Today we are going to delve into three super important aspects of learning effectively. A member posted an interesting question inside The Singing Zone member’s forum, which inspired me to write him a long response to help him better. I also told him that I will post it on my blog here (he will remain anonymous) as it will help all readers.

It is in no way meant to make him look bad. Quite the contrary. Because it offers us insights into how we probably all think from time to time. If you recognize this within yourself, I am certain it can help you tremendously. And if so he has done you a service.

Here is the question he posted:

“I am new to your course, I am a low key voice but even then, most times voice runs into a squeaky voice when key tends to go higher. I tried all your exercises and still cannot yet master stability. I am also new to singing & also do not understand the pulse thing in your audios for rhythm training. Pls help. Thanks very much.”

So the beauty with The Singing Zone forum is that members pitch in and help out and give suggestions based on their experiences. Sometimes it’s actually more helpful to get suggestions from your peers than from me. But once in a while I butt in and offer my thoughts.

Now what is interesting is that when we are beginners (and we are all beginners at some point), we tend to have a very different mindset than when we become more advanced.

And we often have very faulty beliefs of what advanced people do and think.

I believe if we help beginners understand the mindset that the more advanced have, we also help them to move away from being beginners more quickly.

As this person becomes more knowledgeable about music he will learn that it is not the key that moves higher (unless the key changes), but the melody within the same key, and we are helping him to use the rhythm course.

But we won’t discuss that here, because those things are simply solved by learning about music and we can’t expect a beginner to know that yet. (With the music theory course and rhythm course inside of The Singing Zone, he soon will).

 What I instead am going to address here are the three very important “secrets” to effective learning that are hidden in the sentence “I tried all your exercises and still cannot yet master stability.”

Granted, English is not this person’s first language, and we are okay with that, but even so, there are some very common beliefs hidden here. Let's first start with the word "master". I hear this word used quite a lot, and what fascinates me is that it is mostly beginners who use that word. The reason for that is that people who are very accomplished at something become very accepting of the fact that they will never “master” anything.

Have you ever heard the old saying that "the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn"? This is absolutely true. Personally, I never think of myself as having mastered anything in my life, even though I might feel I am fairly “good” at some things. More importantly, I love to learn, grow and improve, but I never seek to master anything. This is actually a very important mindset and not just a play on words.

The other part of the sentence is "I still cannot". This is also a mindset which is crucial to let go of. However great I am at something I will always be able to say "I still cannot". But it is meaningless to think that way as it doesn’t propel you forward. It will certainly make you miserable and hinder any progress though. In this case, the person feels this way only after the first lesson, which of course makes it even more destructive.

Part of being able to learn effectively is to develop awareness. And a crucial part of increased awareness is the ability to recognize progress – however small it may be, rather than what we “still” cannot do. (And it's more fun.) So I advise you to turn from "I still cannot" to recognizing progress. The better you become at recognizing progress, the faster you will learn. Remember though that progress is not always measurable. Awareness itself is progress. "Mistakes" and "failures" can be part of tremendous progress in the big picture.

And the third part of the sentence is "I tried". Well, you already know that "trying" something is not the road to success. However, it is a very common use of language. I hear it all the time. Someone has a voice problem or a health problem and feel exhausted because they have "tried everything". What's interesting is that when one probes a little deeper one finds that the person who has "tried" a lot, has in actuality "done" quite little.

So I'm not writing this to make anyone feel bad. Our member who wrote the question is congratulated and is to feel good about posting his concerns and seeking help. That way he can get feedback to help propel him forward.

So for you others reading this, here’s my advice:

1)Stop trying and start doing.
2)Focus on recognizing progress rather on what you still cannot do.
3)Seek to grow, learn, discover, and experience, rather than to “master” something.

Feel free to comment below.

About the author 

pbubwer

  • I loved your blog.
    Sometimes I think, that by taking a course which lists end results, we/I feel let down if they don’t manifest quickly and with minimal effort.
    What I am discovering are the subtle improvements in being to repeat some of the vocal exercises you illustrate. I agree with one of your students that your system works only if I work.
    Thanks for your continued inspiration.
    Jeffrey

  • Beautiful sharing, thanks Per. And bang on the money for me right now, was stuck in “trying” mode again. Thanks so much for the reminder.

