Performance Workshop Review

Independent Music Academy Performance Workshop

Performance Workshop: Stage presence and beating nerves

Emma and I (Lauren Crick) had the pleasure of running a Performance Workshop in November. The workshop was divided into four different aspects of performance. Nerves, stage presence, microphone technique then followed by a performance masterclass. 

Performance Nerves

Participants learn about stage fright and how nerves can affect performance. We discussed ways to deal with anxiety and how to embrace adrenalin.
 

Stage Presence

We also discussed what audiences look for in a great performance. The importance of stage presence to the overall production was explained. Participants also discovered ways to build their individual stage persona. They learnt how to feel comfortable on stage. They also learnt how to move freely and master great stage presence. 
Independent Music Academy Performance Workshop

Performance Workshop: microphone technique

 

Microphone Technique

Microphone technique was the next area of focus. All participants had the opportunity to set up and start using a microphone. For some, this was their first time using a microphone. For others, it was a great way to explore proper microphone technique. It also provided the opportunity to better their sound and performance experience.
 

Performance Masterclass

The afternoon finally concluded with a Performance Masterclass. All participants were given the opportunity to jump up on stage to perform. They received constructive feedback from both myself and Emma. All participants did a wonderful job of taking advice on board. Therefore they were comfortable enough to workshop many areas of their performance. All participants were incredibly supportive. It was a great environment to improve performance techniques learnt throughout the day.
 
The Performance Workshop received extremely positive. Participants have asked for regular performance workshops, masterclasses and additional workshops!
If you’d like to express interest in future workshops email admin@independentmusic.com.au
Written by Lauren Crick

Music with your mind (Part II)

Music With Your Mind

In part one of this blog post I covered the mental aspects of music making and how it applies to practice. In this second part, I’ll be focussing on how having the right set of mental skills helps you in the actual performance of music.

Performance

Breathing

If you’re feeling tense on stage, one of the simplest and best ways to combat it is to use slow breathing. Concentrate on breathing slowly while you play whatever you’ve got to play. It will make everything a lot calmer. Try this even before you go on stage and continue throughout the performance as much as you can.

Relaxation

Notice the tightness in your jaw, your shoulders or wherever else you have tension. Biting lips is another common sign of tension. If you’re aware of the tension, continue to breathe and relax, you’ll be through the performance before you know it. Distracting the mind is a great way to perform well. Relaxation is a great thing to distract the mind with as it serves a useful purpose in itself.

Permission to fail

This biggest problem in performance is worry. Worrying about what people are going to think. Worrying about whether you’ve practised enough and so on.

When you stop worrying about making mistakes in performance you’ll stop making mistakes. See part I of this blog post under ‘Trying Fails’. How do you stop worrying? Focus on something else like relaxation or breathing (see above). As soon as you accept that if you do make a mistake, nothing really bad is going to happen . No one is going to die for example. Keep in mind that 99% of the audience aren’t going to notice as long as you don’t stop. Allow yourself to make mistakes in performance and you’re much less likely to make them.

Don't Stop

Not Stopping

If you don’t stop, 99% of the audience aren’t going to know that you made a mistake. Other giveaways to the audience are pulling faces and swearing loudly. Don’t do any of those and the audience just won’t know, I promise.

No audience wants you to fail

Nobody comes to a gig to see you fail. So remember, the audience is there to support you, to have a good time and to see you play at your best. Also, remember that the most critical listener in the room will be you. The audience won’t perceive any of the faults that you see in your performance. As long as you remember to enjoy yourself they will too!

Enjoy Yourself

Everyone wants to see you have fun on stage. As long as you do that, the audience will enjoy the experience. It’s always great to see a group of musicians onstage enjoying playing the music that they love. Remember how much you’ve enjoyed seeing that onstage yourself and emulate it.

Listening 3rd person

We all play music because we like listening to it. The best way to enjoy a performance if you’re the performer is to listen to it like you’re in the audience. Listening like this also helps us ‘step away’ from the performance and listen more externally.

Remove Ego

If you get up on stage thinking that your social status or what people think of you is dependent on how you perform, then you’re not going to have a good time. You’re also probably not going to perform at your best. Find someone or something to perform for who’s not present or can’t judge you. For example, perform for the songwriter, the song itself. You’ll give a more generous, non-judgemental performance yourself when you’re not worrying about your ego. When you remove ego from the performance, everything will become much easier.

