Singing and Living Optimally in 2012

Alright, 2012 is in full swing and in my opinion now is the perfect time - now that the New Year resolutions nonsense has worn off – to really get going on creating a phenomenal year.

What?! Did I just call New Year’s resolutions “nonsense”?!

In all honesty, I have never met any person whom I would consider a “high achiever” who engages in New Year resolutions. Why is that? Because the problem with New Year resolutions is that they tend to be misguided admonishments and/or promises to ourselves. Often we hear “New Year resolutions” be statements such as “I am going to stop eating candy”, “I am going to quit smoking”, or the all-time-favorite “I am going to lose weight!”.

One of the problems with these vague statements is that they are not actionable. You cannot strive towards stopping or losing something. There is no motion towards “stopping”.

It’s like telling someone “stop singing off key!”. Not very helpful advice is it?

An even bigger problem is that big “promises” set yourself up to fail. Not surprisingly, New Year’s resolutions in the form of promises are, according to statistics, broken within 30 days.

One of my fundamental philosophies of life is to be able to give yourself permission to fail. You who engaged in my singing training know how powerful this concept is in order to develop greater awareness of your body, to effectively access muscles on a deeper level than before, and to develop a mindset for peak performance. Giving yourself permission to fail doesn’t mean that you want to fail. Quite the contrary. People who embrace the mindset of allowing themselves to fail are the very people who are not afraid of failing. When we are able to give permission for “mistakes” and “failures”, then and ONLY then will you also be able to give permission for magic. It is then that you are able to do what most people consider impossible.

This is the person who is willing to discover something new and therefore becomes creative and productive. This is the person who engages in learning and growing and preparing for the difficult. This is the person who has no feeling of giving up just because of setbacks. This is the person who sees setbacks as the juice that propels oneself to learn and become even better.

This is also the person who lives with a high level of responsibility, and who doesn’t need to blame circumstances or other people. This is the person who lives with an inner passion to orchestrate fulfillment in his/her life and live fulfilled whatever the “results” may be in the moment. This is the person who is able to be resourceful and find strength when things aren’t going well. This is the person who can come back from defeat. Yes, this is indeed the person who can perform at his/her peak when it really matters.

This is also the person who lives with a high level of responsibility, and who doesn’t need to blame circumstances or other people. This is the person who lives with an inner passion to orchestrate fulfillment in his/her life and live fulfilled whatever the “results” may be in the moment. This is the person who is able to be resourceful and find strength when things aren’t going well. This is the person who can come back from defeat. Yes, this is indeed the person who can perform at his/her peak when it really matters.

I am all for setting measurable goals. Goals that are measurable are fun and rewarding and give us something to strive for. But it is the non-measurable that really makes the difference. None of these peak performance qualities are measurable.

However, don’t get me wrong, I certainly do love the New Year. I love the opportunity to pause and reflect on the year that has been, and recharge the batteries for the year ahead and focus - re-focus sometimes - on what life is all about. Here, a month later, it is so easy to just get caught up in “being busy” again, isn’t it? I fall into that trap also. I believe now, that the excitement of the New Year has worn off, is a great opportunity to focus on what is important in life.

Singing is of course a big part of your and all my blog reader’s lives. That is one of those activities that we cannot measure. But maybe that is exactly why it is such an important activity for us all.

One of the most rewarding activities for me is to learn and grow and challenge myself. And that can’t happen if I don’t give myself permission to “fail”.

How do you feel about “failure”? What are some of those non-measurable qualities that you are working on improving this year? What makes life exciting and rewarding for you?

Alright, 2012 is in full swing and in my opinion now is the perfect time – now that the New Year resolutions nonsense has worn off – to really get going on creating a phenomenal year.

What?! Did I just call New Year’s resolutions “nonsense”?!

In all honesty, I have never met any person whom I would consider a “high achiever” who engages in New Year resolutions. Why is that? Because the problem with New Year resolutions is that they tend to be misguided admonishments and/or promises to ourselves. Often we hear “New Year resolutions” be statements such as “I am going to stop eating candy”, “I am going to quit smoking”, or the all-time-favorite “I am going to lose weight!”.

One of the problems with these vague statements is that they are not actionable. You cannot strive towards stopping or losing something. There is no motion towards “stopping”.

