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!

Why your voice is not "BAD"...

I've been wanting to write this post for a while as I've been mulling over a few ideas. At the moment I'm mid way through the amazing course "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who feels at all creatively blocked... or even those of you who don't. 

Anyway, my new mission is for all singers (fledgling, experienced, absolute beginner, "tone deaf", whatever), to vow NEVER to say "my voice is bad" (you can replace bad with an expletive if that's more your style).

But why? And what about those of you who truly believe your voice isn't "good enough"? Here's a few facts/ideas:

1. Specificity leads to improvement. "Bad" is a way too general term. It sounds like a cop-out. I'm not saying you're not allowed to think there are things about your voice that could do with improvement. But I think there are good things about each person's voice too - to say there are no good points is just plain incorrect. So, whenever you feel yourself going to say "that was bad", or "my voice isn't good enough", try replacing the words "bad" and "good enough" with words that are more specific. What specifically made you feel that way? Saying "that was a little shaky", or "my voice doesn't feel powerful enough" for example, are totally legitimate replacements. If you feel your voice IS, shaky or lacking power, then recognising those feelings will help you along your vocal journey, because you're figuring out what it is that you want out of your instrument, and those new goals ARE achievable. "Bad" doesn't send you along your journey. "Bad" just gets you blocked.

2. Coaxing leads to improvement. I know this sounds like a weird one. There's this idea in our society that says that "if you work hard enough you'll be the best". And then the logical conclusion is that we get on our own backs and never feel like we're working quite hard enough to "make it" or "be good enough". This kind of self-pressured thinking (although it means well) is totally unhelpful. It's the voice in our own heads that is basically like a script from that film "Whiplash".
WARNING there's some serious swearing in this one:

 
 

And the problem with this is that we think that by bullying ourselves we'll work harder. In reality this attitude can only lead to two things: a) you DO work harder but then the whole process feels like HARD WORK and in the frustration we loose sight of the joy that brought us to singing in the first place b) You don't work harder because beating yourself up constantly makes you feel like you CAN'T do it, and the cycle of procrastination/avoidance begins. The fact is that we're actually more likely to do things, and do them WELL, and with FOCUS and ENTHUSIASM, when we do it with a sense of joy, and when we are encouraged. Think of the bosses or teachers you might have had throughout your life. Did you do the best when you were encouraged or when you were abused? Most of us would say the former, and yet act in a way that's much closer to the latter when it comes to our own vocal development. But that can stop RIGHT NOW, by CHOOSING to be nurturing yourself. Be your own encouraging best friend- I promise your voice will come along in leaps and bounds

3. Music is communication. Singing is not (linguistically) defined by a specific view of success. If you're attempting to fly but you're falling, then it would be said that you're definitively no longer flying. In singing, as soon as you open your mouth to sing and make any kind of sound, you are definitively doing the act of "singing". This means you can ALREADY sing. Why? Because singing is something to be communicated with rather than judged. Remember this performance from Anne Hathaway in the Les Mis movie? Anne isn't a trained singer. Her singing probably could be technically improved in some way. But the reason people raved about her performance was not that she got everything note for note. The reason that performance was so good was because she was really communicating.

 
 

In all singing, there is a message to be transmitted. It might be a specific story, like something from folk or musical theatre. Or it maybe something more grungy and emotion-based. Either way, if you're going through a song and you're feeling like it's not "good enough", maybe the problem is that it's just not "real enough". Sometimes a lot of vocal issues can be solved just by getting lost in the story line and really going for it with your whole heart and soul. After all, why else do we sing?

 


I'm going to write another blog soon specifically about tone deafness and for those who believe they might be (or have ever been called) tone deaf. But the rules above should apply to EVERYONE. So break down those barriers and get singing!

If you're in Melbourne and are interested in getting your sing on, breaking some barriers, or improving your technique, sign up to my singing course on Tuesday nights in Elsternwick, starting August 25th. Absolute beginners right through to advanced students are all welcome, and singing will be done in a relaxing group environment, so don't worry about singing solos if you're not there yet. Contact me for more info or click here.

 

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".