This is the third part of my miniseries about the four stages of learning. In Part 1 we talked about getting competent; Part 2 was all about getting confident. Part three is about how you go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ as a singer.
Stage three is called Mastery.
Mastery is where the prodigies live. The people who seem to have what we call ‘natural talent’. They might develop that talent very quickly as a child; sometimes they come to that talent later as an adult, but they deliver it quickly. But it can take twenty or thirty years to become a master.
You see, mastery is going from good to great, becoming a virtuoso in what you do. At this level you’ll be performing at an incredibly high standard. You may well be a soloist, or the leader of a band, starting to get more well known for your expertise in your area.
When you are at the Mastery stage, you are using your instrument (be in a musical instrument or your own voice) with great skill. Sometimes mastery shines through in song writing skills.
So, is it something you should aspire to?
Well, often it is, but it might not come for a while. And having potential isn’t a guaranteed route to mastery. It is not a given! But it is a journey of discovery – a kind of hero’s journey – where you move forward in order to really find out where your potential might take you.
Watch the video >>>>
Or here’s the scannable version >>>>
So, how do you go from good to great in your singing – from competence to mastery?
Mastery is about the detail.
It’s about looking deeper.
It’s about listening more deeply and with more clarity.
You’re looking for the difference that makes the difference.
You need to take yourself back almost to a beginner’s mentality, re-hone your skills and reshape them as if you’ve never learned them before. You need to make a commitment to learn at a deeper level.
What should you do if you feel you want to push for Mastery?
Don’t kid yourself; be aware of what level you’re really at. If you feel that you should be achieving mastery by now, but have been let down by a teacher or method, remember it might be that you haven’t recognised your true level. If you suspect that you’re being impatient, and trying to move forward before you’re ready, then hold back and put all the proper steps in place first.
You see, it is possible to fast track this, but you can’t miss out any of the steps. You must go through them all. You must earn your stripes and get those things your muscle memory before you can truly take your vocal training to a deeper level.
In Stage 2 I said it was okay to camp out in Confidence for a long time – even forever. A lot of singers do, and enjoy good careers. It’s not always possible for a singer to progress to Mastery, as not everyone has the right skills to reach that level. And that’s okay!
Acknowledge that you might be holding yourself back. You might be stuck due to your beliefs about yourself, your background, your opportunities (or lack of them), your environment, or your own habits. Sometimes unconscious self sabotage keeps us stuck in the same place.
If you are holding yourself back, it’s time to face the challenge. At this point, you need to work one on one with a mentor, at a much higher level. You need to push the barriers, and push yourself further.
What challenges will you face at Mastery level?
Years ago, when I was kind of hiding out in Confident level, one of my vocal mentors challenged me to take my voice to the level of mastery.
I admit I was scared to take those extra leaps. When you’re already good at something, the prospect of actually choosing to go back almost to a beginner’s mindset, to let go of what works in favour of learning something new, creates resistance.
So prepare not just for physical and creative challenges, but for the mental challenge of showing up and breaking yourself down to build yourself up again. You’re going to need bucketfuls of perseverance, determination and egoless commitment to the learning process.
How will you know when you’ve reached mastery?
From an internal perspective, you may not know. But you may see some external signs of your developing mastery:
- You’ll be receiving accolades
- You might be winning competitions
- You’ll find yourself being picked for things
And you’ll find that you start to develop a love for detail and for going deeper into your own subject matter than you ever have before.
When you find yourself approaching mastery, you geek out on it a little bit. You’re passionate about it. In fact, it oozes out of every pore of you. It’s that at this point you are sold completely on what you’re doing. You live and you breathe it. You can’t stop yourself. It’s no longer good enough to be enough, or to do it better than you did it before, or even better than those around you.
If you’re ready to move on to Mastery I wish you every success.
And wow! There’s going to be something amazing that comes out in the world when you hit mastery level.
Looking for more support, guidance and encouragement with your singing practise? Join us over at the Online Singing Academy.
This is the second part of my miniseries about the four stages of learning.
In Part 1 we discussed becoming competent in your singing: not being perfect, just getting up and being competent enough to do your thing, regardless of your feelings around it. And once you’ve achieved Stage One, you’re already on the fringe of Stage Two.
Stage Two is the ‘Confident’ stage.
