Friday, July 24, 2020

Strategies To Avoid Practice Paralysis | Music Think Tank

Home quarantine has significantly changed my daily routine.  At first I thought all the extra time at home would get me to practice my singing way more.  I quickly found that the pandemic left me scrambling to go virtual with my regular work and frequently paralyzed when it came to my personal singing practice and creative projects. Regular singing and music helps my overall mood and is a huge tool for managing my wellness.  I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling low energy and not doing the very thing that usually helps turn my mood around.  In this blog I’m going to discuss some strategies I created for myself and my students to break through what I call musical pandemic paralysis.  

Strategy #1 Make Small Goals

Over time I realized that my initial thought of being super productive during home quarantine was holding me back.  It’s weird how this happens, but having these lofty goals was making me more reluctant to practice.  My solution was to work less serious singing into my daily routine starting off with gentle vocalizing on nothing in particular in the shower.  I then gave myself about 10-15 minutes a day that I would devote to working more seriously on my singing.  This gave me the option to continue for longer if I was feeling good or to stop if I wasn’t feeling so motivated, while still maintaining a regular practice.  

Strategy #2 Start with Listening

Knowing what to work on in particular is another big barrier to solid vocal practice.  These 15 minutes a day don’t have to all be spent actually singing.  In fact, a great way to work on your singing is by practicing actively listening.  Make a list of your favorite singers and spend some time listening to them sing. Think about what techniques they might be using to achieve their particular style and timbre.  Also, you can spend time tying to find songs that you are interested in singing yourself.  Make a list so you can look back at it as the days go by.  In this way your practice is to simply make it easier for your future self to find inspiration and a clear direction. 

Strategy #3 Practice to Karaoke tracks

Once you have a song that you are feeling interested in practicing the next step is to find good resources online to practice with.  Just singing along with the recording is a great way to start learning a song, but this type of practice can be deceiving as you are learning more to follow the singer in the recording rather than taking the lead as a soloist.  Once you feel fairly confident singing along with the recording, then try and find a karaoke version online.  The easiest way to do this is to simply search for the song along with the word karaoke on YouTube.  There are usually many versions and sometimes it will take some time to find one that you like.  If it’s not in the right range for you, then you can always search for a version in a higher or lower key.  Of course you will not find every song this way, but if the artist is fairly popular, chances are there is a karaoke version out there.  You will find that singing to a karaoke track is immediately harder to because you don’t have a singer to follow.  A great way to practice is to focus on one section of the song at a time and go back and forth between singing with the original recording and singing with the karaoke track on your own.

Strategy #4 Practice Recording yourself

Once you feel confident about a song, try recording yourself on your phone, computer, or any other device you may have that works.  You may find yourself spending a fair amount of time with just the setup of your technology.  Play around with it to see what set up achieves an optimal sound.  You don’t have to record the whole song in one go unless you want to.  Sometimes this can be very frustrating as it’s hard to get a recording you are satisfied with all in one go.  Work section by section and then spend a good amount of time just listening to how you sound.  Don’t be too quick to delete a version you don’t immediately like.  I’ve had plenty of times where days later I realize I actually like a certain recording I did better than the others.

Strategy #5 Practice Note Reading and Music Theory 

Finally, there are plenty of aspects about music such as theory and note reading skills that you can work on without any singing at all.  This can be especially helpful if you still want to continue your practice when your throat is sore or you are physically tired.  You may be asking yourself where you would even start with this if you have never done this before.  The simple answer is that there are a number of free phone apps and websites that have games and tutorials to practice these skills.  Each has a slightly different format so you may find you like one of them over the others.  I find the simplest ones are best like Notes Trainer for music reading and for just about everything else.   A few minutes of this a day and you will find huge improvements in your comprehension of music.  The cool thing about this type of practice is that it speeds up all the other strategies I’ve discussed so far!

Not only can it be hard to know where to start with your singing practice in general, but let’s be real, it’s simply hard to work on anything if you aren’t feeling so great.  You may find that while trying to practice 15 minutes a day you still feel low and unmotivated.  The first thing I tell myself is that this is okay and there is no need to torture yourself about it.   The most transformative days of practice don’t happen spontaneously.  Instead, they are a product of the momentum gained by showing up consistently to your personal practice even if it is just for a few minutes every day.  Try some of these strategies and you may just end up surprising yourself in the near future!

Written by Abram Poliakoff and edited by Billy Saefong. Abram is a singer and instructor for 30DaySinger. 


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