Get The Most From Your Practice

Mental Skills

Remember that these are all skills. They’re not inherent personality traits. They’re things that you’ll need to practice. Jam nights can be a great way to work on these skills in a supportive environment.

This wraps up the two-part blog ‘Music With Your Mind’. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to post them on our Facebook page, twitter feed or in the comments section of our blog.

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music With Your Mind (part I)

Music With Your Mind

In then end, improvements in your mental skills improve your playing above all else.

We know that the mental aspects are amazingly important. We’ve seen MRIs of musicians practising. MRIs of musicians mentally practising. And they look exactly the same.

I’ve also noticed that the small changes in my client’s mental skills have the largest effect on their playing.

Personally, I’ve caught myself making physical mistakes when mentally practising. For me, that was a sure sign that there wasn’t actually a physical problem with what I was doing. It was really all mental (and a fairly amusing form of self-sabotage). Once I’d corrected the problem mentally, the physical problem went away.

You can apply these mental skills in both practice and performance. Not that they’re really that different in the long run.

Here’s how I think about the two. (I’ll cover performance in another blog post, this one has gotten out of hand length-wise).

Practice

Practice is permission to succeed

Practice is a ritual that gives you permission to perform at your best. While practice is important for improving your physical skills. From a mental point of view, it’s a way of saying to yourself, “I’ve done the work, now it’s ok for me to perform well”.

Pattern Matching

The brain is an amazing pattern matching machine. When we practice we need to take advantage of this awesome tool.

In the end, there’s only one thing that counts in music, and that’s how it sounds. Music has only one KPI.

The ultimate goal of practice is to equate sound with muscle movement. So when you hear (either in your head or on a recording) a particular sound, your body knows what muscle movements to carry out to create that sound. We want to work towards removing all intermediate steps and eventually arriving at sound = muscle movement.

This is the whole purpose of ear training and practice in general. It’s also why we learn scales and scale patterns, to help bridge that gap between sound and action.

So, instead of concentrating on the physical when you practice, you should listen to the sounds you’re making. Use them as something that indicates that there may be a physical thing wrong. On guitar, for example, you may start to notice that a buzzy sound equates with your finger not being close enough to the fret. That a ‘dead’ sounding string may be a finger accidentally leaning over onto an adjacent string.

Don't Stop

Don’t stop when you hear the mistake. Be aware of it, and fix it on the next repetition of the phrase that you’re practising. Slowly repeating small sections of what you’re learning is really effective.).

When you practice small sections over and over, you give your pattern matching brain a chance to compare repetitions. This allows it to determine which options have faults in them and which are the more error free versions.

I think of this like target practice (think archery). You shoot at the target, you might have aimed a little high and you miss. You adjust your aim and try again, perhaps being a little low. Next shot you hit the target. Then miss, a little high, then hit it again. As you shoot more you become more consistent as you can reference the misses and make adjustments.

If we make the mistakes and stop, we don’t give our brain any reference points to improve against. Worse still, if we make a mistake, get annoyed and stop, we’re highlighting that mistake for our brain. The brain then thinks that the mistake is important and it grabs hold of that. Instead, show the brain that the mistake is a statistical anomaly. It will figure out that that’s not what you’re trying to achieve.

Practising in this way allows us to always improve by solving problems as they become audible to us. As we learn to hear more acutely, we’ll solve more and more subtle problems.

Long-Term Goals

When I’m working on a new skill, I like to set myself up for a three-month goal. Although “goal” is probably not the best term in this case. I decide that I’m going to do the same thing for three months and not really worry about the outcome. I’ll just concentrate on making gradual improvements over that period of time.

I find that goal orientated learning in music is rarely effective. If you’re inclined towards perfectionism, the long term ‘not goal’ is the best way to help yourself improve.

If you take a goal oriented approach and try to get it perfect on one day. Or, try to get it perfect by a specific date. You will either not achieve your goal, or slow your progress so much that it becomes a very painful process.

The trick, in this case, is to ‘just do it’, listen to the detail and make minor improvements when you hear faults. You’ll eventually do this without thinking about it. (see our blog post on the ‘Four Stages of Competence’).