In the Confident stage, you’re not just getting by, you’re starting to achieve a higher standard and find some consistency. It’s time to move the dial a little further. You’ve now passed the stage at the beginning where your resistance was so huge. You already have skills that you just developed in the competent stage, but you now need to make those skills stick. Stage Two is a good stage: it’s where you start to get good at what you do. And confident is a very interesting place to be.
Watch the video >>>>
Or here’s the scannable version >>>>
How you know when you’ve reached the Confident stage in your singing
When you start to hear people saying, “Ooh, you’re a good singer. Ooh, you know that was a really good rendition of that song. That was a good song that you’ve written. Oh, that was a good performance,” you know that you’re in that Stage Two arena.
Getting good at what you do is a fantastic place to be. It can take you a long way: it can get you solos; it can get you into choirs; it can even get you paid work. It can get you into writing songs, or going into a recording studio, or getting good enough to go at auditions and succeed.
What it is NOT is a miraculous leap forward, where everything work out and nothing ever goes wrong!
How long should you stay at the Confident stage?
You can stay in Stage Two quite a long time – and many people stay in this stage forever. It’s a place where you can perform or write or create at a consistently good and fairly high standard.
There’s an interesting book written for the business world called ‘From good to great’. The premise of it is that actually at some stage ‘good’ becomes your enemy – it gets in the way of you becoming great. But many professional musicians are at this stage. Teachers can be at this stage, be good teachers and create healthy careers for themselves – and help a lot of other singers also at Stage Two.
So being (or sticking) at Stage Two doesn’t mean that you’ve failed in any way. It’s a great place to be.
And once you’ve mastered Stage One (Competent) I want you to swim around in the Confident Stage Two pool as long as you need to! It’s quite a big pool and actually there’s not always that many swimmers in there. So you’ll have plenty of space to master your strokes, build your stamina – and make a splash!
What reaching the Confident stage will mean for your singing
You can say yes to opportunities that before you may have said no to simply because you were unsure of yourself.
Your voice is consistently working at a good standard – no matter how you feel on a daily basis, you can do your vocal exercises and create an environment where you will perform consistently well.
You can take advantage of last minute opportunities. If somebody asks you to sing pretty last minute, you have the confidence in your ability to be able to take up that opportunity.
Looking for more support, guidance and encouragement with your singing practise? Join us over at the Online Singing Academy.
This is the first of series of four posts on the four areas of learning: Competence, Confidence, Mastery and Artistry. I’ll be sharing how to know where to focus your energy and effort so that you can make the right choices going forward, and avoid holding yourself back from the next level.
Watch the video >>>>
Or here’s the scannable version >>>>
How to achieve competence in your singing
Competence is having just enough skill to do the job in hand.
Many people are hobby singers, or they’re just stepping onto the platform for the first time. Their first goal is not to wow the crowd and find an agent. Their first step is to get competent: to show up week after week, do the exercises, lose the nerves, move forward, get things done, write the songs, put them out there. And by doing all this, begin to see transformation work in the voice.
This first area of competence is really important. Because although it’s your first stage, and maybe your first tiny step onto doing what you can do with your voice, it can actually be a really dangerous area.
Because your resistance to your ability, to unlocking your greatest potential, is going to be the biggest at the beginning, and right before a breakthrough.
At the beginning, you might find you’ve got more self-talk, you’ve got more reasons to walk away and not to move forward. This is when we start something, dip a toe in the water, then realise there’s a commitment involved. We know that something needs to change. Our habits need to be reset.
The first stage of getting competent is about consistency.
Consistency in showing up, time and time again.
At this stage, you’re probably going to only shift the dial a little bit, and see a few results. There probably won’t be enough of a result to make you feel as if you’ve suddenly broken through every barrier in your singing!
And that is the point.
It’s about not saying, “I just couldn’t! Because life got in the way this week!” Well, hello, you’re human. Life is happening every single day. There are distractions, bright shiny objects, social media. There is work, children, traffic on a daily basis. That is going to happen. You have to get yourself in the game, and find a little bit of momentum.
Sure, you’re going to find loads of objections. Sure, you’re going to find loads of little resistances. But if your dreams are going to happen you need to find that consistency. It’s the only way that you are ever going to find your true voice and be able to do something with it.
Make a choice
So here’s the choice you need to make: if you want to achieve competence, you need to choose to build better habits.
Let’s face it, we’re all human. If it was easy to break your habits, and to move into your desired result, more people would do it. So what’s the difference for those who actually do manage it? The ones who actually have that breakthrough, get competent, and move forward to the next stage of learning?
They understand that time is finite, they understand that there is no such thing as tomorrow.
