What is the gateway to beautiful singing? You may think it’s vocal training, but for many, technique alone isn’t enough to sing at one’s best. There is a great deal of psychology that goes into singing well. Fear based thinking can lock the voice into the body, so we singers work to open the mind and the body together so the voice can flow freely and the singer can follow his or her instincts for phrasing and technique.
The voice is the channel of our verbal and emotional communication, and we want the communication to be as honed as possible. We singers have to train our minds into process based thinking, focusing step by step on how to use our muscles at each part of the song to achieve the sounds we want. And beyond the sound of the voice, we are trying to communicate sub-consciously with the audience and our fellow musicians and be open for all communication we receive for shaping musical phrasing and expressing emotion.
My first mental training for singing came when I was learning a high level of vocal technique in a masters degree conservatory program for classical singing at Manhattan School of Music. I had to learn good singing habits based on the proper muscles to use, and unlearn some bad habits, both physical (using the wrong muscles) and mental (pushing on the voice, negative self talk). My teacher at the time, Joan Caplan, gave me a book called “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey (highly recommended as a first mental training text!) so I could practice the process based thinking I needed for my refined vocal technique. Still, I was experiencing tightness and negative mental feedback and needed something more to help.
I’d been practicing yoga for a couple of years, and I began to incorporate more relaxation and meditation training into my practice. The yoga asana practice helped me to learn body awareness, especially how to keep my body fully energized and fully relaxed at the same time. This balance is key to good singing, as we need strength and flexibility to sing well. Jivamukti Yoga, where I was a devotee, had a beautiful yoga practice CD that I still use today, including, in addition to an hour asana practice, an hour of guided relaxation and meditation. The relaxation practice helped me find a new depth of release in my mind and my body so I was bringing a calmer, more focused intention to rehearsals and performances. Meditation helped me learn how to watch my voice in every moment and be fully focused on my singing, clearing all the other voices out of my head.
As I improved, the most challenging part of my career began to pick up speed: auditions! These auditions were as strenuous as a high level sporting event. My mind and nerves started to work on overdrive. To help me prepare, I used Don Greene’s book “Audition Success” to learn an olympic athlete’s level of mental preparation. Dr. Greene has worked with athletes, especially Olympic divers, and musicians alike in conservatory programs like Juilliard ane beyond. I learned how to quiet down the self-critic and focus on what I had to remember to sing each aria well.
Ah but yet … there was more to come. When I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden on a Fulbright Scholarship, I faced a new level of mental training to become an artist. The training was a huge letting go of all of my pre-conceived notions. That was the way I could open up a channel within myself to let my own music and ideas come out. This process I’ll have to save for the next installment…
If you have questions or need guidance of your own, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Onwards, inwards and outwards .’.
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