It’s like telling someone “stop singing off key!”. Not very helpful advice is it?

An even bigger problem is that big “promises” set yourself up to fail. Not surprisingly, New Year’s resolutions in the form of promises are, according to statistics, broken within 30 days.

  • The English Coach says:

    You have to do something badly before you can ever do it well and that is what learning and growing are all about. It is a fun and exciting journey if you see it that way. There is no such thing as failure, only lessons learned. 🙂

  • StaceyK says:

    I pretty much agree with you Per. When it comes to the downside of things, it’s really not all that bad after all, maybe all it means is that we just need a break, more preparation, or more thinking on what is life really about for ourselves. I honestly can’t stand the term “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. I don’t think that’s completely true. Yes we should always practice, but I don’t think talent goes away just like that(unless of certain crisis). And like you said before it’s not just talent it’s a developed skill. I feel once something is second nature to you then it never entirely goes away. There’s days we feel it, and there’s day we don’t, which probably gives a reason later for a performance to be so good that people go “wow!” Anyhow I don’t know if this all makes sense, but I guess it’s my way of saying embracing the good with bad times makes out for a non-perfect extrodinary life, and yes it’s ok to fail every now and then. It doesn’t mean you’re done for good.

  • Pilar Anta says:

    Hello Barb, my name’s Pilar, from Alicante (Spain). I was cooking dinner and suddenly I found myself singing for the first time after a bad flu. The reason I was singing was simply… I was feeling better! I realised then that I hadn’t sung at all for the past two days. I’ve come to my computer now and just come up with this article from Per. Many thanks to you both. It’s been like magic!. Singing just for the fun of it, singing to feel myself more conscious of everything, singing because I feel life in me again. Singing comes from so deep inside that I find there is no need for whys. Why did those tribes in ancient tribes sing for? I imagine, to recall, to celebrate, to teach, to match their songs with dances which made them happy and connected with heaven and earth. In that sense, I find failure is just not so relevant when it comes to just a matter of expression and letting yourself go with it…

  • MelissaD says:

    I just looked up the definition of fail. It means to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, or to be deficient or lacking. So I got a revelation. If we look at failing as a good thing or even a litmus test, then we’ll be much more likely to look at ourselves and seek the training we need to reach our desired goals. Introspection is one of the most important things we can do and is paramount for growth.

  • nancy says:

    I love this quote above “you have to do something badly before you can ever do it well”. Somewhere between novice and phenomenon passion takes hold and gives us the strength & courage to fail fearlessly as much as takes. Not that failure is ok, because we dream for so much more! But that we allow ourselves to roll with the punches on the way to our successes.

  • Gaston says:

    I like your comment. This is to encourage me to go ahead with the music lessons. Of course I am going to continue as soon as I can.

  • Laurent Veignal says:

    David Allen has a good take on this too, which is to seperate Areas of Concerns and real project that can be ticked off. As far as the new year resolution, his take is tidy your house and environment and you will feel so much better ! Like it.

  • Judi Brown says:

    Failure in one area can prompt us to find success in a new direction.

    Getting in touch with our inner child: experience the wonder and curiosity of experimenting and experiencing a new skill. A child falls (fails? — not really) before learning to walk, then run, then skip, etc.

  • Martin Neumann says:

    It’s my birthright to fail and learn from it 😉

  • Leo Smith says:

    Also, why wait until the new year to strive for self improvement? If you notice something about yourself that you can and should change, you should begin to work on it immediately, no matter what day of the year…

  • tom says:

    the way I allowed myself to fail last month was by failing to practice. First I got laryngitis from the weather and couldnt sing, but I tried it one day and struggled through the crack, and then let it go . . . and then tried againa week later, I just gave it a rest.
    When I returned to practice, a week or so later, not only was my voice rested, but my mind and sense of ambition was too. Then I remembered what I had learned that i always have to keep the tongue at NG, and inhale my voice– on each and every pitch. Then I’m OK.
    So I was astonished how easy it was to sing full voice on the high notes, and bridge the gap I had felt at hi A, and I had a mental understanding of what was happening when I did it. I had felt there was a wierd valley of depression in my voice there, and this was an old problem,
    Just follow the old advice, I told myself, about NG and if you cannot keep your tongue root loose, then dont sing sing until you CAN keep it loose. Just make up your mind, soul ,subconscious and brain to have a loose tongue root, and that is really all there is to “”easy singing””. If I really believe it, it will probably become a reflex eventually, which is the whole idea, so you dont have to think about it. But they say you should be conscious of HOW you do it, incase youre upset before a performance, you can go over the formula “”loose tonge, NG postition loose jaw , let it flow, let your voice do the work, and dont force it, etc””–Like a pep talk before an athletic performance, to get your mind -set right .
    I had some mental trouble in accepting full voice in the high notes. But now it feels again like I just have one voice,and I always remember to “”inhale my voice””, and this watchword keeps me from forcing. This watchword, regulates my vocal mechanism , like a magic charm. ( I used to sing the low notes too thick and big, but if I pretend I’m inhaling my voice instead of blowing through a trumpet, the low notes are the right weight. I didnt understand my voice but now I do. It has it’s own way of doing it, amd it isnt that bad. It is different form the way I thought it should be done, but it really does the job– and without fanfare bragging or over compensating .
    Singing too hard is a singer’s enemy. Because it strains the vocal cords, and they become temporarily injured.
    Now I have to appreciate this step I have taken, and give myself credit for it in my own conscious mind. . . NOT take it for granted, but as something I have achieved, through long effort in that direction– through self -acceptance on the vocal level.
    It was very hard for me to inhale my voice on every pitch, and this was a self sabotaging mechanism. YOu have to be careful to keep your tongue in the NG position, and the root relaxed, and that is pretty much the whole story.
    Then your voice will be unimpeded., and flow out freely and be easy to “”control””, that is make it loud or soft at will, even on the very high notes– which is considered a great vocal achievement. Not falsetto soft, necessarily, but a thin tiny sound which is a miniature tone just like the loud tones in character and timbre, but without the volume. And it carries well also. Classical singers who can sing pianissimos on hi notes are greatly valued and these are called the “”money notes””. If you dont learn to isolate your cods like Per recommends, you cant do it, but your voice ‘ll become muscle bound, and will deteriorate as you age form disuse.
    So I guess also If I fail to appreciate myself, like I deserve, I ought to be tolerant of that failure too, and just wait until I CAN appreciate myself. –after all self- restraint is a form of heroism. Just think– If child absusers had just restrained themselves or took up rock climbing there would be a lot more well adjusted people i the world. Alcoholics who overcome their compulsion ar making an heroic gesture, or people who overcome gluttony or bulimia.

    It is mean and cruel NOT to give yourself credit for a job well done. It means you have allowed your conscience- your sense of good and evil– to become corrupted and destructive. Because agood conscience is your best friend.

