I just participated in a week-long voice pedagogy training online. From Nashville, we were able to connect to Tom Blaylock’s vocal studio in Portland, OR, and attend his summer voice intensive. Technology, be still my beating heart, thank you.
I’ve been reminded of many basic principles of voice training, as well as over arching themes that I use to direct my daily teaching decisions. One of these is the practice of revisiting basic routines or concepts on the regs. (This is not a typo. If you don’t know what “on the regs” means, please urban-dictionary-google it now. Fun!)
I’m not convinced that we talk enough about how to program the brain intentionally and incrementally. As musicians, this might be something we inherently know as we practice our instruments, but rarely talk about with others. Fortunately, Mr. Blaylock and few other great teachers in my life come ’round to this concept and bring it home every chance they get. Going back to fundamental concepts on a daily basis builds a foundation that lasts forever.
It’s all about programming the unconscious mind. As singers we need to find training methods that 1) make sense 2) provide the result we desire 3) give us diagnostic tools so we know what’s going on in the voice and 4) help us program our unconscious minds to be in charge of the act of singing. (Thank you, Tom Blaylock, for helping me be able to articulate this!!) If you already have a vocal routine that does these things, then hold on to it like your life depends on it. If you are searching for a routine that does this for you, keep asking questions and you WILL find what you are looking for. In the meantime, let’s get back to . . . basics.
Going back to fundamental concepts over and over again, with intentional focus, is like sharpening a knife. You will use said knife and it will dull. So, you must sharpen it regularly. Since we are living in human bodies comprised of tissue and neurological networks, this means “training in” muscle memory and brain function and psychological health so they become unconscious processes. In regard to music and singing, this is something you deserve to treat yourself to everyday, even for a few minutes. Wax on, wax off, my love.
I encourage you to find vocal and music training routines that give you predictable results, and start thinking of yourself as an instrument. Saxophone players will talk about their long tones and playing major scales (slowly) every single day. This is exactly the same thing we must embrace in order to stay in shape and program ourselves to perform on command.
Now: to tip my hand and share what works for me. For a daily routine practice, I focus on two fundamentals, which, by the way, take less than 30 minutes total: voice exercises and set up, and keyboard fundamentals. From Mr. Blaylock, I’ve learned a set of vocal exercises that re-balance and strengthen my voice. I do them in the same order everyday because they are like hitting the reset button on the voice, and because my body knows them so well I can tell what needs attention or is out of balance when I do them. Think of it as programming the voice every day with basic tools that work. They are not fancy, just effective. Then, I practice the Ploger Method (r) of interval study on the piano. This consists of a set of piano exercises that combine singing intervals in a major scale area on solfege, as well as in numerical intervals from the root note. For example, in a major scale, sing the primary and secondary dichords from the root while playing the root in octaves in your left hand, all while imagining the keys of the keyboard to practice visualizing the intervals. This piano/voice practice is like living in multiple room of your brain at the same time. I cannot tell you how much better my pitch center and musicianship have gotten from this very basic routine. Again, not fancy or new-fangled every day, but deep and very effective.
I’m only offering these methods as an example of how to incorporate fundamental exercises to keep you in shape. You have to find routines works for you. I encourage anyone to go out and find ninja-mind-music-training-tools that sharpen fundamental concepts on whatever instrument they practice. You absolutely will find people who have literally spent 30, 40, 50 years fine tuning their practice and know exactly why and how their methods work. Now – go and find them, and beg them to teach you. Committing to even 5 or 10 minutes a day to practicing fundamental concepts will change your freaking life. I promise. These daily practices do not exclude all kinds of vocalization and music-making that need to happen in order to grow. They are simply examples of building blocks that hold up the foundation, give the house it’s cornerstones.
P.S. My dad teaches math. He has for over 40 years, and he refuses to give it up. He says that teaching young people fundamental math concepts keeps him sharp, and teaches him new things about math AND pedagogy all the time. I want to be like him! I want to sharpen my acuity and depth of understanding so that when I’m 80 I can give a sideways glance and say approximately 6 words that alter a student’s whole concept of singing for the better. Ninja skills. Bring ’em. One day at a time.