What’s Your Intention?

As I recently wrote in an earlier blogpost, I’ve set up a fall practice challenge. Beginning this Sunday through December 15, my students (hopefully) will submit an online practice record regarding their practice habits for the week. (Please note that I’ve amended the form to correspond to the practice challenge.) The person who submits the most amount of practice time will receive a lovely binder that can be used for lessons or as an audition book. I will set it up and present it to the lucky recipient at the studio recital at Springwell Retirement Community on December 18 (6:30pm).

But what is the point of doing this, other than a valuable prize? Why should you practice regularly? And what do you want to accomplish this semester, in your lessons and in your practicing?

In yoga, in mindfulness, and even in entrepreneurship, it is very trendy to speak of setting an intention rather than a goal. Goals tend to be in the future, general or specific, short-term or long-term. Your goals might be:

  1. A role in the musical
  2. A solo in choir
  3. To be a star!
  4. To connect to my breath more consistently
  5. To open up my upper register at F5, where I tend to pinch
  6. To be more expressive, no matter what language in which I sing
  7. To win that binder at the December recital

But your intention has to do with today. What is your intention? What is it that you’re going to accomplish today, in your practice session?

  • Perhaps your intention for this particular practice session will be openness. Perhaps you’ll choose to manifest this by singing all your exercises and repertoire with a released and quiet inhalation.
  • Perhaps your intention will be freedom. And perhaps you’ll choose to manifest that intention by drawing awareness to your jaw and tongue.
  • Perhaps your intention will be communication. Maybe your manifestation of that will be to analyze the words and poetry, to create an inner monologue, and to take some risks with interpretation.

Intention can help you set goals. Maybe you’re going to set a goal for that day, but first you might want to try an intention.

On or about November 7, I will write another blog to address what to do if you’re practicing regularly and you don’t feel like anything is changing.

Practice Challenge – October 1-December 14, 2018

I have decided to pose a practice challenge to my students. And to myself, as well.

A year ago, I made a recording of some songs I had commissioned by local composer Garth Baxter on poetry in both English and Irish Gaelic. The date of the recording was August 10. So, beginning about 2 months before, I set myself a goal of learning the music thoroughly and getting vocally ready to perform them in a manner that I would be comfortable with having posted on YouTube for all the world to hear forever.

The first few weeks were spent working on text and notes. I didn’t really sing all that much during that time, but I did a lot of mental preparation, listening to the Irish Gaelic text as spoken  by the poets, and plunking things out at the piano. Then I went to the NATS Conference and picked up Nancy Bos’ practice journal and a collection of vocalises (something I’d never really done before) and decided this would inform my organization.

I set myself a goal of actually singing – this is hard for teachers sometimes, because we feel like we sing all the time for our students but we’re really not putting in our own practice time. I spent 20 minutes per day preparing my voice for the repertoire with basic warm-ups and selections from the vocalise books. Then I put another 40-50 minutes in on the repertoire. And I really worked it in sections, not just singing it through. (I also had a soloist audition for a local chorus which was also part of the focus, at least through the end of July.)

The result was that I felt pretty good about the audition (even though I didn’t get any work from it) and the recording session. So now it’s time to start applying myself again.

I have three things coming up:

  1. Ding-a-ling, I feel so Christmas-y! on November 30 (a cabaret with Michael Tan at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy). I did this last year at Spots but I was sick for most of October and early November so I felt underprepared.
  2. Respighi’s Lauda per la Nativita del Signore on December 14 (Christmas oratorio in which I sing the role of Mary with the Harford Choral Society). It’s my first time singing with them, and I love the piece.
  3. WNO re-audition – date still TBD, sometime in January. I’d like to do something new this time. I have two pieces in mind, although I’m reluctant to trot out two untried songs.

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So there’s a lot of work ahead and I’m going to challenge myself to practice five times a week for approximately an hour per day. I’ll probably take off on Thursdays because of church choir at night, and maybe on Sunday.

