What a gift it is to be so present in our listening that we don’t hear all the voices of the judging mind, the wounded heart, the tired body. What a gift to hear only the precision of the phonation, the ring of overtones, the fluid stretch of the breath over the soft beating of time in the phrase of expression. What a gift to be so wholly concentrated in creating that we feel we are being played as an instrument by some inspired and compassionate part of our selves that has no desire but to uplift.
This is the true purpose of technical study: to be so immersed in this gift that it is all we share every time we speak or sing. No matter what archetype we are animating, no matter what story we are telling, no matter what jagged or liquid melody we are offering, its potential is to be medicine. An accomplished performer can share treasures of the heart and throw open the doors to unlimited imagination.
This, and nothing less, is what happens when vowels are complete and resonant on every pitch, when the breath is quiet and perfectly paced, when the body is aligned and engaged. The hours of practice are not to gain recognition for excellence, but to disappear behind excellence so that a deeper creative spirit can emerge to enrich first you, and then others.
Give no mind to the voices of misgiving and concerns that tempt you to diminish your message. Listen today for the alignment and congruence of your one beautiful voice so that it may be free to give, with joy and humility, what you have been privileged to experience in your hours and life of practice.
Vocal practice is about expressing fully and beautifully right here and now. It’s important not to wait for show time to turn on the magic.
Too often practice is only cognitive. It focuses on memorizing, or fixing the countless details that refine performance while leaving heart and soul in the hallway. The assumption is that once on stage or in a conversation, passion and creativity will magically integrate, that communication will be inspired. This is a dangerous assumption.
It isn’t enough to remember something, or to express it with precision and balance. Vocal art is created only when a listener is moved. Before practicing a passage, whether singing or speaking, connect with the reason for expressing it. The passage needs to be equally important every time it is repeated. This means using not only the critical mind to refine technique, but also the imagination.
The goal of performance is to deliver a message as though we are thinking of it for the first time in this moment. If we practice making every repetition of a passage as passionate and soulful as we can, we will never run out of variations, and we will be even more inspired in performance.
To renew your heart and imagination with each repetition:
- Imagine saying or singing the passage to a different person.
- Imagine they say something different to you each time you start.
- Play a movie in your inner mind, allowing visual details to change each time.
- Notice how the way you are engaging with the message affects your body.
- Breathe openly and completely.
Too many people wait until the last minute to seek help preparing for an important audition or interview. They come to sessions looking for a quick fix. It’s the equivalent of wanting a pill that will give you six pack abs while you sleep.
Because the voice is a physical instrument, there are elements of expression that are like athletic training. The coordination and muscle memory are built over time
Mental acuity and emotional balance need to be practiced and patterned as well. Otherwise we revert to habits and limitations, or worse, embarrass ourselves while improvising.
In the theatre we say there’s a time to grow and a time to show. This means the best time to work on these skills is when you don’t have anything coming up.
- You will have time to explore repertoire and ideas, to determine what really suits you.
- You will deepen your relationship with your truest dreams and convictions and be clear about what you really want to try for.
- You will be able to practice until you achieve excellence, and then make that your habit or reflex.
For most people, waiting until the last minute and trying to do too much in a short time causes vocal fatigue, mental overwhelm, and emotional anxiety. Even if you enjoy the excitement and have success “flying by the seat of your pants” you may find, at a certain point, that what you do lacks depth and doesn’t stand up over time.
The best way to be prepared is to consistently work on your skills with regularly scheduled coaching and personal practice. Work with your teacher or coach to:
- Prepare your materials and repertoire.
- Do mock auditions and interviews.
- Participate in the audition or interview in a way that helps you find out if this is the right gig for you, if the work and people are a good fit.
“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” – PHILLIP BROOKS
Performances by eloquent speakers and accomplished singers seem effortless. More often than not, the apparent ease is the result of hours of preparation. Practice is often seen as a necessary chore, something endured in order to get to the more pleasurable art of performing. I have noticed it is most powerful when practice is also embraced as an art in and of itself.
Painters have exhibits, but painting is their art. Singers have performances and speakers have engagements, but the creation of sound is vocal art. The transformational art of voice is practicing with such concentration and passion that it feels like the personality yields to some profound creative inspiration that is singing or speaking us.