Kyūdō target practice

There is a great book ‘Zen in the art of Archery’ that you’ll find in the instrument cases or bookshelves of many great players. It outlines the story of a Westerner who already had some archery experience learning the art of Kyūdō (Japanese Archery). There are many parallels between practising that art and learning music. In the book, the Kyūdō master sets up the targets in front of the student archer so that they can’t miss. This stops the student from worrying about the goal of hitting the target. This then allows them to focus on all of the other aspects of archery that in the end, are much more important.

Trying Fails

Another great book that we often recommend to clients is ‘The Inner Game of Music’. There’s a section in the book where a student attempts to demonstrate to a teacher how she makes a mistake in her piece. Much to her chagrin, she plays the problem section perfectly several times. By giving herself permission to fail, she’s stopped worrying about it. As a result, she has performed the piece exceptionally well. This is another example of where the mental outweighs all other factors in playing music.

Speed

Another place where trying fails is trying to go faster. Even if you are playing a rapid passage, you should never be ‘thinking fast’. Think smooth, even, focus on the rhythm, but never the speed. Smooth and rhythmic playing is relaxed whereas fast is tense. It’s often counterintuitive that playing mechanically even notes sound smooth and organic. You never need to worry about speed, it comes with time.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll follow up this post with a second part next week. In the meantime, feel free to comment on our blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed, or ask questions via email ( help@independentmusic.com.au).

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

 

Photo credit: A Health Blog via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: mikerastiello via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Jam Night at IMA

IMA Jam Night

We’ve recently relocated out Mitchelton studios to our new Ashgrove location. Since the move, we’ve been running the IMA Jam Night from this great new space.

IMA Jam Nights are a excellent way to get used to playing in front of a friendly and supportive crowd. You’ll also learn some great skills that you just can’t learn playing at home.

Get The Most From Your Practice

Why Should I Perform at Jam Night?

Playing at home is different to playing in front of people. There are some things that make playing surprisingly different at first.

For example, generally, you’ll be standing up to perform. If you’re not practicing standing at least some of the time, it’s a good habit to get into. Your posture will be different (and probably better).

You have to practice performing while staying calm. Everyone gets nervous playing in front of people, it’s completely normal. Learning techniques from your mentor to help you relax when performing will make you a better all-round musician. (Check out our upcoming IMA Performance Workshop)

Playing with a band requires some additional skills:

When you play at home by yourself, you don’t have to listen to anyone else except for yourself. Listening to others is an absolutely critical skill to improving your musicianship.

Learning to listen and respond to the group you’re playing with takes performing to a whole new level. It makes it even more fun and exciting.

When you’re playing with a group, you’ll have to manage your volume. It’s best to set it so that you can just hear enough of yourself to get by, and no more. That takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s very worthwhile.

Performers who are louder than everyone else just so that they can hear ‘more of me’ are rarely popular. They also can’t hear enough of the other performers to interact in any meaningful way.

Use Your Ears

Use Your Ears

You’ll learn to listen on three levels:

  1. Listening to yourself, making sure that you’re not being too loud. Confirming that what you’re playing makes sense.
  2. Listening to the band so that you can respond to what they’re doing.
  3. Listening like an audience member. Learning to listen like you’re not involved in the making of the music. Hearing the way that everything is interacting. Also ‘noticing’ things that you’d like yourself to change in that context. This is the most important of the three listening skills to work towards.

It’s also important to learn how to recover from mistakes. We all make them, the trick is not to be put off by mistakes. To remain relaxed and to not stop and if possible not to let anyone else know that you made a mistake.

The other thing about jam night is that you get meet people who are learning just like you. It’s great to be able to discuss the musical journey with people who are both further along, and less so than you are. It really gives you a great perspective on where you’re at and where you can go. It’s also nice to be able to give and receive some support and encouragement.

You get to play with and experienced professional band. The mentors at IMA are all seasoned performers. Getting to play with more experienced musicians always helps lift your own playing level.

Where is it held?

At our IMA Ashgrove studios. Parking is out the back accessed through Harry street.

 

What should I know?

Jam nights are fun! You get to perform with a really professional band in front of a group of supportive people.

You should be able to play along with the song you’ve chosen from start to finish without stopping.