What I want my students to do is:

  • Use your vocal exercises that we do in your lessons (on the BRAAP™ vocalise sheets and any others that we throw out there)
  • Use the checklist that I’ve given you to keep track of what you’ve done
  • Write down how much time you spent each day in a journal of your choosing – either the practice journal by Nancy Bos or any kind of method that works for you
  • At the end of the week (Sunday) use the Weekly Practice Record form to record what you did and submit it to me. Those dates are:
    • October 6
    • October 13
    • October 20
    • October 27
    • November 3
    • November 10
    • November 17
    • November 24
    • December 1
    • December 8
    • December 15

I will determine who practiced the most based on these and will give out a prize at the December 18 recital, the theme of which will be music from shows about the holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, winter, whatever). The prize will be an audition/lesson binder organized for you to use in your lessons and to take out with you to auditions. (FYI, I’m exempt from the prize, so I won’t be competing, just working alongside you.)

Who’s in? (Current students only)

New Practice Checklist

This week, I put out a practice checklist, which was distributed to all my students as part of a welcome/welcome back packet. I had had a new student’s mom ask me about a structure of practicing, and I went back to a previous blogpost about practicing I’d written for some guidance. And I decided that, while there were some really good gems in there about how to practice, the post was, in itself, 8 years old and based on a newsletter than I sent out 20 years ago, when I was a brand new teacher. So it needed some updating, and I felt that it would be more effective if it was a little less text-driven and more to-the-point.

I went to a site called Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT and purchased a vocal practice challenge sheet that someone created, thinking that might work. But I didn’t care for some of the language (I don’t use the term “placement” in my teaching, and if I did, it wouldn’t be in the way it was used here) and I thought it might be more confusing than helpful. And it was a sticker based system and I thought that meant I’d have to look at something and I really don’t want to do that. I decided to do a checklist instead. So I knocked one out on Apple Numbers, and broke it up into:

  1. The “Warm-up” (Preparing to Sing)
  2. Repertoire (The Songs). This was done in two parts – a list of things to do when you’re first learning the song and, once it’s learned, to polish it
  3. Things You Can Do to be a little “Extra” (i.e., the Next Level). I did take some ideas from the original document that I bought on TpT in this section.

The first two sections involved a suggested breakdown of time based on the elements being worked on, using exercises from my BRAAP™ vocalises that I distribute to my students and that may be found on my website under studio portal (only available to my students). The final section was not time-driven – how much time the student wants to spend on that is entirely up to them.

I also laminated them so that the student can keep them on their piano and check them off with a dry erase, if they are so inclined. (Plus I figure they’ll stay intact longer that way.)

I’m not posting the checklist here, because, well, I just might tweak it a bit to make it a little less my personal studio-oriented and put it on TpT for sale. If you’ve received one this week and would like to ask me about it, please feel free. If you’d like to know more, let me know!

 

“Tools, not Rules”

I follow a fashion blogger whose site is called une femme d’un certain âge and recently, she had her colors and style done and it turned out she was wearing all the wrong colors and styles for her “type.” (I have to admit that the company who did her analysis was right – her clothes are much more flattering than they were before, and I thought she looked good before.) Someone asked her if that means she’s thrown everything out, even some of her favorite things, and she said, in today’s blog: “No. I still believe in ‘tools, not rules.'”

That phrase resonated with me. There are so many rules that we think we have to follow as singers. We have to avoid certain foods, we have to stand a certain way, align ourselves just so, sing only one kind of repertoire or one kind of style, and never do anything that might be considered “wrong.”

Yeah. Right.

What we work in lessons is collecting a series of tools that you can use for learning and performing your music. For example, we work on having a silent inhalation and a balanced onset, and releasing into the breath, rather than gasping for air or sighing at the end of a phrase. And for the most part, those tools are the rules.

Except when they’re not.