They understand that the first stage will just be the smallest shift forward – but that getting there will show them what to do next. And that once they’re competent at this thing, they can move on to the next stage.
Questions to ask yourself now
Do you feel that you are competent in your singing?
If so, are you so comfortable that you actually are holding yourself back? (Because that’s an important point to consider as well! It may be that you need to push yourself beyond competency into the next stage.)
If not, it’s time. You can get competent. You can. You don’t have to have variable results. You can be consistent and competent at that first rung of the ladder.
So turn the dial. Move it that one degree, and watch what happens when you do.
Read the second part of this 4 part series – How to find your confidence as a singer – HERE
Looking for more support, guidance and encouragement with your singing practise? Join us over at the Online Singing Academy.
Are you the kind of person who can learn things quickly and remember them very well for a short time (perhaps for an exam), but would struggle to recall anything in detail a month later? Or are you the type who takes longer to learn something, but still remembers it years afterwards?
And how does your memory impact on your singing?
We use the front part of the brain for last minute cramming. It’s about taking in and regurgitating information. Singing is more about recalling a feeling. If you feel certain pitches in certain places, you’ll experience where the pitch is and you know that you can go back to that feeling again.
Finding the power of your muscle memory
Somebody I taught once said to me, “I’m listening for a feeling… I know that probably sounds weird.” I can understand why she thought it sounded odd – because what kind of sound does a feeling have? But there is a tangible inner memory that your body can recall: that place it operates from when it’s you’re working at your best capacity. There’s a tangible sense, there’s a tangible flow and a tangible energy around it.
Because when you’re learning a musical instrument or singing, you’re using a different type of memory: your muscle memory.
Take tennis players. When tennis players are playing at the top of their game, they might not be able to remember what they did in those moves and in all those moments during their practise. But all those shots that they did and didn’t make, all the small adjustments that they did took them bit by bit to a place of working out energetic balance in what they were doing to get from here to there.
Navigating towards the sound you want
Singing is very much like that. Sometimes we see something we want to achieve, say, a new song, or a particular area of the voice that we want to work in, and we see a kind of vague picture of the end result. It has a feeling. We’d like it to sound like this. We’d like it to feel like that. It’s as if we’re standing on the jetty and we can see Paradise Island that we’re trying to reach.
But we just don’t sometimes realise how far away it is. We judge we need this much fuel, but then we get halfway and realised that our perspective was off and we really need this much fuel.
When we become more experienced we become like the good captain of a ship, who can look at the waters after they have sailed the same seas back and forth for years, and even when the sea seems calm, can feel the direction of the wind and know that there’s a storm brewing. When we are learning, some ‘storms’ that come up are not necessarily very obvious to us. We suddenly reach something that we just haven’t got the skill to do and we need to learn how to navigate towards it – and train our muscle memory as we go.
Are you missing this key element?
Our early experiences of learning can condition us to learn with a cramming mentality. When I had to sit exams I would use my photographic memory. I could imagine a picture of the pages in my mind, go into the exam and start to write them down.
But when you learn in that way all you’ve got is information. You’re missing a key element: implementation. When you’re learning to use an instrument (including your voice!) you need to add the element of daily practise so that you can store the information in your muscle memory and recall it at any time, at will.
Think about your PIN number. Can you easily repeat your PIN out loud, or do you need to move your fingers to recall it? If you’re in the second camp, that’s your muscle memory at work.
When you need to rewire your muscle memory
But what if you’ve inadvertently stored the wrong information in your muscle memory? You’ll be playing that misinformation out, and not getting the results you want. Sometimes it’s a case of rewiring your muscle memory: you need to search out new information at that point to retrain, the neuro pathway.
You need to find the right techniques and exercises to practise on a regular basis so you can store the right information in your muscle memory – and start moving closer to being able to recapture that feeling time and time again.
What is a singing warm up? What does it do? It might seem an obvious question, but it’s important that you understand what your warm ups are designed to do, in order for you to make the transition from beginner, through to intermediate, through to advanced.
1. Improve your muscle coordination
First and foremost, your warm ups enable you to improve and coordinate your muscles. It’s just like training for dance or athletics. If you can’t coordinate your singing muscles, you’ll find yourself using tension or incorrect muscles, or too little or too much breath pressure.
When you are practising I want you to think about how you’re coordinating your muscles. Where are you not coordinated? Where is it breaking in the middle? Are you getting into the top stretch of the voice? Where are you off pitch? Are you lifting your chin to the ceiling?