How often do Jam Nights happen?

Once a month on the second Friday of the month.

How do I book?

IMA Jam Nights are great fun. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Setting Yourself Up To Practice

Keyboard Practice

Every extra step you need to get ready for practice is another barrier to getting started. And if it’s hard to get started, it’s much more likely that you just won’t practice at all.

Once you miss a practice session, resistance to practice increases. It then becomes a downward spiral from there as you put off practicing day after day.

Don’t panic! There are some simple steps you can take to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.

Lower Resistance

Instruments on stand

Many of the ‘things you need’ can be found on a smartphone or tablet:(metronome / drum machine, tuner, recording device, headphone amp simulator). I’m a big fan of Garage Band on the iPad and iPhone as it contains pretty much everything you need for a good practice session wherever you are.

Keeping it in sight

Make a regular time

Time

Get yourself setup to practice and do a minimum of five minutes per day and you’ll be blown away at how consistently you progress. It can be a great idea to record yourself also so that you can come back later and check on your progress.

In the meantime, happy practicing!

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Learning Music by Immersion

Why do we think that learning music is hard? Ask yourself these questions…

How did you learn your first language?

Child TalkingDid your parents hand you a language textbook for your mother tongue? No, you learned it by listening and imitating whoever was around you as you were growing up. You learned how to control the sounds made with your mouth by making strange and amusing noises. That was until you started to be able to imitate some noises that got a response from those around you.

If you’ve never learned music before, that’s how I suggest you start out. Getting bogged down in reading music and learning theory right from the beginning is too much. Trying to learn too many skills at once just slows you down. Learn some good physical technique and get control of your instrument (or voice). That way you’ll be off to a good start to your playing career.

If you’re not a beginner, but struggling to advance your playing, it’s probably your ears that are holding you back. Too much thinking and not enough listening are the common problems we encounter with intermediate and advanced clients.

To learn music, you'll need to use your ears

Use Your Ears

It’s about focussing in on the micro and not worrying too much about the macro. Simple ways to change your focus are:

learning music requires focus

All of these exercises help you focus on the listening part of playing. Playing is usually thought of as an active / doing activity. When you’re playing at your best a good proportion of playing will be listening.

 

Playing without listening is like driving blindfolded, it’s not going to end well.  Tweet This!

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music Reading, Yes or No?

As music teachers, a question we’re often asked is, “Will I need to learn to read music?” “Is Music Reading important?” The answer, of course, is “It depends …”

It depends on what your goals are when learning music. Being able to read music is a great skill to have. It’s not one that’s necessary to have when you start learning an instrument. Neither is it necessary to be able to read well to be able to play well.

Here are some points to consider:

Western Classical? Music reading is not optional

Western Classical Music

If you’re wanting to learn classical music, to be able to play in an ensemble / orchestra / big band or to play classical piano or guitar. Then learning to read sooner rather than later is definitely necessary. If you want to play blues, then it’s an optional extra.

You Learnt To Speak First

When you learnt your first language, your parents didn’t give you a textbook to learn it. You learnt first by getting a handle on the muscles in your mouth and throat, and then by imitating. It’s a good analogy for how we learn music. To become a truly fluent ‘speaker’ on an instrument, you need to be good at listening and reproducing sounds. That’s regardless of whether you can read music or not.

You Can Add It On Later

Once you can play your instrument you can add music reading easily. When you get to the point in your musical journey of not having to think about basic technique all the time. You’ll have the free brain space to add a new skill. Music reading is just like reading a graph. Time goes from left to right. Pitch (or how high or low the sound is) reads from top (height) to bottom. It’s just not that hard to add on later.

Trying to do it while learning the mechanics of your instrument though can be a big ask. It often puts people off learning music altogether, which is sad. The more people playing music the better!

Gamelan

Many Cultures Don’t

Many cultures don’t have a written form of music. Music is passed on orally within the community from elder to child or from master to apprentice. Some of these cultures have extremely complex musical traditions with a high degree of subtlety and nuance in their performance.

Blues, for example, is not something that you can learn to play well from reading it from the page. Immersing yourself in the recordings of great blues artists will improve your playing immensely.

