. Even Oprah has endorsed the idea of using a gratitude journal daily as a way of keeping your mindset positive. After all, it's difficult to feel fear when you're doggedly focusing on what you're grateful for.

So the next time you start getting nervous while singing, say or think to yourself:

prayer and singing

It is not about me.

I am singing today in service to this song.

This song is wonderful. Its flowing melody and harmony take me to another place.

I'm so grateful for this melody. It is such an honour to be able to replicate this beautiful melody that I love to hear. Thank you.

If you are religious or spiritual, you could incorporate this into your gratefulness practice. Or you could leave it as is, and just mindfully be aware of any feeling welling up inside you; being kind to yourself the whole time. And see if, for a little while, you can JUST focus on the undulations of the melody - and perhaps the lyrics if there are certain lyrics that give you an enjoyable emotional reaction. Sing through the melody slowly and with focus - explore the highs and lows with interest and enthusiasm for where the song can take you. Just ride that wave and think of nothing else. Don't think about whether your voice sounds "pretty" or "breathy" or "strong" or "soft"; don't think of "quality" or of "getting it right", or even "what would my teacher say right now?"; don't think of performance. Just take a deep breath, close your eyes and trace in your mind's eye the beautiful patterns in the melody you're singing.

I'd love to know if any of you have tried something like this and if it helps. This may be something that other people haven written about, but it's something I've come to in my own experience. Feel free to comment below with any feedback you may have!

Singing and Mindfulness

In the past months I've been getting very much into mindfulness. By this I mean mindfulness meditation, but also mindfulness as a whole.

One really good resource from this has been Diana Winston's free recordings from the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at UCLA. In her recordings, Diana defines mindfulness as, "the art of paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is".

Now, regardless of whether or not you partake in meditation or believe in its uses, there are a few really helpful things that happen when we apply this mindset to singing...

1. Holding yourself with kindness during the learning process.

One of the biggest road-blocks that some students tend to go through is the belief that they are expected to get everything right, or the feeling that they are required to be impressive. In reality however, this is not at all how the learning process works. If a student already knew everything there was to know and could do everything perfectly, there'd be no point in coming in for lessons. If you think about the first time you did anything- learning to ride a bike, your first job, the first time you learned something at school - you made mistakes right? Mistakes are what enriches the learning experience, rather than detracting from it. How are you meant to learn exactly what the right way is unless you've learned what it's like to do it the wrong way? As a student it's your responsibility to get things wrong at least some of the time. If you can manage to hold this experience with a level of kindness rather than self-criticism, you are more able to focus on the learning part of making mistakes rather than just beating yourself up.

2. Staying focused during the performance process

Nerves before or during a performance are totally normal. But once we get caught up in our nervousness, we become unable to break free of it. The art of mindfulness is all about choosing what to pay attention to, and not letting yourself get caught up in the emotion of it all. Now try this the next time your nervous about a performance! Say to yourself (silently or aloud) the following:

  • Nerves are perfectly normal.
  • Nerves are just gearing me up to do the best job that I can do. They are a superpower.
  • I am accepting of the fact that I am nervous. It shows that my fight or flight response (my body) is working, and that I really care about the outcome of this. That's a completely reasonable way to feel.

After saying this to yourself, the whole idea of being nervous seems kind of normal (or even boring) doesn't it? Now rather than allowing yourself to think of the future and what it may or may not hold, try grounding yourself in the present. Try standing still, closing your eyes, and cluing into the following:

  • How does my body feel?
  • What are the sounds going on around me?
  • What does each breath feel like in my body?

Try not to make judgement calls about these things, just be aware of them happening.

This is a really great way to stay grounded and focused during and in the run-up to a performance. Once you learn how to stay in the present moment, nerves don't really seem so bad, do they? And if you still find yourself getting nervous, you know what to do. It's perfectly normal, just "[pay] attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is".