During the last week of December (and the first one of January), I further explored the voice preparation with the spaghetti exercise described in the Week 11 article. I tried looking for more ease and a sense of freedom in the voice production. I had a number of good experiences in that regard. In fact, I think that going through just a few of these new experiences during a multiple-month project can make a big difference. That’s how we learn, right? By trying something different when things are not working out as expected (and, in this case, I knew what was not going well and was looking for alternatives).
That’s why it is so important to work with a teacher, a coach, or find some kind of mentor. It saves us time. With the guidance of an experienced person, you can get there in less time and with less unnecessary struggle. Learning a new skill is always challenging. Why should we make it even more difficult? I know that many people like the idea of learning on their own. I totally get that. And I even support it (I do it myself as well, all the time). But self-learning has its limits. Especially in fields where you cannot tell what you’re doing well and wrong and need external feedback. Learning how to sing, in my opinion, is one of these skills.
In the past three months, I added a wide variety of tools and exercises that I can continue using in the future. If you ask me about the work I did from October until December, and what helped and what didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I think that it was a combination and the sum of many small things. Quite possibly, there were exercises that made a bigger difference and helped me much more than others. Many times, they just enabled a new way of approaching the practice, of producing sounds. And maybe that was enough.
Self-assessment and self-evaluation are two vital components in skill building. The problem is that when we are beginners, we cannot rely a hundred percent on our own evaluations. We just don’t have enough experience yet. That’s why recording ourselves and listening to the recording looking for improvements might not be sufficient when we are just starting out to sing (or even if we have some previous experience). A voice teacher fills that gap and is able to give us high-quality feedback to improve.
The Thirteenth Week of Practice
This week I went over all the songs practiced during the quarter. I practiced them again with the backing tracks, trying to apply everything I learned. I was happy to see some improvements. The higher notes sound fuller and richer. The voice quality in the medium register sounds better. Same with the breath control. I can manage better my breath and don’t need to cut musical phrases short. That was encouraging!
I have many things to improve (creating more space inside my mouth, opening more the jaw, lowering the larynx…), but I would say that improving my awareness of the breath support could go a long way for me. Many times I know that I’m singing more from the throat, but I just forget that there’s another way. These weeks I created opportunities to have new experiences and learned that it is possible to sing differently. Converting these new, more efficient ways into habits takes time and practice. But now at least I know that’s possible!😊
On January 3rd, 2022, I made recordings of the three songs practiced during the last three months. This is how they sound like:
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’ (Robert Schumman)
Morgen (Richard Strauss)
Der Neugierige (Franz Schubert)
Even though 3 months is not a lot of time to see big improvements in singing training, at the end of this project I noticed small things that encouraged me. I know that if I continue practicing, I can get better! Here’s a quick example of a change I noticed in one the challenging parts of Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’, by Robert Schumann. In the first part of the clip, you can listen to my first take (from October 2021) and then my latest one (January 2022). Note how in the second clip, the ‘so werd’ ich ganz und gar…’ sounds fuller and richer (ganz is the high note!).
I really enjoyed this project! This was probably the most challenging from a linguistic point of view. I felt way less ready to take voice lessons in German than to take Chess lessons in Italian (the first project of 2021). Those were the only two projects where I took individual lessons with a teacher. Taking lessons in German proved to be as challenging as anticipated. I’m very happy to have found a teacher like Patrick Schramm who was very patient and accommodating right from the beginning. Thanks, Patrick, for putting up with me!
Improving my singing skills was something I wanted to do, but, to be honest, I was more interested to see how it was like to actually learn something in German. Making it through individual lessons just added a second layer of difficulty that I wanted to experience. I had been doing language exchanges for a few months and wanted to try it. I knew that the technical vocabulary could be a challenge (it was!), but I think I was able to navigate it.
One thing that I liked about this project, and the work I did, was sticking to the weekly lessons. There were just two weeks when I didn’t have lessons: in one of them my teacher was sick and the other was the end of the year holidays when he didn’t teach. Otherwise, I attended each week to my lessons and never canceled even a single one. Over time, I also created a vocalization routine that worked for me. During the three months, there was a nice balance between technical work and song practice. I would say that in the first month I leaned more towards practicing songs, and the last couple months I put more stress on practicing vocal technique (repeating the dry exercises instead of singing fun songs).
There were things I could have done better. The main one is practicing more consistently. In October, I practiced 20 out of 31 days (including lesson days). In November, 25 out of 30 days. And in December, 20 out of 31 days. That was far less practice than the practice I put in the Chess in Italian project or Pen Drawing in German (in both I practiced virtually every day, except for a week in the chess project when I had a family emergency). I think one of the reasons I didn’t practice every day was that I was afraid of annoying the neighbors too much. The fact that one must practice singing out loud, conditioned in part the practice hours I could choose (I usually practiced in the afternoon, but almost never after 8 or 9pm). Of course, it could have been as easy as setting for morning or afternoon practice hours every day. That’s what I would do in the future.
An unexpected reward with this project was some improvements in my German pronunciation. Morgen, by Richard Strauss, was the single Lied that brought most of the pronunciation insights and discoveries. For example, I learned that the pronunciation of the German articles dem and den are closer to ‘dim’ and ‘din’, instead of ‘dem’ and ‘den’ as I used to think. Then, there were the endings with ‘-d’, like und (it sounds more like ‘unt’). And many more that my teacher pointed out during our lessons.
Will I continue practicing singing in 2022 and beyond? For now, I don’t have plans of taking more singing lessons or continuing with the regular practice. But I would like to continue exploring that in the future. If I ever travel to Germany, I’ll try to set a live lesson with Patrick in Berlin! One of the things I appreciate the most about this project is the sense of possibility it opened up. This is not the first time I take singing lessons, but it’s the first time I see noticeable progress in a very short amount of time (3 months is not much in singing learning!). That gives me hope. I know that with sustained effort and practice, and the correct guidance, I can get better. And that also applies to the language skills I’m building in German. With patience and good practice, we can get better 😊.