Written Music Is A Low Res Copy

What you read is not what you play. Written music does not provide enough information to inform a performance. Unless you’re familiar with the musical tradition of the music you’re trying to perform, you won’t be able to play that music.

When studying at the Conservatorium of music, I asked one of the extremely skilled pianists to sight read out of a Jazz transcription book for me (the Charlie Parker Omni book). Being an excellent sight reader, the pianist in question played through it almost without error on the first pass. What she played, however, bore almost no relation to the music of Charlie Parker. Why? The pianist had never heard any jazz (She’d grown up in Asia and had listened almost exclusively to Western Classical music).

Because there’s not enough information on a written page of music to inform a performance, what she played was note perfect, but missed all of the other data needed to make it sound like that music.

If you were to add all of the details of a performance into written music. The music would be so dense and complex that it would be almost impossible to read. It would be more efficient simply to listen and imitate the sounds.

Many Great Players Can’t Read

Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix and Sir Paul McCartney did not learn to read music. Tommy Emmanuel also can’t. I think we’d all agree that they play quite well. Regardless of whether you learn to read or not, the common skill between all of the great players is developing a great ‘ear’.

Music Reading Doesn’t Help You Learn To Play

Reading music won’t help you with the mechanics of playing your instrument. Being taught good technique at the start of your musical journey is the best thing that you can have happen to you. Music reading has nothing to do with the physicality of your instrument. It’s also not necessary to read music to have an understanding of music theory. Much of the theory of western music (particularly that in common practice in the 20th century onwards) can be explained using letters of the alphabet.

Conclusion

Unless you have some very specific goals. Like playing classical music, or playing in an ensemble / orchestra then music reading is a nice optional extra, not a necessity.

Don’t let the fear of having to read music put you off learning music. It’s a great thing to have, but it is definitely a skill that can be added later.

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music The Quick And Easy Way

(or why fundamental technique is your friend)

Shortcut

You know when you try to take some kind of shortcut, and it ends up taking you way longer to get to where you’re going? This might be in actually traveling to get somewhere, or in trying to achieve some specific goal.

We’ve all tried “the unthinking short path”. It’s when you’ve tried to brute-force your way through without knowing what you’re doing.

The other alternative is the “overcomplicated short path”. Like when you were still learning to read. The teacher would go around the classroom getting each student to read a sentence. You’d count ahead, figure out which bit to read, and then, blam! You miscounted, or the teacher changes the order and you’re left flat-footed.

With these methods, sometimes you get there, but the result just doesn’t hold together. Sometime’s you end up with a complete mess.

complicated

Photo credit: Gary Wong Photography via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

I’d like to contrast this with the times when you’ve had a really good hard think about something, or asked some advice and you’ve discovered “the simple short path”. It may have been in the way to travel to a destination. It may have been when somebody told you a better way to do a job. Either way, doing some research in advance ends up being a better method 99% of the time.

Learning music is much exactly the same. Humans have been doing the music thing for quite some time. During that time, some humans have worked out the simplest and best ways to play music. I’m not talking the style of music, or how it’s constructed, but the technique you use when it’s played.

A good teacher makes a point of ensuring that you have good technique first. Why? It’s the shortest path to where you want to go musically.

Avoiding the Learning Curve Plateau

If you don’t get your technique settled in at the start, you’ll end up with a plateaued learning curve. It looks something like this:

Plateau Learning Curve

You move forward, and then get stuck. Sometimes you have to go back and retrace your steps to relearn something in a better way. Sometimes you get permanently stuck and the plateau persists for quite a while. Why do we get stuck with music? Frequently it’s because of an inability within our physical or mental techniques. Once this is fixed, we can move on.

It’s a case of going through the ‘four levels of competence’ with whatever problem that you’ve encountered. The biggest trick, of course, is knowing what you don’t know (or what you’re doing wrong). The second trick is knowing what to practice to fix the problem. From that point on, it becomes a matter of doing the skill enough times to make it automatic (unconscious competence).

When you get some fundamental technique in place first, you’ll get to move forward in a more steady curve. It can even resemble an S-curve (see the Sigmoid Curve):

s-curve

The same applies if you’re stuck on a long plateau and someone teaches you a better way to do what you’re doing.