Here are some suggestions I think make for more joyful, inspired practice:
- Practicing as exploration and learning.
Mastery takes time so if we practice to get things right we often end up frustrated, disappointed and feeling hopeless. If we are playfully trying new things and allow ourselves to celebrate what we are learning, at some point we will notice that the voice and expression are better and easier.
- Practicing for limited time periods.
If we overwork the voice it becomes tired and unresponsive. Concentration dwindles in long practice sessions and we can end up reinforcing limitations rather than developing new capacities. It is also useful to change what we are practicing every few minutes. Frequent, short practice builds the kind of endurance and flexibility that sustains a career.
Too often we go straight to vocal problems with an intention of fixing them. It can be more efficient to take what works and make it grow. It also builds confidence and hope. For example, if the “ee” sound works well for you, but the “oh” doesn’t, start with “ee” and move to “oh” changing as little as possible. When the two sounds are equally good you will have solved the problem by reinforcing what is right about your voice.
Of course there are other ideas, but my final suggestion today is to limit what you try to incorporate or master at any given time.
Powerful communication has an element of mystery. It invites the next breath into silence. It inspires the idea that emerges from that silence. It requires taking a risk.
When we know how the sound is going to come out, we aren’t singing. We’re holding. When we plan what to say, we aren’t in relationship. We’re controlling.
One of the benefits of a transformational practice is that we learn how to use the breath and voice to connect with our inspiration, to express it with right timing and sensitivity.
When we go into the mystery and retrieve a gem of creative genius, our singing and speaking gives full body chills and causes the eyes to mist over in appreciation. There is a new awareness shared by everyone present.
When you practice, don’t go on autopilot. Be in a dynamic, curious relationship with your voice and your breath. Assume you are about to learn something exquisite and revelatory.
For many people, noticing that they are in an inspired state is something of an accident. It seems special, maybe even mystical. For the artist, however, this state is a practice and it is entered into daily.
Throughout my life I have explored many paths. However, on my personal journey nothing else has opened or deepened me as much as singing does. It would seem to be my “way” through life.
Practice is the essential element that has made singing a reliable creative ally — rigorous, intentional, daily practice. I have given years of my life to practicing details like perfecting the overtones of an “AH” vowel on a certain pitch, or mastering the articulation of a consonant so the high note is easier. Mundane details that require such intense concentration that my mind is scrubbed clean of every other thought. My heart is open and receiving because I am submerged in curiosity and not replaying a past encounter or projecting a possible future.
All misgiving disappears and without a single strategy or logical calculation I seem to know what to try next. It is not necessarily the key that unlocks the doorway to “success,” but it always opens into the next thing I need to learn. I emerge renewed, inspired and ready to interact with what life brings my way.
Singing becomes an inspirational practice when it is done with the kind of concentration and awareness that stops time and opens into unbounded creativity, when it focuses the mind and liberates the heart from its brokenness.
You do not have to have any special powers to enter into this state. All you have to do is practice every day with focus, intention and curiosity instead of with drive, urgency and expectation. This is the difference between perpetuating what is known and creating something that moves everyone to perceive life as never before. It is the difference between pushing to achieve ambitions and tuning-in to inspiration.
Here is a link to Tony Robins interview with 108-year-old Alice Herz Sommer, a pianist and holocaust survivor. She inspires my practice!
People want to know how long it will take to change their voice. How many lessons? How many hours of practice?
If I say six months and you are someone who could make the shift in six weeks, you might hold yourself back or complicate your success with unnecessary thoughts and feelings.
If I say six months and it takes you six years because you have medical issues or other things to work through in the process, you might judge yourself, become discouraged and arrive at all sorts of untrue conclusions.
What I can say about time is that it takes your complete focus in the present moment.
It takes the time you spend each day.
Frequent daily practice for short intervals is more effective than long sessions once a week.
Awareness all of the time is far more powerful than awareness limited to dedicated practice sessions.
Think of it as a life-long relationship. It is exciting and engaging when first it’s new. It deepens and improves with age. It is a source of nurture and a joy to share. Once it is begun, there is no desire for it to end.