2. Teach you how to tune into pitch
A good warm up practice teaches you how to tune into pitch. Learning how to listen to your inner ear is what warming up is about.
So what is pitch? Pitch is when you say, “I can’t hit the notes”. But where is the note? And where are you going to hit it? We don’t even realise that the language we use is telling us that we are seeing this from an outside-in perspective, when really it should be seen from an inside-out perspective.
You’re not going to find a really exceptional singer with a major pitch problem. Why? Because they know how to listen. They’ve been paying attention. They’ve been doing it consistently. They know what they’re aiming for and they’re developing their oral skill.
Your outer ear is the one that you’re trying to look up to see – looking for notes that live on the ceiling! But of course they don’t live on the ceiling, they’re only ever vibrating and resonating, and living in your own head. It’s just that when you get to hear the sound, it’s already bounced back off the walls around you. That’s the speed of sound in physics. You’re never listening to sound that you’re making. You’re only ever listening to sound that you have created. So let that one sink in as a bit of physics in action for you.
Close your eyes and hum a few notes. Can you hear the sound in your inner ear?
Watch the video for exercises you can use [it will start playing at 03:43] >>>>
3. Help you focus on the sound and the feel of your voice
You learn to sing by feel first, and then develop the understanding to back that up. As a singer you start to know where you feel different sounds. You grow to understand the movements, the feelings and sensations in your body. You’re doing that based on pitch, and feel, and balance. It’s a little like being on a bike: you just know which movements to make (and there’s no way of doing that unless you are actually on a bike). Your warm ups will help you get to a point where you can really feel your voice.
Your aim is to be able to use your voice as a tool – to understand the mechanism and the movement of that mechanism. If you warm up and practice in the right way, if you ever lose your voice, if you understand the mechanism and the movement of your voice, will understand how to get it back.
4. Help you focus and prepare mentally and physically
An effective warm up routine helps you to really get to know your voice, tune into it and focus on what you need to do to improve. It’s a space to remove all your negative thinking and prepare mentally for your practise session.
Your warm up should be working your breathing, working your posture, working your body. It’s bringing your voice into balance. You have to listen, feel and coordinate. That’s the whole point of warm up exercises. The process that you have to do is fall in love with it, so it becomes a joy not a chore. You want to get to a place where that whole thing starts to work into balance.
5. Improve your tone, range and stamina
Effective warms up will help to improve the quality of your tone, your stamina, your range and your strength – over time.
The problem is when you want that in a heartbeat, when you want it handed on a plate and when you want someone to wave a magic wand. This is a process, and there is no fast track to get you there. Regular practise, beginning with an effective warm up, is the foundation you need to build a strong singing voice.
I want to talk to you about a brilliant (and funny) post that was put in our Online Singing Academy Facebook group.
Watch the video >>>>>
Or here’s the scannable version:
I started the Online Singing Academy in February last year, and this week I’ve given myself time to sit back and reflect on how it’s going. Who are the people I’m working with? How have they been helped? What are some of the journeys that they’ve gone on? And where are they right now?
And this week one of our academy members shared a very funny post in our private Facebook group. I laughed my socks off when I first read it – and so did everybody else, because not only was it true for this person, but when I shared it with my private one-to-one clients they all smiled a wry smile, and admitted that they often experienced similar.
I’m sharing the post with you here with the author’s permission. I think it will probably speak for itself, in terms of:
- The mind games that we play with ourselves
- The incredible power thought has in shaping our reality.
This is what the Academy member posted:
I’m so grateful that this person posted this. Because isn’t that the mental journey that all singers are on, whether they are being coached one-to-one, or learning online?
Now what caused that song to actually work well in the end? Was it just the exercise?
Not necessarily. What exercises do when you’re practising (a bit like when you are exercising your body) is that you are able to become more aware of when things are tense. When things are free. The tone changing, clearing up, improving, becoming more precise. The top notes changing. You become able to actually control some of the functions and mechanics of your singing voice. How you listen. How you feel. How you hear.
But exercises are not the magic wand.
The secret is in the the power of thought.
This person was able to just allow their thoughts to be present. They didn’t try and get rid of the bad feelings. They didn’t try and only have good feelings when they were practising. They didn’t hate the exercises, or love the exercises. It was neutral.
Even though they felt like it was the exercises that did it, it was only because they brought themselves to the exercises. They brought their presence. They brought the commitment and the consistency and the just the getting in there and doing it. They didn’t have to bring good feelings.
