I think we’ve all experienced moments when we just couldn’t get out of our head while singing. Some of us only experience it as a fleeting frustration while others find it debilitating. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I’m pretty sure it’s a universal experience in some way, shape, or form for most artists. The reason why it’s so frustrating is that at that moment, your mind is standing in the way of the full expression of your true self. For a performer, that feeling is terrible!
This is why so much of my teaching centers around the idea of mindfulness as it relates to singers and vocal technique. Without it, your expression, your love, remains blocked. It occurred to me recently that you might not have much experience with what mindfulness is or isn’t, or that you might have had a negative experience with it in the past. Perhaps you’ve tried a mindful practice and found it really hard to stick with.
So I wanted to share a take on practical mindfulness from Daron Larson, a mindful awareness trainer, who gave a wonderful TEDx Talk on the topic. I love Larson’s take because it dovetails so nicely onto what I’m always telling singers, which is to do the footwork and let go of the outcome!
How do you do that and what does that really mean? It means stop trying to get the outcome you’re hoping for and put your attention on doing the footwork required instead. It means interrupt that mental spin of striving for what you think you need and want your voice to sound like—a spin that has become autopilot for so many of us—and learn what it means to be present with your instrument instead. You can’t do the footwork in the now if your mind is focused on the outcome somewhere in the future.
When you’re singing, don’t go on autopilot. Any opportunity where you habitually check out is an invitation for the inner critic, the striving, and the old story to re-assert itself. Start to make a practice of checking in. Larson gives some very simple ideas for how to do this in his TEDx Talk.
I encourage you to start to notice the details of your sensory experience. Singing is a somatic endeavor best presided over by focusing on sensations in the body rather than the spin of the mind. Instead of trying to sing, what if you tried to notice what was happening in your body? Every time you engage in this noticing, you disrupt the inner critic, the narrative of the old story, the mental spin, and you bring yourself back into the present moment of the body where the magic of this somatic experience can actually happen.
Ask yourself: What do you witness in your body when you breathe before a difficult phrase? What do you notice in your body as you sing up the scale or down the scale? Does your body do something different when you sing one phrase versus another?
Stop focusing on singing and start focusing on noticing. The noticing will help you improve your singing much more quickly and in a far more meaningful way than all the striving toward your desired singing outcome. It will help you to connect back to joy for what you’re doing and sharing, and at the end of the day as performers, I think that’s the essence of what we all want.
*This post was originally published on March 29, 2019. It has since been updated.
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