  • Thank you for all your guidance. I am still a bit confused about ‘trying’ and ‘doing’. Are we not ‘doing’ something when we are ‘trying’ ?
    Thanks in advance for helping me on this … Meanwhile, I will try and do things (well I think I may be beginning to get it ! lol )

  • Thankyou for your continued comments. I think my problem is that (as a woman) I am conscious of the fact that my voice is low-and quiet. I probably don’t relax because of this. Also I have a persistent croak in my voice and sometimes my throat gets sore and irritating.
    Any suggestions? I love singing and singers!

  • I don’t think I have ever read an entire list of comments where not a single one has anything negative to say! This is wonderful and encouraging. And the advice is great, too! Thanks!

  • Yes, in his three sentences, this beginner member captures those aspects of our culture that combine to lead us into habits that prevent freedom in singing. Because we’re after ‘mastery’ we ‘work’ towards ‘results’. We ‘try’ harder and so constrict our whole being! Instead of singing, we begin to squeak:-( Thanks so much for your question! It now has led to such excellent and helpful responses – thanks Per and everyone!

  • I am 64 years old, I sang six night a week in Country bands in my twenties, but in my thirties and forties I slowly developed what the Docs call Spazmonic Dysphonia. By the time I got to be 56, my speaking voice was gone for all practical purposes, and my singing voice was on it’s last legs. Well to make a long story short, your first three lessons have led me down a path that has me singing again. Here is the interesting part. I am developing my falsetto with your course, and you would not believe the progress I have made in a very short time. Keep up the good work young man.

  • As a teacher of high school students, I have always told them don’t try, just do it. Good advice, and I like the thought that you can’t really master what you are learning, but we need to recognize the improvements we make. Sometimes when I think something is so hard, I am reminded that anything worth doing is hard. It’s easy to get discouraged and quit. It takes hard work and sticking to it, to accomplish our goals.

  • June Kozak Kane · Columbia University

    Hi ~ I was always one of those “non-singers” whose voice ached if I sange out of my 2 or 3 note range, who was always told by my family not to sing, and who usually sounded squeaky or awful in anything higher than my range. HOWEVER, I noticed that every once in awhile, I’d hear a singer in an alto range that sounded like “i could do it!’ And when I’d mimic that person’s singing, VOILA! I COULD SING BEAUTIFULLY. So maybe one secret is to model our voices after another whose range is similar to ours. (Although when singing like that other person, I suddenly had an almost infinitely accessible range!) So USUALLY I cannot sing, but SOMETIMES when given the right model to follow, I can sing absolutely great! And this isn’t just my opinion. Once, after this happened, I recorded myself singing THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. I accidentally gave the tape to my mom bc it had my children on the other side. She called to say she had no idea I had such a great voice! So even for hopeless people like me, there is HOPE!

  • Per, this was me for the past 40 some years. I,m 70 years old now and still belong to a barbershop chorus.I never knew why they let me stay with them,but they did. They wonted me to sing in a quartet, I tryed My voice would squeak at the high notes ,besides being scared,which now i know is good..As long as there is a good singer beside me I can do ok on the melody.With your program I’m doing better. I noticed i am doing better each day.

  • I thoroughly agree we are masters of nothing and never will be! Having said that I find that society in general expect you to master everything, and master It quickly. Most jobs I worked in I had to be able to ‘Multy Task’ and be efficient and master it in a few weeks.
    If you don’t measure up quickly then you’ve got no talent or you’ll get feedback like you’ll never master it!

    This is why I love to educate myself and never give up on the inner child who desires to grow and develope.
    If I let the opinions of others get in my way I might as well give up!

    God never gives up on me and I will never give up on him!

    .

  • With over 50 comments, another is not needed. My two cents worth, however, would be in addition to praising the overall tone of the article, to suggest looking at such terminology as “Do You Make These Mistakes When You Practice Singing?” Everyone knows what you mean by mistakes, and you write plenty to balance out and say, in effect, there are no mistakes. In this case, it seems the member was hindering himself rather than making a mistake. And it is so true as Per points out, that our mindsets are a factor in all of life.

  • Thank you very much Per. Really great advice I see this as reinforcing how important it is to live and experience the present moment as you have said in the past and not allow judgmental attitudes to interfere.

    David

    P.s. Are you not a master at not mastering though…?

  • This is definately the American way of thinking.
    My teachers at the Cameron University in Lawton, OK communicated this attitude to me as well.
    Now I am back in Europe and everything changed.
    Teachers, bosses etc. don’t motivate you. They do it the other way around.

    Your way is the right one. Without working on yourself and making new discoveries you do not make any progress.

    Thank you for your deep insights. It sure helps a lot.