If what you need right now is permission to rediscover your voice, or to allow your thinking to settle down and to get back in the game, then take this as your permission slip today to do just that!
Until next time, keep getting out there. Keep singing. Keep sharing. Keep showing up.
One of the things that I’ve found with the Academy is that it’s very much about discovering – or rediscovering – your voice, and finding the right way to bring it out into the world.
The magic is not in a guru. The magic is not in a set of exercises. The magic is in supporting each other on the journey that we choose to take when we begin to work on our voices.
We are creating a community of singers that have the courage and vulnerability to share their journey and their struggle with others. And to find affirmation that you are not alone.
If you’re ready to take the next step on your singing journey, click here.
Today, I want to talk to you about singing higher.
Now, I’m not coming at this from a usual angle, so bear with me. What I want to talk about is why we struggle with singing higher – what’s really going on.
Go on YouTube and you’ll see so many videos telling you how to sing higher.
How to belt your notes.
How to sing this, how to sing that.
So much about singing higher and increasing your range.
And yet, you’re still struggling.
With such a huge amount of information out there, why are you still struggling with singing high notes? Because fundamentally, you’re not looking at high notes with the truth of what they are.
When we think of high notes, one of the biggest problems is that we’re imagining all our notes outside ourselves. We hear our sound inside our bones, and as an echo back from the walls around us. We don’t always come to things with the perspective of physics or the perspective of how things really work. But unless there is something physically wrong, the capacity to be able to actually stretch the voice out and increase range is common to all humans.
So, what can you do to prove this to yourself?
1. Lose the baggage
There can be a lot of baggage around the jargon of singing. Even the phrase ‘high note’ has some baggage around it: we imagine that something that is high is out of reach. So what are we likely to do to try and bridge that gap? We’re going to make some effort as if we’re lifting heavy weights. We’re going to strain and stretch.
But is the note actually out of reach? Well, no it’s not.
You need to rediscover how you can make singing easy for yourself by understanding some ways that we use our voices outside of singing. Understanding how the voice works and bringing simple exercises into the mix can help you understand singing in a different way.
2. Do these exercises
Watch the video from 04:23 for the exercises.
When you do these exercises, you notice things suddenly feeling so much more doable – because there’s less thinking. You create those sounds all the time, every day, in your talking voice. Because we don’t think it’s difficult, we allow the voice to work as it was naturally intended. We think the thought; the voice responds and moves into position; we create the sound. We’ve learned it by habit, by copying, by nature.
3. Stop striving
When it comes to singing, you need to stop striving.
Are your high notes really high? Or are they just a new space? Are they just new positions that you need to feel and find and experiment with?
Allow your perspective to shift towards listening from the inside out, and shaping and creating those sounds from the inside out.
Once you’ve got a handle on that and you’re not striving and straining for something outside yourself anymore, you can start to harness your voice in a more artistic and creative manner. And a more healthy one too.
So, until next time, have fun experimenting with your talking voice, with different sounds, and allow that to inform a new perspective on your higher range notes. I’d love to hear how you get on!
No exceptional singer muddled through. (Their muddling through is at such a high standard, we tend to call it improvisation!) They know how to improvise in the moment because they practise, they understand theory, they understand harmony. They can move, flex them and feel their voices.
If you know the habits of highly successful singers, and you start to do some of those habits, you will also be able to pull yourself forward.
Watch here >>>>>
Or alternatively, here’s the scannable version:
1. They’re consistent
They do it consistently. They do it daily. They set up a practise space that feels great, and where they feel at home.
They can shut the world out and enter into the world of music in a way that they couldn’t if they were just trying to practise in the car.
To become an advanced or exceptional singer you have to learn to be in a room, on your own and work with your sound and with yourself. You need to enable yourself to learn the oral skills, the training, and the coordination to be able to handle this thing that you are wanting to do.
2. They train with a teacher
They find the right type of teacher for them – someone that understands what they need in that moment. I went to different teachers when I was at different stages of my development. When I wanted to develop a certain level of contemporary singing, I went in that direction. When I wanted to advance my classical training, I went in that direction.
You have to find the teacher that is right for your stage of development. It’s no good you going to a really advanced teacher when you are right at the beginning. You’ll find yourself struggling to pay huge fees for advanced knowledge that you’re unable to actually put into practise. You’ll become frustrated because you feel that you’re paying a lot of money and you’re not getting the best out you.
