“What should I think about?”
This is often a hard question to answer when working on your voice.
There are so many different variables going on during a practice session and our focus can feel divided and erratic.
In this episode, John discusses developing a fruitful mindset and focus. Use the power of awareness and attention to sing better!
Episode 59 – Mindset for Practicing
Hey, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist. I so appreciate you spending your limited time with me.
Today, I once talked about something that really perplexed me as a student of the voice. I don’t have the perfect answer now but I feel like I have better answers. And that is “What to think about when singing?” Or, as I’m going to focus today – “when practicing?”
Now, if you want to delve into exactly how to practice, if you go back to my podcast Episode 29, I looked that up. I actually did research before today’s podcast by looking back and seeing what episodes I have done, and you can go to Episode 29. You can find it on iTunes. You can go back to johnhenny.com, just click on the PODCAST link and you can scroll down. I started naming my show pages by the show number. But I don’t think I’ve done that with Episode 29. On subsequent episodes you can just put in johnhenny.com/59 for this episode and you’ll get the show notes as well as the transcript, as people are finding that handy.
That Episode 29 will give you an idea of how to practice, but I want to talk about what to think about while you’re practicing. This really cause me confusion because what thought does is, think about attention as a spotlight within your consciousness and all the information that surrounds you. I’m going to sound quoting really cool meditation course that I started, this app on my phone. I really liked the guy teaching it. It’s the Sam Harris Waking Up course. I think, to subscribe is like $7.00 a month, but it’s so good. I’ve tried different meditation courses. I know I’m getting off-path here. And I have no financial interest in this, other than I’ve tried some different meditation apps and Sam’s approach is just so smart. It just assumes a different level of listener. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It’s just Sam is just really brilliant writer and person. His approach to meditation is completely devoid of any spirituality, so you don’t have to worry if it’s going to interfere with what it is that you believed. There’s none of that. And it’s been really really helpful.
Anyway, he talks about the power of attention and it being a spotlight within your consciousness. My question was, where do I shine the spotlight? What do I pay attention to? It really really confused me. So I want to give you what I think now is a better answer, and hopefully this would work for you.
First of all, when you come to practicing don’t make practice haphazard. Have a plan. First of all, set a date of yourself. If you can have a consistent time that becomes habitual however many days or weeks you’re going to do that, the power of habit cannot be over-emphasized. You will start to get into a groove. You can keep doing something. If you can do this, commit to it in 30 days. And when you hit 30 days, then commit to it for another 60 days until you get to 90. If you hit 90 days of doing this consistently, you will be a consistent practicer. And when you can’t, you’re actually going to stress. You’re not going to find excuses to not practice. You’re going to find every way to practice because you’re going to get stressed out if you don’t do it. So that’s number one.
Number two is when you come to practice you should have a plan. You should what it is that you want to accomplish. And practice, itself, is going to have its phases. Don’t come at this just willy-nilly and jumping into a song or “I want to work on sustains and jumping into a sustain.” Know that you should first warm-up. I think I should cover warming up in another podcast. So there’s a mental note to myself. If I forget to do it, you can always bug me at [email protected]. Warming up is part of this.
How long to warm-up? Well, that depends on where you are a day. If you practice enough you’ll start to know when your voice is ready to move on from warm-ups. But first, when you are in warm-up mode your mindset should just be one of non-judgment. What I mean by that is, I will have people doing those semi-occluded vocal tract exercises. That’s a really fancy way of saying partially-blocked like a lip bubble. On the lip bubble they’ll start worrying if they’re flipping, or if they’re pitchy, or any number of things. I just want you to do your warm-ups without getting too judgmental. Don’t expect much from yourself yet. You just want the vocal folds phonating or vibrating, and you just want to get everything ready for the further work that you are going to do. So your mindset when warming up is just relaxed and non-judgmental.
Then you’re going to move into the phase of doing some work. Maybe it’s going to be you want to do range extension, or balancing work, you want to work on certain vowels. And what the mindset, that you need to get into there, is a trickier one, because now you want to create an event, and then be able to analyze the event. Then, fix the event. The tricky part is going to be, and by the event I mean singing the note.
So let’s say you’re trying to sustain O vowels. You go ahead and sing that sustain. That is the moment where you need to just absorb information but you need to do it again in a non-judgmental but very open way. What you want to pay attention to may change a little bit. One time you may do it and you’re going to put your focus on what it sounds like on the sound. Then you can analyze the sound, make adjustments, and try again.
You may put your focus more the next time on what it feels like in terms of your vocal balance. Is there strain? Does it feel too light? Does it feel too squeezy or heavy? Then you can analyze that event. Then eventually, you want to get to a place where you are just open where you are just allowing the sounds and the sensations to come into your consciousness, to come into your spirit of awareness. You want to experience that, and you want to, then, take that experience, analyze it in a non-judgmental way. I’m going to keep saying this word over and over. There you go, drinking game alert: non-judgmental. You’d be pretty wasted by the end of this podcast. But it’s not going to serve you if you’re going to judge yourself.
Now, in your analysis you can say “That vowel sounded too bright. That felt like it was going towards a shout. Or, that felt over-dark and I was flipping.” From there, you can make adjustments. So analysis is not self-criticism. It’s very very hard, because when we want to desperately do things right, and we desperately just want to jump in and be a great singer and move people, and all the beautiful things, but if there’s technical work to be done – and we all have technical work to be done, it never stops – you need to get out of self-criticism mode. It’s not going to serve you in any way – only analysis, deliberate practice. You have the event, you analyze it. And then you make adjustments, recreate the event again, and you go through that process. But the mindset – the mindset needs to be open and the mindset needs to be aware.
