It’s been a long time since my last post – life gets busy that way! But something has started recurring in my current teaching/coaching which is my cue to add a new tip!
The subject of Brain Before Voice has popped up in a couple of ways recently. When talking to some students about learning from tracks alone (not being strong music readers) it was noted that when a vocal line gets fast and intricate, it can be difficult to get the line accurate and cleanly sung. So we did some vocal ‘brain training’ exercises and voila! Suddenly the line was clear!
I have used visualisation brain work before in teaching intervals, especially for big interval training, but it seems the application of the same philosophy can be much more widely applied. In fact I take it right back to my violin playing days, when my teacher would advise me to “think the note in my head” before placing my fingers when jumping into some uncountably high position – if I tried to find it with my fingers I would always be out to some degree, but if I “sang” the note in my head it was spot on every time!
The same applies to our vocal instrument. Especially if we tend to learn by listening, or singing along, our brain seems to “follow” the ear (or the voice, depending on how you see it), and we end up pushing the notes around to get the vocal line. This method is slow and inaccurate, so we end up with indistinct intervals when we try to sing at speed.
If we turn this around and put our brain before our ear/voice, there is suddenly a dramatic difference in the clarity of intervals and the speed we can accurately sing them. In some ways it ties in with the philosophy of taking the muscle out of the equation – getting out of the way of the music! Like singing quick words: the more you work them, the harder they are to sing – the secret is to let them go! The brain can think much faster than the body can react.
We already know that visualisation of a performance is the most perfect practice you can do – in your mind you can imagine the sound you want to make, can sing without error, always take a big enough breath and think about the story of the words…. So harness this power as you learn and practice your music, to ensure every note and interval is cleanly sung.
This aural “visualisation” is called Audiation – I want to focus this audiation to increase the auditory processing speed of our brains. The most powerful agent of growth in our brains is – our brains! Let’s harness that power to improve our musical ear and singing accuracy.
How do we do this? Here are a few ideas you can play with…
Interval training. Ye olde 12131415161718 // 87868584838281. For the purposes of this, best to sing on AH to eliminate consonant and vowel clutter. Pick a decent speed and sing it straight off. Now sing it again, but only in your head! No sound! You may need to practice this brain singing a couple of times before you get the feel of it. Once you have it, breathe and sing it, with brain first, and voice just following. Did you feel how easy it was? Was it more accurate? Try a little faster, making sure you sing with your mind and let the voice tag along for the ride.
Tricky notes passage. Let’s throw an athletic vocal line in… 1358864124578531. Or a 13 note chromatic scale for smaller interval accuracy. Follow the same process (1) sing the notes slowly and accurately on an AH. (2) Audiate the phrase slowly and accurately in your head. (3) Speed up the audiated version until you can “hear” it clean and clear at speed in your head. (4) Now put the brain first and let the relaxed voice follow.
I think also that we have difficulty with intricate passages because we perceive them as difficult, and that perception adds tension to our vocal process! If we can keep the physical effort to a minimum, it’s all to the good!