If you’re nearer the start of the journey, find a newer teacher, or somebody that comes recommended. Then, as you move through your skills, and need a different teacher to move you on, make the move. There are good teachers out there for every single level of student and that’s what you have to look for.
3. They know which area of their voice to work on
And they have the right exercises for the job. They will have picked this knowledge up from working with a mentor or a teacher, and they have also learned to hear when their voice is off. They will know which exercises to pick in order to move their voice into contemporary sound or into classical. They know when they’re a little bit bottom heavy or where they’re a little bit tight at the top. They understand their voice – and you can too.
It’ll take a while and there will be moments of confusion, but that’s the point when you should ask questions. Because the only way that you are going to become an advanced or an exceptional singer is by understanding your voice. You need to be able to choose the right areas to develop and identify the right exercises to get you there.
4. They don’t get caught up in negative drama
They just want to be the best they can be.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘you don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great’? It might be corny, but it’s true. What it’s really talking about is the commitment to not get into our past conditioning: thinking that you’re not very good, and letting yourself get completely caught up in the drama of it.
I remember a time when, if I sang well, I would feel great about myself, but if I didn’t sing well, I would suddenly feel in the depths of despair. When I felt bad about myself I didn’t want to sing, so I wouldn’t practise, and when I felt good about myself I wanted to sing all day, risking damage to my voice.
Being on an emotional roller coaster won’t get you very far. Instead, you need to get on with it, regardless! Do the exercises. Ask yourself: What am I noticing? What am I feeling? Tell yourself: Okay, I can feel it a little bit better than I did yesterday. Great, lovely, job done.
You have to show up in order to be your best self.
If you’re going to be exceptional, you need to take the things that are causing you the most drama, and get them to a point where you take that emotional fire out of them. When you make your practise matter-of-fact rather than emotional, and you strive for your personal best, you will get there .
5. They know that tone is key
They work on their posture, the flexibility of their notes, and their range across the board. When they’re warming up they’re looking at their posture. They’re looking at their positioning. They’re looking at where the tension is. They know that they’ve got to get things flexible and moveable. They’re listening and feeling for when the tone becomes sweet, and it becomes round, and it becomes scented and whole.
Average singers pay no attention to tone. They think that they have to push hard, reach high, and stress themselves out to nail that note.
Exceptional singers know that is not how the anatomy or the notes work. They are starting to understand that tension kills tone. And that tone is always the things that people are buying into when they say they love your voice.
6. They use various approaches – and pay attention
They use mirror work. They slow things down. They speed things up. They reposition things, repeat things, make changes.
In other words, they’re not just going through the motions of doing the same thing day after day, and they’re not allowing themselves to be distracted by their thoughts. They’re present, and they’re paying attention.
They know that when they’re doing those exercises, if something isn’t working, they might need to change the speed. They’ll repeat things differently every single time. They’re always reacting in the moment and responding to what their voice are body are doing.
An exceptional singer is present in their practise, because they know that each performance hinges on them being able to pay attention to their voice, so that they can be present with their audience.
7. They break it down
They work on the songs in the same way that they work on an exercise, with mini challenges and goals. They look at certain phrases and sections.
They don’t simply put on YouTube and sing along with the artist.
They work on bits of the song. They work with a pianist, they work with live musicians. If they’re working with backing tracks, they listen to the backing track, they don’t just use it as an extension to try and follow them. They are thinking about the music, the phrasing, the story, the words. They are breaking that tone down in order to tell those stories.
It takes time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to practise for hours on end, at least at the beginning. It’s the quality of the time that you’re doing that makes the difference, not the quantity. Compare an hour of you singing through YouTube, paying no real attention, and 20 minutes of you really slowing things down, listening, feeling, tweaking, going through exercises, taking small sections of songs. Singing in the mirror, recording yourself, listening back, getting feedback.
When you do this type of quality practise, you will start to see very quickly that
- Your voice starts to increase, along with your love for the process
- Your singing habits start to improve
- You start to move through to exceptional and advanced
Take some of the ideas from here and have a go at changing some of your singing habits this week. Pop over to my Facebook group and let me know how it goes!
This week I want to talk to you about three things that exceptional singers do that average singers don’t. You can move through from the beginner stage into the advanced singer stage far quicker than you realise with these three tips.
If you really want to achieve your aspirations and your singing goals this year, then please listen up!