So in order to practice this, a really handy thing that you can do, if you’re able to get a few minutes alone somewhere and you maybe have very likely done this, if you’ve ever tried medication. But this is just a focusing technique. What you want to do is just sit upright in a comfortable chair, or you can sit on the floor, wherever you’re comfortable with. And then you want to go ahead and close your eyes and just start inhaling in through your nose and out to your mouth. Or you can just do it all through your nose. I want you to pay attention to where you actually experience the breath – whether if it’s at the nose itself, you can feel the breath coming in and out, whether it’s your chest or your stomach moving. However your most experience at breath, you want to place your focus on it. It can help to even think in as you breathe in, and out as you breathe out. You want to follow each breath completely with your awareness.
And when your thoughts wander away, and they will, it’s not about getting frustrated in “Oh my gosh, I forgot I was trying to focus on my breath”. The exercise, the curl of the dumbbell if you will, the building of the muscle, is to gently bring the awareness and the focus back to the breath. It’s not that it’s never going to wander. It’s the gently bringing it back to the focus of the breath. You can just set a timer for a couple of minutes and just do that and practice on getting that focused awareness. As you build that little muscle, if you can then go into that similar mindset when you were practicing, when you have that open, non-judgmental, non-self-critical awareness that allows you to experience your voice fully, it allows you to experience the sound, it allows you to experience the sensation. And as singers, we have to guide by both.
You can practice by putting a little more focus on the sound, or putting a little more of this sensation, and then, the other flexing of the muscles in the analysis of the event. Again, as I’ve been saying in this podcast recently, and I didn’t research to get the number of this, but I’m pretty sure I said it in the last podcast. You can’t waste the event by just being critical and frustrated, throwing it away. That is a gift you’ve given yourself. It’s not that you’re going to do it perfectly. It’s the now that you’ve done it, what do you need to adjust? How close were you to your goal? And if you are doing this deliberate practice with this open, focused mindset, you’re going to get better faster. And when you learn to start leaving self-criticism where it should be outside the door, actually down in the next city, then you are going to begin to experience rapid growth and rapid acceptance of who you are as a singer, how you learn, how quick you learned. This is all individual, this is all unique. This is all you.
I mean, you are great at strength as a singer. People look at singers that they love. They all look at Arianna Grande, or Whitney Houston, or Luciano Pavarotti, and they’ll go “Oh I don’t have a voice like that”. Darn right. You are you.
This is a cliché. But it’s a cliché because it’s true. You have to embrace your voice and who you are. And when you can get into this open, non-self-critical, practice and growth, you’re really going to experience what is like to not only build your voice, but embrace you as an artist. Embrace you as an expressive being who has something to say to your audience. Because it’s just about you and your audience, it’s not about anybody else. It’s not even about if you write a song and sing it. If I like it, it’s about finding the people who do. Finding your audience getting as good as you can, and delivering your communications and your content to them.
Now if you want to keep delving into this mindset and this strength that’s your awareness, again, I really recommend the Waking Up app. It’s on the iPhone. I think they just added Android just a couple of days ago. There’s a few sample of meditations on it. I’m at day, I think, 15 or 16, and I just absolutely love it. It’s really helping me create more focus as frustrations come in. and when you are a singer you will feel frustrated. And your emotions, when you are trying to tame this wild horse that is your voice, your emotions are going to move up and down, moment to moment. And it’s learning to just accept that and not get caught up in it, and just let that go. It’s okay.
And each moment, as you feel an emotion, it’s just a thought. When you feel frustration, it’s just a thought. It’s a thought like any other thought. For you to control your thoughts, man, what a powerful state to be in. And to learn to sing, you’re going to need all the tools that you can bring to bear. It’s the most frustrating instrument I’ve ever experienced.
And, as I’ve said before, I play drums professionally through my twenties. I was extremely serious – I’ve studied with well-known teachers. I bang around a guitar, I play the piano well enough to teach. And I’ve never experienced the frustrations on any of those instruments that I’ve felt with the voice. The voice is just this moving target that we just constantly have to come into terms with. Then if you get your mindset right for this frustrating instrument, you’re going to have a hard time. I don’t want you to have a hard time.
If I could wish you anything, it’s that this entire journey would be joyful, that you would enjoy all of it, that it’s not drudgery. It doesn’t have to be. It can be this amazing road of self-exploration, and just growth and learning. It’s a wonderful wonderful thing. Whether you want to be a professional singer, whether you just want to sing at your up and coming wedding, that you just like to go to a karaoke bar with some friends – it doesn’t matter. Even if you just sit at home and sing to your dog, it’s a beautiful thing to sing. If you can get the mindset right, you will do really really well.
Hey, that’s all I have on that today. If you are interested in what I offer, you can go to jonhenny.com. If you would like to learn to be a voice teacher, I’ve actually created an entire online course that you study at your own pace. It’s called Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy. You can go to johnhenny.com and just click on TEACHER TRAINING on the menu, and you can get the information, all about it. Actually, I’m very proud of it. I’ve put a lot of what I learned into it. It’s pretty intensive. It’s not too expensive, it’s $49.00 a month. It will get you going all the way to becoming an effective teacher, show you how to start a business. There’s a lot of information there, and it’s all on Contemporary singing. Also, if you’re interested in studying with me you can get information on my website as well.
And hey, until next time, to better singing! Thank you so much for listening. Bye.