We hear a lot about “mindful practice” and often, people either pay lip service to it or dismiss it as being a bit wafty, a tad tree-huggy. But how many times have you sung on automatic pilot? How often have you told yourself that you are learning or developing a song when what you are really doing is just singing along with a guide track, or relying on the sheet music or a set of lyrics to prompt you? Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things you have to learn that your brain freezes and you just can’t seem to remember any of it, no matter how simple it may be? Have you ever wondered how other people seem to be able to retain information so much better, and so much more quickly than you?
Similarly, singers are often guilty of going through vocal exercises by rote. For example, “SOVTEs – they’re good for the voice, right? OK, I’ll do some of those because my vocal coach says they’re great.” But knowing why you’re doing them as well as how to do them – and then understanding the outcomes – is very different to humming down a straw and hoping for the best.
And what about when you’re not singing alone? Rehearsal rooms, audition rooms and stages aren’t places to switch off, you’d think, but singers do this all the time. Sometimes it’s through fear – especially in audition situations, but also in rehearsal if you haven’t properly learned your stuff. (You wouldn’t even consider going onstage unprepared – would you)?
Now, I have to admit I’m very old-school: I don’t believe in phoning it in – ever. It’s quite possibly an unpopular and old-fashioned opinion but I think we should respect the people we’re working with enough to make sure we’re always on our game, whatever the situation.
To quote Yoda:
But how do we ensure that we’re always present when we need to be? What happens when there’s just not enough time, or your head’s already full, or you’re tired, or you’re stressed beyond anyone else’s wildest imaginings?
You need to stop. Stop making excuses. Stop telling yourself there isn’t enough time. If you’re really committed to what you’re doing, you’ll make time. Stop telling yourself that your head’s full. The human brain is a magnificent thing – it’s highly unlikely to be full! What’s more likely is that your stress levels are way too high, probably because you’re rushing around doing a million things that could be prioritised in a different way. Or you’re terribly afraid that you’re not good enough for whatever-it-is. If that’s the case, you can do one of two things: you can let the fear win, (at which point don’t go to that audition, because you’ll be wasting everyone’s time including your own), or you can use it as a driver for getting better at your craft.
All of which is to say if we’re going to be exceptional at what we do then we need to learn to become fully present, whether that’s when practising, learning, rehearsing, auditioning or performing. Happily, there are some easy, effective ways to do that, and one of the best I’ve found is this brilliant exercise from master performance coach Gido Schimanski, who shared some of his work with us at The Voice College a couple of years ago, and whose principles we’ve been applying ever since. Give this a go next time you’re feeling stressed about something you have to learn, or perform. It can be used in all kinds of circumstances, actually – including sitting down to write a blog, or complete an assignment!
To find out more about Gido’s fantastic work, please visit his site: http://gidoschimanski.com