Episode 128 – Practice Less, Improve More

We all have 24 hours in a day, and the time we can take out of this limited resource for practicing is precious.

Inspired by James Schramko’s bestselling book, Work Less, Make More, John applies this concept to practice sessions.

Learn John’s best tips for getting real results from your practice sessions so you can get out there and really sing!

Episode Transcript

Episode 128 – Practice Less, Improve More

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right. Today’s a pretty exciting day. I just released my Boldly Belting course to my email list. I’m not taking it to the general public yet. I want a smaller group to go through it, just test it out, see if I’ve missed anything. Any little bugs in the course, as well as suggestions to improve the course. I intend on making improvements to the course as people go through it and everyone that signs up will get all those improvements as they come. It’s just going to be a one-time price and you’ll have lifetime access to the course. But what I’m so excited about is this concept of lyricizes, where I’ve created original songs that use specific vowel, consonant and pitch combinations to lead your voice into the balances that I intend, without exercises.

You’re actually doing it with language and melody and song so that you can get musical, you can get emotionally connected, you can be within the language rather than just exercises, which are incredibly helpful. But there tends to be a gap between doing exercises and then the application. And so Boldly Belting is my ideas on how to help bridge that gap, because songs aren’t set up to help you sing well. Exercises are. They’re very specially chosen sounds and pitches. Everything within the exercise is meant to bring about a certain result, whereas songs are about communication.

So I’ve taken the idea of using friendly vowel sounds and consonants within song, so it will guide you into balance. It’s pretty hard to and songs like that out in the wild. So I’m really very excited about this and this lyricize concept, lyrics plus exercises. That’s my little word. So I’m sticking with it. But anyway, Boldly Belting will be coming to the general public very soon. If you’re a member of my email list, you would have gotten an email already and then this podcast is coming out a day later than I usually release podcasts. Yesterday I was on another podcast and this was very exciting for me. This podcast is SuperFastBusiness and it’s hosted by James Schramko and James is just a brilliant businessman and he also teaches entrepreneurs how to expand their business and get online. And I’ve really been a big fan and James took notice of what I’ve been doing in the music space.

He also works with some musicians who’ve been incredibly successful online and he invited me to come on and talk about it. So I’m very excited. I’ll let you know when that comes out. And James is the author of the book, Work Less, Make More. There’s a great concept. Make more money while working less. And I wanted to take his idea and do this podcast on practice less, improve more, how to really get more bang for your buck if you will, out of your practice sessions. Very few of us have the luxury of being able to spend many hours a day on our voices. So our practice sessions really need to be focused with the idea of extracting the maximum improvement. We’re not necessarily in the practice room for fun, although it can be fun and Boldly Belting is my attempt to make it more fun.

Okay, I’ll stop with the ads. But we need practice to be effective and efficient. So I just wanted to give you a few ideas and a few approaches so that you can get the most out of your practice sessions so that you can practice less and improve more. The first thing I want you to do is to schedule your practice time, to put that date down in your appointment book. And that is a date that you are going to keep with yourself. And I want you to schedule a very specific amount of time. Don’t make it this, if you have the luxury of having more time, don’t make it kind of this open ended. You know what, I’ll start practicing tomorrow at 11 and I’ll end whenever. I want you to schedule a specific end time and I want you to keep that end time.

So if you can start practicing at 11 o’clock and you need to finish at some point before noon, schedule 11:00 to 11:45 and I want you to end at 11:45. Now, why do I want you to have a hard end time? Because of Parkinson’s law, and Parkinson’s law is this idea that the task will ll the amount of time allotted to it. If you give yourself two hours to practice, most of us, as opposed to 45 minutes, most of us will do about the same amount of practicing in the two hours as we will do in the 45 minutes. And if you leave this kind of nebulous end time, it’s way too easy to get distracted while you are practicing. Now, speaking of distractions, I want you to eliminate all distraction, especially that thing that’s probably within hand’s reach of you right now. You may even be listening to me on it.

Your phone needs to be put on silent and it needs to go in another room unless you are using it for tracks to practice with. But if you are, turn o all notifications, especially social media. As I’ve ranted about before in this podcast, social media is designed to distract you and steal your attention. Every one of us has had the experience of going to check our Facebook or our Twitter just for a minute and 20 minutes later suddenly you come back awake, you snap out of this spell that has on you and you realize you’ve just wasted all this time. So be very careful with social media. It is designed by incredibly smart people to steal your attention. I know everyone’s upset about social media and them getting information on you, but the information is just a means to an end.

The end goal is to capture your attention. That’s what they want, not the information on you, not your data, but your attention. That’s what they sell. The data is just a means to sell it. So be very, very careful. Get in a space where you’re not distracted, where you can absolutely commit. I would also encourage you to set a timer. I do a technique I’ve talked about before, the Pomodoro technique, so called because the timer that the person used look like a Pomodoro tomato, one of those kitchen timers. Set it for 25 minutes and you’re going to do nothing but work for those 25 minutes. You’re going to take a five minute break at the end of that and then you can set it for whatever you have left of your practice session. If you only have a 30-minute practice session, set it for 30 minutes.

If you’re able to do an hour, go for 25, 30-minute break, and then another 25 or 30 minutes and you’re done, but when that timer is ticking, there is nothing else you are going to do but focus on your voice. I also want you to plot out your practice session. It’s very easy to walk in and say, I’m going to practice. We do a few warmups with no real intention. We just kind of get the voice going, couple of exercises and then we just start jumping to random songs. Often just singing songs that we like without thinking about why we’re singing it, what the song is going to accomplish. Now I’m not discounting singing songs for fun, but just be very aware when you are doing that and maybe do that outside of this very specific focused practice session.