What if your character is upset? Would they have a clean onset? Would they have a balanced release? Would they be standing with their head balanced upon their spine and thinking of their feet as tripods with their weight evenly distributed between the big and little toes and the heel?

What if breathy was better, just for a particular phrase? What if a hard release was better, just to convey an emotion? What if the head was thrown back to the sky, just for that one line?

You can’t do it all the time, but sometimes, you have to break the rules.

Cross-training – physically and vocally

Club Pilates recently opened a place near my house and man, they’ve been courting me! I’ve taken 3 free classes so far – one 30 minute introductory class, one 60 minute regular Pilates class, and one 60 minute Cardio Sculpt class (which was a birthday offer – the birthday isn’t over till the coupons are gone!). As I left today, this sign spoke to me:gyR9YKpQR6WsifROtXUipQ.jpgThese are the Pilates principles – but what other discipline does this apply to? (If you haven’t figured out that I mean singing, you don’t know me at all.)

  • Centering – this could apply to alignment or it could apply to resonance
  • Precision – learning your music thoroughly
  • Concentration – practicing!
  • Control – working through registration/range exercises
  • Flow – legato
  • Breathwork – do we really have to spell this one out?

I’m not sure if I’m going to become a member yet – we’ll see how many free classes they offer me after I come back from vacation! 😉

Playing with Weekly Practice Forms

Playing with Weekly Practice Forms

I’m exploring options for how to submit a record of your practice without having reams of paper to keep track of (I really hate paper). I’m hoping to do a Practice Challenge for fall, culminating in a prize to be given out before the holiday break (probably at the recital – date/place TBD). But how to keep track?

There’s Nancy Bos’ excellent practice journal, which many of you have (as do I), and I recommend it highly. But that means you’d either have to:

  1. Turn in your book to me, which means you wouldn’t have it to work with unless I gave it back to you right away, and then that’d mean I’d have to go write down what you did to keep track of things (paper!);
  2. Copy your sheets and give them to me (paper!);
  3. Copy them and scan them and email them to me (no paper, and convenient for me, less so for you).

In my searches, I found JotForm, a free platform to create fillable forms. I was trying to create a form that included entries for each day you practice. At first, I came up with a form that you could submit, but it only was one day at a time, and I figured that that would be hard to come up with (and trying to do a separate page for each day was NOT intuitive – then again, it’s a free platform).

So I came up with this form, which seemed much easier. It’s a variation on a form I created for my Milwaukee students about 7 years ago – I found it when I was cleaning out files. (I don’t even remember doing this, and I suspect that people didn’t comply, because, well…. paper!)

It doesn’t have everything that I want, and maybe I’ll figure out something later this summer, but for now, I think it’s going to work. You’re still going to need to keep something separate for yourself to keep a record of your daily practice (whether it’s Nancy Bos’ book or your own method), but give it a try!

 

What If You Were Your Own Teacher….

I just read the phrase, “as if they were their own teacher” on a FB page of independent teachers, in regards to how a student would do self-evaluation, including:

  • Finding three things they did well
  • Finding a couple of things they’d like to fix
  • Figuring out how to fix them
This was based on the idea of submitting a video to a teacher in the event that you were unable to make your lesson that week. The teacher would then review the practice video and give his/her own observations and suggestions. I thought this was a really great option. I’m thinking of making this an option in the fall.
So here’s a challenge for you this summer:

  • Video your practice session (you can use your phone) as if it were a lesson. Include:
    • Vocalises
    • Repertoire
      • Do each song all the way through without stopping
      • Stop and address the issues you need to address
  • Watch the session – either afterwards, or stop after vocalises
  • Evaluate it
    • Were your vocalises varied enough? 
    • Did you vocalize long enough?
    • Were the things you stopped and addressed the things you should have stopped and addressed? Did you leave anything out?
    • What did you do well? (There must have been something.)
    • What do you need to address the next time you practice? How are you going to address this? When?
    • Is there anything you noticed that you need to ask me about?
I’m going to try to do this too. Let’s see what happens.