This works out a lot better in the long run. Don’t worry about the steep bit at the end of the S-curve. When you get very good at what you’re learning. The refinements you’d like to make can take quite a while because they’re very subtle. If you’re not already close to mastery on your instrument, this flat bit is nothing for you to worry about.

Technique is a means to and end…

…. Not and end in itself. What does that mean?

Sometimes, players get so caught up with technique that they forget the reason for it in the first place. My favourite quotation about this is:

“Technique is the means to let the heart fly freely”  Tweet This!

I think it’s a lovely poetic expression of what technique is all about. I thought that it was attributed to the french composer Olivier Messiaen. I can’t, however, find it on the all-knowing internet, so if anyone know’s what the actual quote is and who it’s attributed to, please let us know in the comments.

The technique allows you to remove impediment from expression. Have good technique means having the freedom to get our what you want to say. Once you’ve got the technique, the next important step, of course, is to have something to say.

Don’t Think About Technique

To have complete freedom to express yourself, you need to not be thinking about technique. Once again, subconscious competence comes to the rescue. Having good technique as a completely automatic habit, means that you have the free brain space to get on with expression.

Good technique means relaxed technique. Learn to relax while playing and learning. This will promote faster learning, increase your accuracy and decrease your risk of injury.

relaxed technique

Photo credit: chooyutshing via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Avoid Injury

Avoid Downtime due to injury. If you can’t practice for weeks or months that will obviously slow your progress. Permanent injury can happen and then you’ve never achieved your musical goals. Good technique will be relaxed with no strain and will minimise the amount of fatigue that you feel from playing or singing. If music practice hurts its wrong (tweet this).

The Fastest Way Forward

In the end, the fastest way to learn any instrument is with a solid, relaxed technique on your side. Get a good teacher who’s interested in sound fundamental technique and move your playing along at the best pace.

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

The Practise Triangle

The practice triangle is a concept very similar to the project management triangle. The project management triangle outlines some constraints that you’ll have when working on a project. Simply stated it says:

Good, fast, cheap: pick two.

In other words, if you want something built well and quickly, then it’s not going to be cheap. Want something built inexpensive for not a lot of money, then it’s going to take a long time. Fast and cheap, well it’s just not going to be good.

In the wonderful book effortless mastery by Kenny Werner, Kenny outlines ‘the practice triangle’. In this case, the three corners of the triangle are:

or as I like to think of them:

Like the production triangle from earlier, you get to pick two. If you play a long excerpt quickly, then it’s not going to be good. Play a short excerpt slowly, then the quality of the performance is going to be very good. I’m sure that you work out the other variations for yourself.

What Kenny suggests is that you practice using all of these variations to really help you get to know a piece well.

I strongly suggest that everyone practices small excerpts slowly. Slow and short is the most underused practice technique, particularly for beginners.

However, It can be helpful to have a quick and rough run through the whole piece just to get to know the whole thing. In much the same way that it’s really important to have repeated listenings of whatever piece that you’re working on. This helps you begin to subconsciously store the ‘map’ of the piece in your head.

At the end of repeatedly practicing a small segment slowly, it can be fun and useful to see how far you can push the tempo up also. Again, I’d like to reiterate that this should be a small bit of your practice, not the majority.

Try all of the variations you can think of in your practice. Not only will it help you find weak spots in what you’re working on, it will also spice up your practice a bit and keep it interesting.

Happy Practicing!

 

Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Can You Feel It? – Kinesthetic Awareness In Singing

singing

If you’ve had singing lessons before you probably know a stack of exercises – like exercises for your breath – some that help you get high notes – some to increase stamina and flexibility.

The effectiveness of all of those exercises can be improved by using one simple (and rarely taught) concept.
It’s called Kinesthetic Awareness (or body awareness or proprioception).
It’s been a critical part of my teaching for the last 15 years and I’m really excited to share it with you today.

I’d like to talk to you first about how NOT to practice – then how to practice – a quick explanation of kinesthetic awareness – and then how to integrate kinesthetic awareness into your singing TODAY.

HOW NOT TO PRACTICE

1. Set up your practice area.
2. Run through your exercises. Just do them once or twice each then move on as quickly as possible.
3. Sing some of your songs.
4. Finish.