Working on a song that’s too far out of your skill level is not going to help you. There is a magic zone of practicing exercises and working material where it’s a little harder than your current skill level but not too hard. If the song’s too easy, you’re not going to improve. If it’s too hard, you actually run the risk of going backwards because you’re going to be tempted to bring in behaviors that aren’t going to help you and imbalances. If you’re just finding your belt, you probably shouldn’t be trying to sing Never Enough. That song is just going to create frustration and issues. Find something that’s more in your wheelhouse. Now, when you are practicing, have your warm-ups, have specific warm-ups that you are going to do. I am a huge fan of semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, which is just voice teacher speak for something that’s partially blocked that gives you some extra resistance.

So lip bubbles, tongue thrills, NG sounds, even TH and Z’s, and of course, my favorite, the straw. Warming up through a straw is absolutely fantastic because not only does it partially block, there is resistance there because the tube that you’re singing through now is much longer and thinner. But there’s all kinds of cool things that happen in terms of acoustics and how it makes the break of the voice smoother and easier. It feeds back energy to the vocal folds that help them come together better, phonate better. I’m just a huge fan of the straw. If you are new to the straw, you want some ideas on how to use it, just go to my website, johnhenny.com. Click on courses up there in the menu. I have a free straw warm up series so you can get ahold of that, see how to use the straw.

But I have a straw with me at all times. I’ve actually got a really cool one on a chain that I got from oovo.com. Absolutely wonderful. And then once you’ve warmed up, and the purpose of warming up is just to get the voice ready for the work to follow. You’re going to be stretching those little ligaments. You’re going to be warming up those muscles. You’re going to be getting the surface area of the folds phonating, vibrating, getting that all loosened up to get ready to sing. Now, when you go to exercises, don’t just randomly do exercises. And I want you to think about what you’re going to work on that day. Do you want to work on your sustains? Are there specific vowels that you would like to focus on? Do you want to expand your range? Do you want to work on agility?

And there are specific exercises that will help you with that. If you don’t have a good vocal workout, it may be worthwhile to do a lesson or two with a good voice teacher who can assess your voice and then give you exercises that you can work on. Work on those for while and then go back for another exercise or another lesson. If you can’t afford weekly lessons, totally understandable. And when I was a student, there would be periods where I had to put my study on hold for financial reasons and then I’d save up for a whole other batch of lessons. You can work with a teacher if they’re agreeable to just see you here and there. And I certainly do that with students and you get yourself another assessment and workout and you go of for a little while and then come back and get another assessment, some more exercises to work on, and you keep going that way until you’re in a position where you can study on a more regular basis.

And the last thing that you want to work on is power, because when we’re working on power, we’re getting closer to that shout condition in the voice. And when we get into the shout condition, the nervous system can very easily take over and just begin to jam up. It’s a survival mechanism that’s hardwired in our body. So we have to be very, very careful when we get into that area. And then once you have worked on your specific exercises, you’ve worked on what you want to focus on for that day and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every day. One day you may be working on range and other one you may be working on balancing your E vowels through your vocal transition, but once you’ve got that going, then we go to the songs and again, you want to work on songs for specific issues.

I recommend having songs that are easier to sing in terms of technical aspects. The range is not too crazy. The tessitura, where the song tends to lie, is not in a difficult area, and then you can work on musical ideas, singing legato and connecting, working on your sustains, your vibrato, dynamics, your phrasing and timing. All of those things that you need as a musician. Yes, we singers need to become great musicians and to be able to interact with other musicians. Then work on songs that are going to sit in your problem areas not too intensely but just enough that they’re getting in there, that you are now working on these concepts that you worked in the exercises, but through text and through melody. And again as I said at the beginning of the podcast talking about my new course, that is a trip up area for singers. Very often these disconnected sounds of exercises don’t translate to language and when you are dealing with the language of the song, again not all the vowels are going to be helpful for you.

You’re going to have L sounds and M sounds and different sounds that are going to cause the lips to close and the tongue to move and you have to practice on not allowing the tongue to drift while you’re holding a note. If you’re singing the word fall, you don’t want to go faLL because you want to keep it FAA-l, and then the tongue just moves just at the last moment so it’s not getting all inside the word and messing it up. You want to work on diphthongs, which are two vowel sounds together like AI. You don’t want to sing ahEE but rather AAi. The E’s just at the very end. Sometimes listen, you can violate all of these principles for style, but you need to know that you’re violating them. These can’t be lazy habits. You have to be very, very aware and then work on material that you have to sing.

Now, not all of us have that, but if you have an upcoming audition or something, you have to perform with your school, something you have to sing professionally at a gig then definitely work on that. And then if you want to sing for fun, go ahead and sing for fun, but have that be an extra. I do want to keep this fun for you, but you just can’t go in and just goof around in the practice room every day. That should be the icing when you have a bit of extra time. And put some thought into the songs that you’re going to sing, just don’t randomly pick songs. Really look at songs that are going to help you improve every minute. If you put some forethought into your practice time, you can really get the most out of it by staying undistracted, staying focused using the principles of Parkinson’s law that are going to keep you really working and practicing smart. You can practice less and improve more.

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com. If you’re interested in my courses, you can click on courses up there in the menu. And if you’re interested in becoming a voice teacher, I do have an intense online teaching academy. It’s called Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy, and that is a certification course. I also give exclusive trainings every month, live webinars for the members. It’s not that expensive. You can get more information by clicking on teacher training up in the upper menu. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye. Bye.