Healthy singing is achieved within the beautiful balance of technique and temperament. It is the push and pull of complete control and complete surrender. For many of us, it is difficult not to be judgmental with our process and progress. It is human nature to question and contemplate. However, in vocalization, this often works against us. Over-analyzing and mistrust encourages rigidity and strain in the body making it impossible to execute our voices in a fully-integrated manner.
However, there are many helpful and even fun ways to encourage your think tank to work in your favor. It starts by questioning your direction. By accessing and assessing your innate bias, you can actively choose to flip that bitch!
ENGAGING “THE GAZE”
When practicing exercises, warmups, or difficult vocal riffs, establishing “the gaze”, or drishti, is of utmost importance. Sight is an extremely potent sense. Our brains are constantly investigating and interpreting what we take in through our vision. When the eyes are bopping about, it creates more opportunity for the brain to become unfocused and unsettled. By establishing a focal point, we are encouraging the brain to prioritize the task at hand. We can then establish more awareness of our habits, emotional triggers, and distractors, which affect our vocal capabilities and performance.
Find a non-moving and somewhat uninteresting place to set your gaze upon. (An imperfection/hole in the wall - GOOD! Out the window or at a brightly colored painting - NOT SO GOOD.) Allow the focal point to become a bit fuzzy. Let your peripheral vision become sharper than the point of focus. Do not squint or widen the eyes, just allow them to settle comfortably upon your focal point. Take three smooth inhales and exhales through the nose. Allow any rising thoughts to settle as you establish the rhythm of your breath in preparation for vocalization.
One of the biggest commonalities amongst my students is the tendency to take their bodies along for the ride when it comes to hitting both higher and lower pitches. When aiming for high notes, the eyes roll up inside the head and the neck muscles stretch uncomfortably toward the heavens, begging for assistance. This creates stress and tension in the neck/shoulders and contradicts the openness necessary to execute higher pitches. When attempting low notes, the chin seems to attach itself to the chest, nearly cutting off the resonators completely, making noise production very difficult.
To negate these natural inclinations, try pulling a fast one on the ol’ psyche. Consciously enable the opposite. When singing higher pitches, actively think or even point downward with your finger. When cultivating lower pitches, think forward and slightly up. This bit of trickery allows a welcome distraction for the brain and lends itself to alleviating physical tension. The body-mind becomes primed for proper execution.
“THE MUSKET THRUST”
I recently saw the revival of one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Les Misérables. I noticed in the group numbers involving soldiers, almost every glorious sustained high note was accompanied by an intense thrust of a musket. While it was probably a matter of choreography, it inspired me to experiment in my own practice and with my students.
When practicing a particularly difficult note, I encouraged students to incorporate a powerful physical movement along with the vocalization. After a week of collective “musket thrusting”, I noticed that self-induced pressure seemed to subside and students were more effortlessly and gracefully executing the challenging notes!
Our psyche is an incredibly dominant player when it comes to vocalizing. It can equally propel and paralyze us. By giving your physical body a specific task, the part of the brain which is over-analyzing/judging the vocal output relaxes slightly. These healthy distractions enable us to soften our internal critic and fears of attempting a note and failing.
So, be it musket thrust, karate kick, jazz hands, or slow-rise wingspan arms, play around with getting out of the head and into the body. Lightening the atmosphere encourages more faith and less falter when it comes to traversing the tricky terrain of your thinker.