TIP 1 – Find the right pace for You.
While I was studying in India my teacher invited me to sit in on a lesson with one of her other students, a young girl from the local neighbourhood. I was particularly taken with the sound of this girl’s voice as it had a wonderful quality of simplicity and purity as she sang. When I mentioned this to my teacher later in the day she responded by saying that she was very pleased with the progress of this particular student. It turned out that she had not been able to sing in tune or produce a sound of good quality when first asking for lessons and my teacher agreed to give her lessons on the condition that she would practice for the first six months by singing only one note. This story demonstrates the power of taking things at the right pace for you and creating a strong foundation. Just think about a baby learning to walk. When you have a strong desire to sing and you make a commitment to keep going, even if it is one tiny step at a time, you open the door to new possibilities. I nearly gave up my studies in Javanese singing after one year, as I doubted my ability to reach the goal that I wanted to achieve. I am grateful that I found the will to keep going because after years I was able to say with confidence that I had reached the goal I had
set for myself.
ACTION: Connect with the strength of your desire to sing. Feel how much you want to do this. Visualise how it will feel to achieve your goal. Then make a commitment to go at the right pace for you. Understand that it is a journey and give yourself permission to take things one-step-at-a-time. Be patient with yourself and always keep your dreams in your sights.
TIP 2 – Working with your power source; the breath.
You may not have thought about it before but the voice is a wind instrument similar to the flute or the clarinet. The instrument makes no sound until the breath brings it to life. The breath is therefore the
power behind the voice. When we carry out everyday activities our breathing is automatic and we may not have considered ‘how’ or ‘where’ we are bringing the breath into the body. For our singing, however, taking
time to explore the breath and have mastery over the power source can only add to our experience of singing.
ACTION: Stand with your legs hip width apart and if possible in front of a mirror. Raise your arms over your head. Notice how the ribcage feels lifted and open. Bring your arms back down to your sides but see if you can keep the ribcage area lifted and open. See if the back can also be straight with a feeling of openness across the front of the shoulders. All of this is to be done with a sense of ease and curiosity- no hard work or straining is necessary.Take a few deep breaths. Breathe out using the sound ‘ssssss’. Keep going until you have no air left in your lungs. Notice that your ribcage and abdomen will contract as you make sure to completely empty the lungs of air. When there is no air left to breathe out allow a relaxation of the muscles involved and feel an expansion occur in the rib/abdomen area as the body itself pulls air back into the lungs. Notice how this process can be virtually automatic, the body taking over and the air rushing into the lungs. Be alert to any temptation to focus on the mouth as the place where you are taking a big breath. Keep your attention on the rib/abdomen area as the muscles that were contracting are now relaxing and the area expands. Repeat this process at least five times a day in the beginning until you can choose to allow the breathing to occur in this way at will without having to focus on it beyond your initial decision. Once you have this capacity for natural breathing start to integrate it with sound by exploring how it feels to sing on the out breath, first with single notes and then working up to phrases.
TIP 3 – Pay attention to your thoughts. Good Wolf / Bad Wolf.There is a traditional Native American story that goes like this: A grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the
vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered: “The one I feed.” This is a very simple story and yet it serves a very important purpose. It reminds us not to underestimate the power of our thoughts. When singing we may be unaware that we are making a choice to feed the vengeful wolf when
we automatically believe such thoughts such as “It sounds terrible”, “I can’t do it” or “I’ve gone wrong again, will I ever get it right?” This tip reminds you to become conscious that you have a choice about which
thoughts you will invest energy into.
ACTION: Become committed to identifying those moments when you are falling into the trap of feeding the negative, violent wolf and choose the option of finding a compassionate thought to feed instead. Start a journal and make a note of the thoughts that you most often find yourself feeding(believing without question)when thinking about or practising your
singing. Explore how you can re-phrase the thought to be a loving compassionate one. An example: “Why can’t I get that right?” is a violent response to something considered a mistake. “Consistency will come through
repetition. As long as I am aware of my destination repetition will take me there. I am willing to be patient but persistent as I change my habits” is a loving and compassionate response to something considered a mistake. Mistakes are a NECESSARY part of learning. It is impractical and misguided
to think otherwise.
TIP 4 – No Holding Back.
