I have been thinking about how we approach new things. By we, I mean me,
myself and I, my students and people in general. How we learn and how we practice. And, what happens when we want to get good (or be good) at something.
In other words, what happens when we try (too hard).
What I noticed in singers is that trying too hard usually looks … hard.
When singers try too hard, they clench their jaws, overwork their tongues and tighten their throats. They may pull their hands into fists, jut out their chins and lean forward. I think many of us have convinced ourselves that if we don’t exert this kind of effort when we sing, then we’re not really emoting or communicating.
(I currently experience this phenom in my Pilates class. If it’s really hard then I must being doing it right. Right?)
Trying too hard often creates the exact opposite of the result we’re aiming for.
My friend and former teacher Lori Dokken tells students to “try hard not to try hard.” That’s because free and easy singing can’t happen unless you’re feeling … well … free and easy. Clear, resonant tone and easy understandable diction comes when we relax into good technique not when we overwork or strain. Inventive and interesting solos and improvisations happen when we stand in the present moment, not when we plan.
In other words, not when we TRY.
I remember early on in my contemporary vocal training one of my teachers, Jill Diem, said to me “When you get this right, it will feel like you’re hardly singing.”
At the time, I didn’t really believe her. But, then I found the intersection of energy and technique and discovered she was right. Singing became effortless (and even more joyful). I now say this to my students all the time. (Thanks, Jill).
So. If working less works in singing, where else does it work?
What if we tried less?
I don’t mean in a lazy, don’t-care-about-anything way. I mean what if we attempted things in a relaxed and focused way?
What if when we were trying to learn new things or develop new skills, we weren’t, as my Pilates instructor says, “trying to win?”
What if we put the effort into the effort rather than the result?
Then there’s stopping.
I have talked many times about my trouble starting new projects on the Songtaneous Blog, but what I realized as I wind down from an incredibly full spring semester is that I often have trouble stopping, too. Trouble making time to sit on the porch and stare into space. Or read a trashy novel. Or listen to music that I don’t have to learn for a gig. Sometimes remembering to stop is equally important.
In the past couple of weeks I have had to consciously decide NOT to take on some things. It can be hard as a self-supervised person to build time to relax into my schedule.
I have to remind myself to get still. To stop the doing and the planning and the prepping and the performing (and, and, and …) to relax and recharge. Fortunately (?) the older I get, the more my body helps me remember to stop. (If I go too hard for too long, my body eventually stops me.)
It seems in our high-tech, high-speed lives, still has become the enemy. (You snooze, you lose. The early bird gets the worm.) However, still should not be confused with stiff or stagnant. Still is where rest and healing happen and creativity is restored.
Just as music needs space between the notes, we need stops and stillness between the activities in our lives.