Sneaking up on yourself in the practice room

string_ballI  enjoy taking a voice lesson with an excellent teacher. It is a wonderful experience to switch back to the other side of the teacher-student equation, and I can often sort out a vocal issue more easily with another teacher than on my own.

But all singers who practice must learn how to work on their own most of the time. How can we make better progress, and maybe even breakthroughs, independently? This can be tricky, because the person giving the orders is the person taking the orders. The dynamic is very different from putting yourself in the hands of a trusted mentor, and taking their input. But should it be? Can we make practice a little more like a good lesson? I do believe we can!

First off, and perhaps obviously, you can use recording technology to hear what you are doing. If you vocalize for a minute, then listen, you can start to connect causes to effects. I have found it best to record very short sections at a time, no more than two minutes. Some of my best practicing comes with snippets of a minute or less.

As you listen, pretend that you are listening to someone other than yourself, someone who has become your lifelong student. Be a teacher that this singing student can trust. Be kind, clear, and honest. It might help to write down some notes about what you are hearing, and something for them to try. When something sounds good on the recording (you as teacher can define what good is), have the student write a short note about what it felt like and what concept or action was operating. Switching roles from teacher to student, and always being kind to the “other” and to “yourself”, will help your practice sessions.

Another major way to make progress in the practice room is to be willing to experiment a lot. Overdo everything. When you feel like you are “on to something” technically, test the heck out of it, try its apparent opposite, try to capture it in writing and in recorded sound. Draw a picture or invent a temporary maxim to say out loud – any reinforcement you can think of. You will get some wild results sometimes as you find that things that sounded so great in your head are bad on a recording and there will be other times when a really crazy concept gets you into some good stuff.

Sometimes you will hate everything you do, but as time goes on, and vocal freedom is approximated, there will be more times when you love what you are doing. If you have been studying voice for a number of years and don’t like your singing significantly more than after year one, you need to make some changes.

You cannot reasonably expect that every time you sing, you will sound and feel exactly the same. Probably you will not be able to do the same warmups or solve a technical problem in the same manner for your whole singing life. Get used to surprises. Create some of your own surprises in the practice room by experimenting, listening, studying, and wondering.

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