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The repetition of practice can often lead to unfocused and “mindless” sessions.
The question “why?” is a great way to filter and focus your efforts and awareness and to get better results from your efforts.
In this episode, John explores the power of knowing why you are practicing.
Episode 133 – Why Are You Practicing
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. I am engaged in a mighty battle and the battle is whether to be sick or not sick. And I’m not sure what’s going to win. My wife has been rather sick this week and I’ve been doing my best to not get sick, but waking up this morning, I think the scales may be tipping. I’m not sure. So if I am sni ing here and there in the podcast, please forgive me. I do not have the time or the patience to go through and edit them out if they do appear. I’m really hoping that I stay well. It’s funny in this teeter totter of am I sick, not sick. You don’t know if it’s psychosomatic. You think you can fight it.
How do you fight not being sick? You’re either going to get sick or not being sick. But I am taking the mental position of fighting this. So whatever that does, maybe it will send good instructions to my immune system to battle the onslaught. My book Voice Teacher Influencer is really close to coming out. I just shared the cover with my email list. If you are not on my email list, why not? You need to go to johnhenny.com and sign up for my email list because I’m planning on having it being free on Kindle for a day or two. And if you are not a member of my email list, you may very well miss it. I’m very excited for this book. It’s actually my second book this year, and it’s the second book in my Voice Teacher Success series.
First one is Teaching Contemporary Singing, which is available at Amazon and now Voice Teacher Influencer, which now focuses on how to grow your studio and your influence and your business. So today I want to get into the question, “Why?” I love that question, why. It’s one of the key questions when teaching. When I’m working with a student, it’s one of the key questions I encourage singers to think about when they’re working on their voice, when something happens, a result that they’re not happy with. You want to know why, the deep why, and that will inevitably lead you into voice science and really understanding the voice because that’s going to give you the clearest why something is happening in your voice, which then gives you the best how, as in how to fix or adjust it.
But I want you to use the question why in practice: why are you practicing this? And this question can really open up awareness and your focusing of awareness. If you go back to my last podcast where I talk about mindfulness and singing, episode 132, we allow awareness to run willy nilly as it will, and if we don’t learn to control awareness it will do what it wants. And you will be trying to practice and you will be thinking about how you need to go grocery shopping or how you forgot to send in the registration for your car or any number of things that can pop up in your mind. And then you’re off into a stressful city, and you’re practicing though you are still doing it.
You start to just go through the motions. And mindless practice is something that I have certainly been guilty of and occasionally find myself doing. The mistake that we make is we make practicing about the clock, and if we tick o so many minutes in our practicing, then we have accomplished something. And sure you’ve accomplished something, but what? Take for instance the humble lip bubble. Now that is the popular vocal warm up where you just make this sound. And there are so many why’s that can accompany this exercise. First, why are you doing it? Well, you’re doing it to warm up, but why that exercise in particular? Well, that exercise in particular, what it does is it is a form of semi-occluded vocal tract exercise.
And semi occlusion partially blocked. You’re partially blocking your vocal tract. You’re creating resistance and the lips certainly do that. So that’s great. You have a semi-occluded vocal tract exercise, but what can you focus on? What is deeper within the exercise? Well, you could focus your attention on the actual position of your larynx. So if you’re doing the exercise, that’s not as e ective as. You could also focus on your breathing and the rate of air flow and how you are holding your rib cage and your shoulders and where you’re pressing from and what that experience of pressing feels like. And then the resistance that the vocal cords, how much you are resisting the air. Are you too breathy or are you over-resisting, and what is the sensation when it is just right?
What does that feeling of balance of muscle at the vocal fold versus the air coming up? How do you feel about that? Where do you feel that? And then there is the rate of the bubble itself. Are the lips going too fast? Do you have trouble doing the lip bubble in the first place? Is there tension in the face? Why are your lips going too fast? Are you blowing too much air? You really want this to be– think about the lips going as slowly as possible. And then there are the feelings of resonance and registration as you do this exercise, you will very often feel a more intense lifting of the resonance from your lower to your upper register. And it very often feels like it’s going up behind the soft palate. The voices may be ballooning up behind the eyes, but can you feel that as you do that? Do you lose some amount of vocal compression?
Does it flip or does it squeeze and lock up as you’re going up? Why is it squeezing and locking as you go up? Is it too much vocal fold closure? Are you losing air flow? Are you doing both when it flips? Are you letting go of the muscle? What happens if you apply a little bit more, is that too much? Can you control the amount of resistance and the amount of muscle at the vocal fold? Is your intonation, if you’re doing a scale, are you singing each note on pitch? What does that pathway of changing sensation feel like? I mean this, just doing that. You see the number of answers to why, and your focus. And so you, for each exercise, ideally you really want to think, why am I doing this? Well, you know what today– cause you can’t– It’s hard to do all at both– or all at the same time.
