What Performers Should Know About Internal and External Focus

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Photo Source: Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

How do you determine the best drills you should use for your vocal practice? To find the exercises that will work best for you, you need to know if you’re more comfortable with an internal or external focus. Not sure where to start? Voice teacher and Backstage Expert Andrew Byrne discussed internal vs. external focus during a YouTube Live as part of our new digital series, The Slate. Here, find out what these focuses are and how you can determine what works for you. Plus, follow along with the exercises and learn more in the full video below!

Internal and external focus depends on what you pay attention to.
“Internal focus is defined as you paying attention to the movement of your own body parts. In singing training, it might be something like ‘lift your soft palate’ or ‘move your tongue forward’ or ‘open your diaphragm.’ Those are internal focus instructions. External focus is something where you are paying attention to the effects of your movement out in the world. In a voice way, an external focus instruction might be something like ‘send your voice to that wall over there or out the window.’ That’s an external focus.” 

Internal exercises are connected to the body.
“Here’s a test for you to see if an internal or external focus feels better for you. We’re going to check your range of motion so if you’re somewhere you can’t move a lot, you can use your neck. So everyone start with a neck rotation [as demonstrated in the video above] and just see how far your neck can swivel. You’re trying to turn from your cheekbone and then you can also do this one which is the ear to the shoulder and what you’re trying to watch with this is you’re trying to keep this shoulder down while you tilt until you get a real sense of where your range is. Do that a couple of times just to see where you are. If something feels stiff, try to remember that.” 

External exercises focus on outside stimuli.
“Now we’re going to do the same drill but with external focus. So how we’re going to do that is we’re going to grab something you’ve got. I’m going to use my pillow here and it’s going to go to the top of my head. I’m going to hold it there but I’m going to think about pushing the pillow up toward the ceiling through my spine. I’m going to try to push it up. I’m thinking about the object, not myself, and I’m pushing the pillow up to the sky. Then at the same time, I’m taking the waistband of my pants and I’m pushing that down to the floor. So the pillow pushes up, the waistband pushes down. The pillow pushes up, the waistband pushes down...what you’re trying to think about is what kind of drills should I do for myself when I’m doing my voice practice.”

Find the exercises that work for you! 
“So we did the long spine drill, we thought inside moving everything apart. We thought outside, moving an object. If inside was good for you, you want to do tongue exercises and you want to do the one with your hand where you pull the fascia of your torso in different directions. If you were more like the pillow pushing up was really good for you, then what you want to think about are doing things with your eyeballs and so what you can do is shift your vision to different depths or different objects in your room as you sing. Play around with how far to look and maybe what direction to look. You might find some quadrants in your eyeballs where all of a sudden you feel like ‘Oh, that’s easier for that note to come out’ or ‘it feels like it’s easier to access my voice.’ ”

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