    Pat

  • In my 82nd. year ,i find myself facing a treatment to my vocal chords which were damaged some 25 years ago,caused by benign nodules which had to be surgicly removed. I have been singing with my parish church choir without any formal training, but must now take a break untill my treatment .
    I have discovered a world of wonderful experiences and people.My life now, is nothing with out my music, i can’t wait until i can resume. I make every mistake possible but have found it is a magic when it goes right.
    When i have completed treatment, i hope to take up the challenge of pers teaching.I enjoy learning that other people have similer problems with singing, but overcome them. David Cummings

  • Shouold I start over? I missed rehearsing for a time and I feel I lost ground. I’m getting discouraged. Please advise me..

  • I love this advice. I’m in lesson 2 and although I’ve been a piano player for many years I was uncomfortable singing. Now I sing it loud and clear and (mostly/usually) on key. This advice – do (don’t try), progress (don’t fret) and grow (don’t “master) is spectacular advice for all of life!

  • I am in my 70’s. I studied voice and music years ago. I love singing, but have always had a fear of people and tend to tighten up thereby tightening my vocal chords. I sing fine in a choir but not so as a soloist although I have done solos many times. If I could just learn to relax. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  • Oké, what makes us do anything (so also singing)? Its our THOUGHT our INTENTION, our WILL. It’s not our voice that makes us sing, it’s our thought that orders our complex systems to start doing. So…. HOW we think and WHAT we think prior to and during our actions is decisive about the way the machinery (our body) is going to operate. Is allowing or preventing, is broadening or limiting. If I think before starting to sing a song that ‘I’ need to sound like Sting or Freddy or Tom, or Christina or Jennifer or Adele, I am going to measure during the process wether I am. Now this simultaneous train of thought will certainly interfere with the free and uninhibited functioning of our own unique voice. Compare it to throwing a bowling ball and running alongside with it to make sure it stays on the right track! Give yourself a break! There is a wonderful saying that goes: let it be done, don’t do it. Of course you can awaken the musculature of the instrument that you are and call that trying, but for once: every single person on Earth has their unique fingerprints. The same goes for the voiceprint. Who are you to judge? On top of this: we can’t even hear properly what we sound like from the inside. Do you remember the King’s Speech? How fluently the king spoke when he couldn’t hear himself? So let’s not be our own actor and juror and prosecutor all in one. Let’s set our very intelligent and versatile vocal instrument in motion and encourage it to convey the message, beauty, joy and sentiment of our sincere feelings to the fellow members of our human tribe.
    Ton

  • Much of the frustrations we encounter lie with listening to, rather than feeling, what we’re doing. As someone who has suffered through many teachers, I can tell you that listening to yourself, particularly at the beginning, gets in the way. And I agree with Ditas that often we want shortcuts — a pill for singing, as it were. Singing is a process, and you have to enjoy or at least be interested in the process; otherwise, you’ll just do things in a rote manner, which won’t help you much.

  • I have not yet signed up with you and your world of friends Per. I am looking forward to that time. I would like to encourage your student and compliment him on the challenge he has taken on. We all need to keep testing and challenging ourselves for the entire length of our time in this dimension. Finding a qualified mentor is the first step. But, to keep in mind, progress is not easy to see…like a parent not able to notice the daily growth in a child and all of sudden that child is an adult. So it is with any endeavor. We unknowingly reach plateaus and are unaware of our progress unless we somehow are able to compare where we are now to where we were when we started. All we can do is be diligent in our efforts and keep the faith in our dreams. And follow the advice the ones who have been there.

  • Thank-you for being a true teacher – not just teaching how to improve one’s ability to sing, but also teaching self awareness.

  • Thank you dear student ,for sharing your experience. All of the comments are so helpful…thank you all so much.

    Per, you are a blessing to our lives and the universe!

    It really helps to hear how everyone is so open in sharing their inspiration and progress of the natural soulful beauty within each of us.

    When I am grateful, my voice is more naturally focused, it feels perfect and complete and takes on a life of its own. When I take a little time to be grateful before practicing or doing anything it frees me to be about expressing, not impressing. Gratitude promotes progress! It’s like fertilizing the soil.

  • I am very touched and encouraged Per, by your loving approach. I may be abit slow, but I think trying and becoming frustrated is part of learning, I once had a theatre coach who when the class was extremely frustrated said ” I see this process as making sausages, you just let yourself go through the sausage machine and you come out as a sausage. More than the mechanicalness of the machine, I understood him as encouraging us to accept that caos was part of the process, and that embracing the chaos and frustration would get us quicker through to the other side.