All at both. What does that even mean? I’m blaming that on my impending cold. That was a synapses firing of the brain. But this idea of why, I want to pay it– I’m going to just pay attention to my breath or my posture. I’m going to make sure my face stays totally relaxed. I’m going to just feel under my chin and make sure there’s not excess tension coming in or the larynx is rising, or I want to pay attention to the depth. Pick something. And then very often my why, as I focus my attention on something specific, I can then reopen it wider and just experience that sensation. And beyond exercises, you can apply this why question to songs: why am I singing this song? And I’ve been preparing a training for my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy members.
I’m doing the training actually in about an hour from now. I’m just running in and doing this podcast beforehand, but I’m going over how to coach material and how to take students through material. And one of the things I break down are the three reasons to sing a song: you have to, you want to, or you should. And the have to is you have an audition, a performance, a recording session. There is some obligation to sing this song. The want to is because you really enjoy the song. And then the should is the song will work specific areas of your voice and work your voice in a way that will help you progress. Now sometimes there’s a battle between the two. I’ve worked with students where I will suggest a should song and they will resist it because they don’t really like the song.
It doesn’t tick the want to box, or it doesn’t tick the have to box in that it’s not a song that they could ultimately perform, and not every song is going to tick every box. My suggestion in the why you’re singing the song is just to be clear. And I have certainly worked songs on the should end of the scale that I don’t particularly like and I would never perform. But the song becomes very valuable in my development. Now regardless of that part of why when you are doing the song as you are doing it, you should ask yourself, why am I going through this? Are you just getting the song into your voice? You’re learning the melody, you’re learning the words. Then don’t worry as much about the other aspects about balance and registration. If you need to flip, go ahead and flip.
So you’re much better to flip. So when you’re doing that, you’re doing it lightly. The reason right now is to basically learn the song. Then your why can become to balance and then you focus in and you look at certain sustains and vowel sounds and where they are sitting in the voice. Then why can I be more musical with it? And you start looking at the dynamics and the phrasing. And then the why can be what you’re communicating? What do the words mean? What do the words mean to you? How do they make you feel? And then the why can be to really feel the emotion and connect with the song and perform it.
And then the why can be going deeper into a performance level. What is your body language? How are you standing? What are you going to do as you move around? If it’s an audition, how are you going to embody the acting of that song? Or if you’re going to be doing it on stage, and if you’re in rehearsal for a song, the why can be to work out the kinks. But the why can also be to expand your awareness and listening so that you’re really connecting with the musicians and being in the moment. So these why’s are almost endless. But if you just ask yourself the question, you take away all these endless possibilities and the opportunity for your awareness to flit around and to just pick willy nilly what it wants to look at and you can control that. Or else you’re going to find yourself trying to learn a song and you’re hitting certain notes and those notes aren’t feeling right, and now your focus has suddenly jumped to that even though that’s not the why of the moment.
And now you’re frustrated because those notes aren’t sitting right. And then you’re going along with the song and then you forget a word and now you’re frustrated because you’re back to the previous why and you will start to be out of control. And there, I don’t know of another instrument — and I certainly have played other instruments. I play drums quite well. I play rather mediocre piano and guitar — but no instrument has caused me the su ering that the voice has. And I have worked with very accomplished musicians who play professionally and who’ve backed up major superstars and yet when it comes to their voice, they’re incredibly frustrated. It doesn’t work like other instruments. And if you give your mind and your awareness the opportunity to get frustrated, it will take the opportunity. If you don’t narrow down this focus and just work on one thing at a time and you jump around from issue to issue, there’s not a lot of good to be found at the end of that road and then you’re just going to find yourself taking o those minutes on the clock and saying, Hey, I just basically practice frustration for 45 minutes. And I don’t want that for you. If you spend 20 minutes, but in a very concrete why, if you’ve made a decision beforehand and don’t stress about, ‘is this the most important why?’ You know what you need to work on. Just work on that one thing at a time, and then what you can do–
Let’s say you’re working the song and you’ve worked on getting the song into your memory and you’ve got the lyrics down and then you’ve worked on certain balances and you’ve worked on a musical expression. Then just sing it through with your awareness open and see if you can just experience the song, the sensation of the song. What is that? Don’t lose sight of that as well, because even in performance you want to develop the ability to not have the mind jump around in micro-focus but to just be in this open awareness where you can really experience the totality of singing. So when you go to practice, just ask yourself why. And if you find yourself jumping around from thought to thought, just stop for a moment and just reset and ask why.
Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com and if you want to learn to belt and really get into that intense higher singing without straining and hurting yourself, well then I can highly recommend my boldly belting course. Just go to boldlybelting.com and you can use the coupon code podcast20 and that will give you a $20 o the purchase price. But I’m very excited about this course. I have exercises in there, but then I also have these specially constructed micro songs that get you to start belting with specifically chosen vowels and consonants and pitches. So you can begin to bridge that frustrating gap between exercises that are often disconnected and then losing all that balance when you go to a song. And this to me is– my intention is to create a bridge between the two. So, the songs are fun to sing and I’ve got original backing tracks for them and they’re not long and meandering. They’re very focused. You can learn them quickly and get in there and start boldly belting. Hey, thank you so much for listening. And until next time, to sing better. Thank you so much. Bye. Bye.