Pay Attention!

How many times have we heard this? If you're like me, probably a LOT! I can often get distracted and need the reminder to keep my mind on whatever task is before me. Attention becomes even more crucial when I'm learning new tasks or working out complex problems. As a teacher, how I help my clients focus their attention can be crucial in helping them to learn new techniques and retain information.

We are constantly bombarded with all kind of stimuli every second of the day. One of the brain's responsibilities is to help us filter through every bit of information and decide what is important or not. The brain is "aware" of everything, but only pays "attention" to what is deemed significant. Not sure what I mean? Take a moment right now to pause and listen. For me, as I sit at my desk and listen, I become aware of the hum of the CD player to my right, the dripping of the faucet in the kitchen, the fan noise on my laptop. I am aware of the movement of leaves on the bush outside the window in my peripheral vision. I feel the warmth of my body contacting the chair I'm sitting on and the rough feel of the rug underneath my feet. All of these sensations have been present the entire time I've been sitting here. My brain has been aware of them the whole time. But only when I stop focusing on the act of writing and engage with the stillness in my office do I become aware of these stimuli. None of them are important, and so my brain filters them out.

So much of singing involves sensation. Because I cannot see the client's vocal mechanism in the voice studio, we have to rely on my eyes and ears to observe various aspects of the client's physical characteristics, vocal output, and even emotional cues. I also must use the client's sensations to help guide them to determine what constitutes a good and efficient technique. In the studio we use a lot of descriptive language to communicate with one another how singing in a certain way feels, and then try to relate it to how it sounds. It's no easy task! Because my anatomy is unique to me, what I feel may be vastly different than what my client feels. For that reason, I encourage my client to describe their sensations in their own words. That exercise invites the client to pay attention to their own sensory experience, and as that sensory experience is repeated, to retain good technique. Asking the client to verbalize their sensory experience helps them to filter through everything they may be aware of and to pay attention to the most important. It's using brain power to our advantage!

Now, I must offer a caveat here. Hearing is also a part of the sensory experience, but when it comes to singing, what we hear can be vastly different from one room to another. If I base my evaluation of my own technique primarily on what I hear, the result is that I change my technique when I change rooms. It's one reason why singers who spend the bulk of their time rehearsing in small rooms tend to oversing when they switch to a large recital hall. Our ears cannot be the first or the most important judges of technique. It must always start with physical sensation. That should not change from venue to venue. This is why recording rehearsals to listen to later can be invaluable for a singer.

So, dear singers, do be aware of the many stimuli that will come through your brain as you are singing, and pay attention to what is going to matter the most in creating a reliable, repeatable technique in any room.

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