Which Method Do You Use and How Does That Work For You?
Modeling – figure out exactly how something is done and practice only that model. That means you can’t stop to fix what you just think you did wrong and then continue to do this over and over again. When you feel yourself moving off course during this process, stop before you try to start fixing things. Instead only and always start each successive practice round by going back to the original model without attempting to make adjustments while in the process. It’s always about starting each attempt using a clean slate. Once you have stopped, you can think through what it is you want to accomplish (the model) then turn the thinking brain off “allowing” your intellectual right brain, your intrinsic self the freedom to actually do what you put in place by having consciously thought about it previously. Observing what is going on when practicing the model is fine as long as you don’t try to fix anything when that happens. Always allow yourself to start or restart from the original process and continue to practice only the original model over and over again.
Imitating/Mimicking –This is the process most of us use when trying to learn something; the results often becomes frustrating and irritating. You, usually with help from your Mentor/Teacher, see, hear and feel the model presented and attempt the model the first time around. Then instead of starting each succeeding attempt back at the very beginning of this specific process, you either try to imitate or mimic the sound you heard, a feeling you might have noticed that was different from what occurred before, or try to see what is happening by creating a picture in your head and doing all of this adjusting while involved in actually doing the process. That means that with each succeeding attempt you move further and further away from the original model. Instead of creating a clean palate so you can once again start at square one, you try to recreate the previous attempt which takes you further and further away from the original model you started with.
This is one of the big reasons singers become so frustrated when practicing on their own and why it is always easier to “get it” when you are actually in a lesson with a trusted Mentor/Teacher. When working with guidance you are consistently brought back to the original model of that particular process by the Mentor/Teacher. Often, even when being guided, you attempt to “make” a physical thing happen to produce a sound by adjusting it as you are doing it because it doesn’t feel, sound or look like the model you had envisioned. Then instead of wiping the slate clean (thoughts/feelings/pictures) of all you just attempted and move back to the original core example, the model, you continue to try to adjust and readjust not the original model, but your imitation of what you did 3 or 4 attempts away from the original. This is not very productive and creates lots of frustration and wasted time and energy.
“It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
My students will recognize this phrase because I use it all the time when I am teaching: “The thinking brain is a lovely tool, but it is not the know all, be all.” When given free reign, the thinking mind, as you are attempting any technical aspect of singing, often and with ease, tends to take you off point by moving quickly from one unfinished thought to another leaving you scattered and agitated. And that is not very conducive to learning anything. Singing is a right brained activity; it is the intellectual brain, the intrinsic part of the self that knows how to sing. Trust the holistic model of how the voice box manages breath and in doing so creates effortless, and beautiful sound. It is a system that runs on automatic pilot like so many of our other bodily functions: sweating, eyes blinking , breathing, hearing, walking, liver doing whatever a liver does, etc. If we had to be in charge and “make” all of those functions happen, even one at a time, we would be born and immediately die. Think how we take all of those automatic functions for granted. Singing is one of those kinds of functions as well but we have to learn where that connection, breath and sound coming together, where it is naturally located then manage only that.
That is often why when performing you often feel you sing so much better. You are not “thinking” about the process of singing but are caught up in portraying the character and telling the story leaving the vocal chords and breath to do their automatic pilot thing. However, have you ever noticed that when you have a difficult passage or high note to sing, you get back into your thinking brain which usually then takes over as you try to “make” something happen; it usually takes you directly to having that passage or high note be as difficult as you thought it would be. Yes, your thinking brain is a lovely tool and is necessary, but can also take you places you really don’t want to go.
“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn” – Charlie Parker
Now when you practice vocal technique, musical style, embodying the character, give it over, allow that wonderful intellectual, intrinsic part of you to do what it does best. Think about what is you want to accomplish, then shut your thinking brain down and “allow” your automatic pilot brain to take over. When you have done that, stop, look the process over, listen too, feel what you just did, think about the adjustments you want to apply, then once again “allow” your automatic pilot to do the work.
Many years ago, a student of mine Cara Welch said to me as we worked with this concept, “Oh, you mean you become the observer of your voice.” Brava Cara and thanks so much for that because I use it all the time. You are allowed to look around, hear, feel and observe all that you are doing when singing, but you are not allowed to let the thinking brain adjust any of this while the process is happening. You can stop, think about what you observed and what changes you might now make because of your observations, then “allow” all of that to take place as you observe this process during the next go around. It’s a process and one well worth the time and energy to put in place. It helps you move more quickly to your desired outcome. Otherwise all you are doing is running around in your thinking mind getting more and more frustrated and frantic about where you are vocally always trying to “make” something happen. Step out of that habit and give yourself a fresh start by being faithful to always starting from the original model of this amazing process, next simply observe the procedure without trying to change anything as you are doing so, stop the process and think about what and how you are going to possibly adjust some aspect of your previous thinking concerning your doing of that original process, then restart with the original process, “allow” it to occur observing as it happens and go through this process over and over again. Simple, not easy!
“Music is the hardest kind of art. It doesn’t hang up on a wall and wait to be stared at and enjoyed by passersby. It’s communication. It’s hours and hours being put into a work of art that may only last, in reality, for a few moments…but if done well, and truly appreciated, it lasts in our hearts forever. That’s art. Speaking with your heart to the hearts of others.” – Mr. Dan Romano
If you are courageous enough to give this a try, I would love to hear from you as to how you felt it worked for you. Maybe you would appreciate some further one on one dialogue concerning this process. If so, contact me and we can work together on it.
Ciao until next time. Carol
PS. Completed the 10K Bolder/Boulder Race on Monday. Yahoo! Am most proud of myself cause I wasn’t sure I could.