Guest post by TVF Faculty Member Darci Balkcom (with contributions from Molly Kittle)
“The only thing you have to offer another human being, ever, is your own state of being.”
Who are you when you practice singing?
The word practice means something different to to each individual, and our cultures and personal backgrounds affect our ideas around practice a great deal. For me, once I had I my degree in voice, I found that when I tried to practice, my drive was just not there, and even though I dearly loved singing, there was no desire to create any routine around practice. This was partially due to adjusting to the responsibilities that come with “adulting”, but mostly due to the literal words I have to practice or I need to practice, which triggered a deep feeling of guilt for me. Therefore, when I did practice I just ended up practicing guilt and a lack of compassion for myself, while using the act of singing to do so. Everything we do while we practice singing, we practice into the muscle memory of the music.
“Everything we do while we practice singing,
we practice into the muscle memory of the music.”
I could only push myself to practice when I had a quickly approaching gig out of the sheer fear of being unprepared, not the joy of the music I was singing. I also noticed that I usually enjoyed practicing if I could just get myself over the hurdle of actually finding a time to start to practice. Many of my colleagues in the music world have expressed the same feeling. So lately I have been playing with changing my idea of practice time.
The only “rule” I have when shifting my idea of practice is that I follow what I truly want to do, and I practice in a way where I am attending to the quality of myself while I practice. It changes day by day because I change day by day, yet the principles and general structure have stayed the same.
Here are some components to attending to quality of self while you practice:
1. Inner Quiet
Start your practice with something that quiets the body and mind. This can be anything that helps you transition away from the pulls of your thoughts and into a space of self care. Here are some options I have been exploring:
- Staring at something mesmerizing like incense, candle flame, clouds, stars, the shapes of the paint on the ceiling, etc
- Intentional breathing exercises
- Meditation of any form
- Morning pages-a tool from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, writing stream of consciousness
- Reading- anything from a poem to a whole chapter of a book that inspires you
- Playing an instrument
A lot of these may seem redundant, simple, or not directly related to music, but they were things I loved to do as a kid. As an adult, a common idea in my mind is I don’t have time to look at the clouds. But really, you can do any of these things for just a mere 30 seconds and that can be enough to settle the mind and invite our innate state of curiosity and play to arise.
From this space you can notice the inner dialogue between the body and mind.
From this space of observation, you may have access to information/solutions/options you otherwise wouldn’t have, (from monkey mind), which can prove to be useful when you encounter something that feels uncomfortable physically in your vocal practice.Through inner knowing by following the innate wisdom of your body, combined with all the technical knowledge you have acquired through the study of voice, you may discover new pathways.
Often from inner quiet births the desire to move the body. It is important to warm up the body because it is the glorious house of the voice and often left out in the warm-up process. Movement also wakes up the body to being proprioceptive and 3D. Explore this by noticing what movement feels natural and comfortable and what parts of the body want to move.
Ideas for exploring movement:
- Spine sequencing
- Feldenkrais exercises such as the pelvic clock or sacrum clock
- Improvisational stretching and folding
- Taking a walk
3. “Body leads → Voice follows”
We tend to be accustomed to singing music accurately first and then adding the layers of emotion and movement, which is very useful..
And, I invite you to play with reversing that cycle: Movement → expression → mimicking the movement or emotion with the voice.
Create your own theme song to your movement and emotion like Kronk in the Emperor’s new groove. (Kronk’s theme song)
To work up to this, try moving one part of your body repetitiously, then see what sound naturally wants to mimic that movement. From there let the body unwind by stretching from one part of the body to the next just following what naturally wants to stretch, flex, and extend in the body. Begin to let the voice mimic the body through sound. It is important that you don’t pre-plan the movement or vocalizing.
Body leads → voice follows usually leads me right into other warms-ups that feel good. You can do any warm-up that seems to be calling to you from your bank of warm-ups that you have learned through the years or transition into a vocal meditation or improvisational play time. Whichever warm-ups you sing, continue the dialogue between the body and the mind, asking yourself if something feels comfortable. By doing this and being fully present in the body, you are attending to quality of you as you sing.
Treat your voice like your best friend. For many years, my inner dialogue was quite critical of my voice, which only made my voice retreat into tension. That is, until I started talking to my voice like I would a loved one.
You can choose to consciously shift your inner dialogue from judgement to love by asking your voice what it would like to sing in that moment. Start with asking your voice what it wants to sing and follow where it takes you, no matter the genre or sound. From that state of mind, you can work on something that has felt challenging or something new. Simply start with a small section and honestly ask yourself if you want to keep going. If not, stop there, knowing you have made great progress by attending to the quality of you as you practice There’s no point forcing yourself to learn something, as the force itself can create a tension pattern in the muscle memory of the music.
I invite you to experiment with this and I’d love to hear what discoveries you have. You can play with the options I have listed, but I also encourage you to explore beyond them.
Darci Balkcom is a part of the TVF faculty and a certified Alexander Technique teacher. She is a passionate educator and bases all of her teaching including voice and yoga on the principles of F.M Alexander. Based in New Mexico, Darci spends her time teaching privately and at the New Mexico School for the Arts, making music, and snuggling up with her big German Shepherd.
As a teacher, singer, and artist, Molly Kittle’s mission is to empower her students and clients with tools to find ease, depth, and freedom in any life activity. A member of the TVF faculty since 2018, Molly also teaches Alexander Technique and voice explorations, lessons, and workshops where she is based in Colorado. Her life is centered around teaching, health and wellness, music, nature, movement, and being a proud geek.