To be honest, this kind of practice is better than nothing. But only just.
If I had a client who was practicing like that I would suggest to them that they just sing some songs instead. Be engaged and enjoy singing. Have some fun. The angst that that they are getting from doing exercises is not worth the limited benefits they’re getting from forcing themselves.

WHY EXERCISES ARE IMPORTANT AND BEING PRESENT WHEN YOU PRACTICE

Singing involves very specific control of mostly small muscles. You can’t see these muscles and in everyday life you don’t have to control them that carefully either.

When you do a singing exercise (which could be a silly noise or a particular way of breathing) you are isolating those muscles and learning to control them more accurately – in ways that will benefit your singing voice.

Like developing any skill – you need to pay careful attention to how you develop your vocal skills too. Imagine an archer trying to improve by just shooting arrows off into the air? Of course she doesn’t! She stands in front of the target, breathes deeply, then is completely focussed when she fires of the arrow. And because of this she improves.

Exercises are exactly the same. They need to be approached in a relaxed way, with good breathing and focus, and you need to be present (not thinking about other things, not racing through them) as you do them.

WHAT IS KINESTHETIC AWARENESS?

So our archer (let’s stay with her because she is so excellent at practicing) has some advantages over us. For one thing she knows when she succeeds because she hits the target. She can work on her technique by adjusting her stance or lifting her arm differently. Then as she adjusts her stance or lifts her arm it has an immediate impact on her success. She misses the target and she is inspired to try a new technique or carefully adjust what she just practiced or she hits the target and is pleased with herself and that makes her want to hit the target again.

She has it so easy compared to us.

We make silly noises and we’re not sure exactly why we’re doing them (because there is no target to hit) and we can’t see our singing muscles (so it’s very difficult to make slight adjustments and measure how they impact on the outcome that we’re confused about anyway).

So we stand in our practice room and go over and over our exercises in a way that is like firing random arrows off into the air and if we improve it’s really more dumb luck than anything skilled or clever and if we don’t improve it’s because we’re just “not destined to be a singer”.

But here comes kinesthetic awareness to the rescue!

I did a quick google and found kinesthetic awareness defined as “awareness of body parts and the relationship of those parts to one another and the environment”. That’s a pretty good definition. So basically kinesthetic awareness is the awareness of where your body is in space and how the different parts of your body are interacting with each other. Athletes and musicians, surgeons and martial artists have excellent kinesthetic awareness. The martial artist knows exactly where every part of his body is at every moment. The surgeon knows exactly where her hand is relative to the scalpel at every moment.

KINESTHETIC AWARENESS AND YOU (THE SINGER)

As singers we want to develop kinesthetic awareness of our singing instrument. This means that as we go for that high note we can feel the tongue or throat tensing and relax it. We can feel that we need to engage more support or that we’re bringing our head forward or sticking our jaw out (we don’t want either of those things!)

Also, when you have great kinesthetic awareness you can notice how it feels when you’re singing AMAZINGLY. The you can replicate that function tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. (This is one of the coolest things about having great kinesthetic awareness).

And finally, focussing on kinesthetic awareness makes exercises way more interesting.

DEVELOPING KINESTHETIC AWARENESS

The first part of developing your kinesthetic awareness is to realise that it exists! Accept that in the same way you can get more skillful with your hands by being aware of your hand’s muscles and paying attention to how you use them, in the same way you can also greatly increase the skill of how you use your voice.

There are some great exercises that help you to develop your kinesthetic awareness but the first thing that you can do (all by yourself) is simply notice where you physically feel your voice. As you sing a high note do you feel it more behind your nose or in your chest or throat. Then notice the muscles that surround that sensation. Does your throat get tight as you get higher? Can you go all the way to the top of your range with it staying soft and unflexed? What’s your tongue up to? If you work your support muscles does it make it smoother? What happens if you go slow? Fast? Curly?

Suddenly, if you looking at it through the lens of kinesthetic awareness, a simple siren cam become the most interesting exercise in the world.

I like to say that “Learning to sing is like learning to play the guitar – except the guitar is in pieces, you’re in a pitch black room and you don’t know what a guitar looks like.” Simple exercises, performed in a present, focussed way is where we singers begin to assemble our instruments. So many of the answers that we seek – how to be more in tune – how to sing louder – longer – higher – lie in kinesthetic awareness.

The sooner you start the sooner you’ll be singing.

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