When I was learning to sing Javanese music I shared a house with other western students. One morning one of my housemates asked me if I’d like to practice the song I had just been learning with him. I said yes and so he accompanied me while I sang. He said he was interested in exploring the Javanese concept of ‘Los’ which he translated as ‘not holding back’. As we
started to practice he kept stopping and asking me to sing louder,pointing out that by singing loudly I might experience the feeling of not holding back. I didn’t really want to sing loudly as I was worried about the other people in the house – and also those on the street outside – as the houses in Java are not at all soundproof. He asked me to consider whether the sound of someone singing would really cause anyone a serious problem but that just made me more resistant. As the situation went on and we kept stopping and starting I got more and more angry with him until I
finally reached the point where I thought ‘Right, I’ll show you how crazy it would be for me to sing at full volume with no holding back’. I launched into the song but within a very short space of time I had to stop
as I was overcome by the intensity of emotion that accompanied the experience. “Aha” said my housemate, “That’s what I was talking about, I could really hear a difference in your singing that time.” He was right of course.
ACTION: There are many ways in which we might be holding ourselves back from giving 100% of ourselves when we are singing. Find someone who is willing to be an audience for you as you practice singing a song that you know really well. Think of this as a fun exercise and exploration, there is no final goal. You may or may not feel something ‘earth shattering’ but it is a worthwhile experiment to carry out as part of your vocal journey.
It is important that the person you choose as your listener is someone you feel very comfortable and secure around and who will be supportive if you do feel overwhelmed or emotional as a result of the experience. Explain to them that their role is simply to receive what you have to offer through your singing and to be aware if they are getting the impression that you are holding back. Start by singing the song through once or twice to get comfortable and face any initial fears of singing in front of someone. Then repeat it over singing loudly and freely asking for feedback from the other person about whether they felt you were ‘holding back’ in any way. It’s not about shouting or straining to belt out a maximum volume whirlwind – it’s about the mindset of knowing that you don’t need to hold back. Letting go involves the ability to put all of yourself into your singing with another person around who is focused on receiving what you have to offer. Once you have experienced the power of singing with no holding back you will want to come back to it again and again because it feels so good.
TIP 5 – Listening to yourself.
When I first used to do performances in Java they were often a long way from where we lived and the driver liked to listen to tapes of that night’s performance on the way home. He would usually try to find the parts where the puppeteer had been talking to me and where I had been singing. I found this very uncomfortable and would be squirming in my seat at having to listen to myself sing. One day I had the thought that it might be possible to enjoy the experience of hearing my own voice. Next time I heard my recorded voice I decided to identify what I was unhappy with and how it could be different. I realised that when I listened to my voice I wanted to hear confidence, strength and passion. Once I had that realisation I started recording myself practising so that I could get feedback on the sound that I was producing. Working with a teacher is an invaluable way to get feedback on your singing but your ultimate goal is to be your own compass. By recording yourself and listening back you are better prepared to identify areas that you can work on in order to get a sound that you feel is a true reflection of you.
ACTION: This is something to try when you can be sure that you won’t be tempted to lambast yourself for ‘sounding awful’ or likely to give up completely if you don’t like what you hear. It is essential to use TIP 3,pay attention to your thoughts and write in your journal. If you don’t have an old cassette recorder or other method for recording yourself you can get a second-hand or inexpensive tape recorder. It doesn’t need to be of the very highest quality in order to be useful to you. Start by recording yourself practicing and then listen back to see if you are happy
that the sound is a true reflection of you. Never be discouraged if you feel that your voice is not a true reflection of you, this is the moment where you open the door to exciting possibilities. Once you have identified the qualities that you would like to hear in your voice then you can work with those aspects. For myself it was a feeling of confidence that I most wanted to hear and an unconfident and scared sounding person that I heard whilst listening to those early recordings. By knowing clearly where I wanted to be, and taking things step by step I got to a position where I can quite happily listen to recordings of myself singing.
I hope that you have found these 5 Tips useful. They are all based on my own direct experience and the journey that I have made from ‘non-singer’to ‘singer.’ It takes time and commitment to integrate all of these tips into your practice.
Please get in touch with me and let me know about your experiences in working with this material.
Keep feeding that loving compassionate wolf
To find out more about my singing projects and further assistance in experiencing a breakthrough singing you are welcome to visit my web site below.