  • Greetings from Ireland, Per .. just to say when i follow your blog subjects I find them consistently inspirational.
    Let me see have I got this one down ..
    ‘Doubt’ is a disease that makes us feel ill at ease
    ‘Doing’ is the cure that sets us free
    ‘Freedom’ is our reward for getting things done.
    Ok, gotta go now, plenty to do (smile)
    Kind regards,
    Niall

  • Seeking to grow, learn, discover, experience rather than to “master” something is definitely a mind opening thought that i feel gets me on the right track for anything you do in life and not just singing. Wonderful thought, a wonderful truth.

  • I have also ‘tried’ some of your exercises. I croak constantly like a frog. Some have said in past years that I sing alto (?) and when singing at my place of worship because I cant take the high notes, and I sound like a man croaking in their midst, I often see some smiling. Any suggestions.

  • In order to effectively use the techniques you suggested, I reckon the beginner should first have the confidence and courage to get into the process of learning, recognising mistakes will be made in the beginning. Gradually as the beginner improves, he will have even more confidence and thus do even better.

  • No one can teach anyone how to sing…One can only be taught how to use the instrument…..I started singing as a boy soprano in a choir…..We learned how to warm up the voice period!…..When I became a “baritone”, my influences where the crooners of the day…..Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone just to name a few…..I overcame my shyness by forcing myself to sing publicly…..It wasn’t that difficult as “street singing” was popular in my time….I am blessed with a very pleasant sounding voice and singing for me was always easy and fun….One day while singing on a stage in a school auditorium, one of the teachers urged me to sing louder…..It was the worst advice I have ever received and started me on a downward spiral which I had a devil of a time reigning in…..It led me to straining my voice and hoarseness…..Always wondering, “am I singing loud enough”?…..It took me many years to conquer this malady…… I went on to make a comfortable living as a singer/entertainer…..Today at 77 years…..I use my “natural voice”, I still make a very pleasant sound…..And right there is the one of most important keys…..I have my own sound that God blessed me with…..And after many years of learning the proper technique of “voice production”, I am free to express my inner most feelings about the song I am singing…..As a crooner, not a yeller, I have developed a three octave range…..One thing to keep in mind are the lyrics…..Each word has a meaning and can be interpreted by the singer or speaker according to his or her own soul…..When I hear the tortured sound some singers make, I fear for their souls to say nothing about how they are ruining their vocal chords….Proper voice “support”, voice placement and breathing are a singers most important tools….I graduated from being an introvert, to insatiable extrovert…..I have been accused of being “over the top”…However, deep inside, there is still a shy little kid…..Go figure 

    ”Smell the roses and sing like no one is listening”. Sing pretty and your voice will last your entire life. Vibrato included.

  • Very good advice… I have improved but couldn’t find the right phrases to describle my growth…. Thanks.

  • To Joyce.
    As Vitto said: “…sing as if no one is listening”. (Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t care how it sounds.)
    Ask a close friend to listen to you – then imagine she isn’t listening!

  • Joyce, I struggle with the exact same thing and am also in my 70’s. I grieve over the lost years of not being able to sing with freedom and relaxation and without fear. I too have sung solos all my life, but always by controlling my muscles, never with a relaxed throat and presence. I know that’s what Per is teaching – how to isolate and relax specific muscles. And even though I’m a quick learner, it does take longer to teach an old dog new tricks! I believe a person’s inherent make-up has a lot to do with it. From an early age I was a “high-strung”, “uptight”, perfectionist person. Though I’ve worked on that all my life, it will always be a part of me. I do a lot of things right in singing. Now I’m learning I can isolate and relax my throat, neck and tongue muscles when I sing so I’m focusing and practicing and being aware of that one thing every day. Eventually that will become habit!!!

  • Hi Per:
    How I can relate to these comments! You gave me the answer though. In one of your early lessons you illustrated that there is no difference in how we produce sound. High or low, we just open our throats and sing the same way. I reached my first high A that way (to my surprise!) Once we master your technique, anything is possible. By the way, I’m 77 years old.
    Anne

  • THANKU SO MUCH PER…,i maybe slow but your coaching has made me improve alot .i am telling to whom ever i knew who like to sing but don’t have confident in themselves about your singing zone and remind them how u had reminded all of us of those notes and pitch when we fell down and cry out HA..HA..AH…AH AH……..LOW TO MIDDLE HIGH AND LOW DOWN SLOWLY CRYING NOTES WHICH U MENTIONED IN THE BEGINNING LESSONS …thanku PER

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