Or alternatively, here’s the scannable version:
1. Fall in love with the process of singing and the process of learning
Most singers want to have the results of singing. They want the good feelings. Singing is powerful; it gives you great feelings. But if you don’t fall in love with the process of learning in order to get those good results, then you will always say at the average level (no matter how much you want it!) and you’ll never become exceptional.
You’re not going to get those results until you actually commit. Until you fall in love with the process of learning (and that means being in a practice room, doing the exercises, singing the songs, feeling uncomfortable, not getting it right, learning new steps, working it out), you won’t ever find the exceptional capabilities that you have really capable of.
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you have not expanded yourself and reached your full potential. It’s why we set New Year’s resolution goals. And until you really fall in love with the process of attaining your goal, rather than the result, you won’t be able to reach your full capacity.
2. Practise the positions – and understand why
Exceptional singers get really clear on what they’re trying to practise.
They will collaborate – they’ll work with someone who can help them get some perspective on their voice, find where the problems are and help them see what they need to focus on.
If I give you a downloadable exercise, or you go and find one on YouTube, you might enjoy it and it might seem to work for you, but it will be far more effective if you know:
- How to choose an exercise
- Why you’re doing the exercise
- Which positions you’re practising
Just choosing a few songs or exercises, and singing until it feels a bit easier, won’t give you any added knowledge about your voice.
When the singing gurus say, “It’s better not to do any exercises at all than to do the wrong ones”, they’re partly correct. Because if you’re going to push past your own boundary level, not listening to your own voice, you’re going to compromise yourself – and you might even damage your voice.
An exceptional singer has started to understand a few things about voice – and about their own voice. They’ve understood their strengths, they’ve understood their weaknesses. They’ve understood which areas of their voice they really need to build their goals and challenges and workouts around, in order to improve – and they choose to practise what will benefit them most.
3. Practise your performance
Exceptional singers practise their performances before the performance. It’s called a rehearsal (and no, I’m not talking about a band rehearsal where everybody plays and shouts at each other and nobody warms up!).
They’re in the practice room in the same way that they are with their exercises, in the same way they are with their music, and they are choosing their moves. They are in the mirror. They are looking towards how they want to be on stage, where it’s a transfer of energy. It’s a dance that starts with you, and exceptional singers know this.
They don’t wait until they get on the stage, and they don’t rely on it coming from somebody else.
You need to move yourself into an energetic state where you are focused and clear. And if you can learn to do that in performance, if you can learn to do that in the silence of your practice room.
Do you feel it’s time for you to say, “It’s time for me to look towards exceptional”?
Are you ready to:
- Ditch the excuses
- Stick to a plan
- Brave disappointment (and bounce back)
- Follow through, even when you don’t feel like it?
If that’s you, then please get in touch and share what’s holding you back.
Because now is your time.
You can do it.
Want to move from average to exceptional? Get in touch and share what’s holding you back.
Would you like to feel more motivated to practise your singing? Use my 16 top tips to help you move forward. Why don’t you have a go today?
I have to say this is one of my personal favourite topics and one of the least talked about professionally. There are techniques for singing and so how it functions that it is mind-boggling. There are CDs and books written from the 1900s up to the present day giving vocal exercises galore.
I also personally think that not every method has the whole truth about singing, but brought together they form a wonderful tapestry of more skills than any singer can take and use.
But what does a singer do with these exercises and how do they know whether they are using them correctly? When as a singer you only hear a portion of your whole sound and never as the audience hear it, how do you judge whether you are getting it right and not just spending time practicing bad habits or simply getting discouraged?
Unlike an instrumentalist, a singer should not be rehearsing for hours on end, especially at full belt. If you really understand how to practise your songs, your learning time can be cut by more than half, leaving valuable time to explore other areas of your performance and work on your craft in other ways.
# 1 Loosen it up
Your first goal in practice is to generally loosen your vocal cord muscles, ligaments and reduce tension. The use of lip trills, speech exercises and siren sounds and hums can loosen up, even out your breath and stretch your ligament range when you are singing. Many singers simply add too much pressure initially or hold their breath and their posture can be slouchy and bad from long days sitting down in the office.
No athlete forces their muscles into submission but too often singers go straight in with singing their songs. Decide whether you are feeling on top form, have had a hard day at work, been unwell lately or are just a little tired as these will all determine how long you may have to warm up for (your head as much as your voice) and what your energy level is likely to be.
# 2 Have a routine
Begin with the exercise routine given to you by your teacher. In the past I sang straight open vowels as it was the traditional approach. Some naturally placed voices (and what I mean by that is a voice whose tone and pitch fit with full access to frequencies and harmonics in the voice) are able to sing in the centre of the vowel and may begin initially with open vowels, but personally I like to use consonants before vowels (as in speech level singing exercises) to fast track that process.
I’m a big fan of new approaches to exercises because we are learning more and more about how to help singers and I really don’t think that an approach that takes years of doing exercises that have little success is a great one.
# 3 Question why
While doing these exercises ask yourself “Why?” Why are you doing this particular exercise? When I asked a group of students at a university why they practiced, answers varied from feeling good, being able to sing the song to “I was actually told to in order to get it right”.
What is that exercise designed to do? If you don’t know ask your teacher, they should be able to give you a valid answer. Why have they chosen it for you? If you have a clear understanding of why you are doing a particular exercise you will be able to build up a reference library of exercises that you can tailor-make to your vocal strengths and weaknesses and not simply act mindlessly singing exercises with little idea of their effect. Exercises can be practiced wrongly and cause as much damage as not doing them at all.
# 4 Start quiet
Make sure initially you are not practising too loudly at the start, but only increase the “leaning” and “pressing” or volume aspect once your muscles can respond without constriction in the throat or locking the breath.
# 5 Little by little
Little by little increase volume in a balanced way so that all of the vocal range will sympathetically come together. No blasting the bottom at the expense of the top and vice versa.
# 6 Find a private space
If you share a house or find it difficult to get some “alone” time, consider hiring a church hall or room to practice in. This is a great way to simply let off steam. Sing your heart out, test whether you are actually a bigger voice holding yourself back through trying not to disturb the neighbour .
# 7 Slow it down
Slow exercises down if you need to concentrate on sections of the voice that need extra work. For example you may be singing an exercise and flip in the middle over the break, or it goes a little woolly. Simply stop, repeat the exercise and pay more attention to the sensations you are feeling. If it continues try another exercise, walk around, change something rather than ignore what is going on.
# 8 Be thorough
Sometimes it better to just practice one exercise for 10 minutes really thoroughly, thinking of the sensations, rather than whip through a routine which you pay little attention to.
# 9 Move!
Walk around, swing your arms, move in your practice time and make a habit of making sure you are not increasing tension at any point.
# 10 Change it up
I often advise singers when practicing songs or exercises to stop at the “stuck” point and change the rhythm or take few notes out of context and play with it. Add a different vowel/consonant combination, look at it from a different angle rather than simply singing it straight through.
# 11 Drive carefully
Lots of students (adult learners!) practise in the car. I’ve done it too… but a word of caution: combined with the road noise and obvious lack of concentration and mobility, realise it is a far from ideal method. You would be better using hums and sirens that don’t require much singing out.
# 12 Refine, refine, refine
As you get more advanced at practise you will come to realise it is more about the detail and working little by little into odd, specific areas than pounding the pavement, bashing out lots and lots of exercises. Listen out for areas of the voice that need refinement and look for exercises that deal specifically with these areas.
# 13 Be open to suggestions
There are many methods that work effectively depending on your learning style.
# 14 Keep a diary or practise journal
See if you can find consistent areas that seem to crop up time and time again.
# 15 Clear your head
At the end of detailed practise go away for 10 minutes, clear your head and then simply sing for pleasure. Practise is about training muscle memory and increasing stamina and flexibility of your voice, but performance is about connecting and communicating the song to the audience out there. So to test whether things are improving, go away and come back and simply sing the piece through. You will soon be able to tell if you’ve fixed that section or if more practise is required.
# 16 Try it three times and move on
That’s my rule. If I try something three times in different ways and it’s still not working, I move on. It’s important that your brain doesn’t get “stuck” but that you have time to come back to it at a later date.
Example 30-minute routine:
- 5 minutes – stretch, move, get head in the right frame of mind, use siren sounds, lip trills etc to get the breathing and flexibility going.
- 10 minutes – moving from gentle exercising into moderate exercising that deals with specific areas in the voice.
- 10 minutes – song work – one song only. Begin with areas that need work if you have sung it before and avoid singing it over and over again.
- Use the 80/20 rule using sounds in the songs like lip trills, hums, consonant and vowel combinations to find where the voice needs to adjust. Then take a two-minute breather.
- The last 5 minutes – sing through as if it doesn’t matter. Just perform it and you will soon see where work needs to be done another time.
Please leave me your comments and what your favourite practise tips are!