    A lot of people are taught false modesty, and actually despise their accomplishments, because they were taught that it is pride or egotism or ego or some destructive catchword.
    I instinctually knew how to sing naturally, but the lessons reinforce this natural ability, by reminding me or making me conscious of what I must have been doing when it seemed and sounded right, when, through luck I was in the right mental state to sing naturally.
    Then when it wentt away, from time to time, I felt like I had lost it.
    Maybe the jealousy of others caused this. Or because I didnt sit back and give myself and my nature credit — self love in the best sense of the word.
    TO accept and see myself as I really am. After all Nature gives you your voice you dont create it — you create music and sounds, but not the voice itself. YOu can only use it and modify it , but it comes from nature, like your eyes, and the other senses.
    So it makes “”sense”” to appreciate it , and relaxation makes it reveal itself in all its amazing abilities
    The less I interfere with my voice, the more power it acquires. THE more I let it happen, like a custodian , the better it works. Actually it is like stepping aside and letting it happen, –and I must admit on some evel I feel a little left out. NO let me help!! a child often wants to help and get involved and they say no you’re too young, or you dont know how! So you learn to feel guilty about wanting to do something and that make you want it excessively. .. and these feeling become complexes that interfere with everyday activities, even eating, and sometimes digesting or breathing. People get in the habit of shallow braeathing and this weakens them all over their bodies. Jung cured someone of tuberculosis because he corrected her shallow breathing.
    That is how people learn to be tense when they sing high notes, or in some people when they sing any note, or try to yell . Some people cant yell because they were taught to shut up. And such commands may kick in unconsciously when I try to sing the high notes, and I tense up, my throat closes, and the tone is cramped and constricted.
    The main thing with me is that i could sing the high notes, in my voice but I couldnt always join them to the low notes without tensing up or going into a mental conflict about it– about reconciling opposites.
    Now I just inhale all the notes and this makes them all one voice. But before it was really weird. I could do it on certain songs, but not others. So I thought it was a mood thing. But it wasnt. it was that for some reason I wasnt applying the technique or COULDNT apply it for some reason.
    They say that the hi A is very problematical , I have read it here and there.
    Someone mentioned that very thing on the last phone conference Per gave. The singer was complaining about the gradual weakening of the chest voice, and then the weak notes in the head voice in its lower range. This probably helped me alot to overcome my problem. I couldnt always access my hi A, and I made an issue out of it.
    But if I had applied the rules per teaches it would have happend alot sooner, but i was unaware that i wasnt applying them.. . . I became hung up on failing.
    I remember alway waking up and being amazed how loud the very hi notes were (b-flat and above) , and then the A- flat and the A were not so easy to sing. It was like there was a hooel in my voice. HI c was easy , loud and full , but not hi A. The speaking voice stops at G it seemed, and then “”it’s all in my head””. I just couldnt accept this .
    Actually it is a change in resonators that causes the confusion, and because the resonators are near your eyes, and in your nose, you get paranoid from this. Also the A note is different from all the others in tone. and this can deceive you into thinking that something is wrong.
    It throws you off and makes you think –AM I doing it right , is it just falsetto, will I ever get it right , am I a loser, and all negative thoughts keep me from applying the simple rules. — NG position, relaxed tongue and jaw, let it happen.
    As a matter of fact it is a little disheartening that it IS so possible without strain. I feel let down or like I am cheating. . . But that is the way it is.
    Artistry comes out of skill , not force. and yet I often feel like i’m cheating if I dont strain!!.
    Another thing is a powerful voice SOUNDS like it is really straining and this is misleading. Because songs are written to express intense emotions and this is experienced by the listeners as great effort on the vocalists part.
    But now if I inhale my voice I can . There are hi notes and there are notes G and below. You just have to take it for granted, which it is. It is granted by nature. That is why Per’s lessons are good, they help yo get out of nature’s way, so she can give you her gifts. Strange, but natural. Then afterward you cutivate it into a personal or individual style.

    Lots of singers just accept it. And dont even make a distinction between Hi and low, it’s just singing. I can hear it in their voices.
    . That sense of self -rejection– of not allowing myself to be where I was at , at any particualr time but disapproving of it– is what constituted the failure that I couldnt accept or allow, . . . It must go way back to when you wanted to do something and someone said NO! you cant do it!!, –like eat with your fingers, or pick your nose, and maybe you were punished. So you get a complex about letting yourself “”be””.
    Let it be let it be let it be let it be–speaking words of wisdom ,– let it be.

  • Bill Bentley says:

    Thank you Per for sharing your thoughts. They were refreshingly different, startlingly provocative, realistic and positive. You’re right – using New Year to refresh, recharge, and refocus is much better than setting Huge , Unattainable goals that set us up for failure! What is failure, anyway? If a baby falls multiple times before it walks – then those falls were in fact building-blocks to success! The only failure I can think of, is when we completely give up trying – on everything! You’re right again when you say that responible people don’t blame others or circumstances for their own lack of achievement. I’m giving myself full permission for “magic” to happen – in my singing – and my Life! Thank you so much for reaching out as you do. I would sincerely love to meet you in person one day. Meanwhile, I’ll rejoice in each day’s new opportunites!

  • Eve Ruddock says:

    Barb, your post is certainly thought provoking!
    Pilar’s post appears to get close to responsing to your question:
    “For what reason are we doing all this, working so hard, only to, perhaps, find the goal (i.e., dream, perhaps) non attainable or never even coming close to it.”
    In Pilar words:“Singing comes from so deep inside that I find there is no need for whys… happy and connected with heaven and earth”. This response echoes two ‘experts’:
    Musician and academic Susan West (West, 2009) writes that: “singing is…both the most basic form of music making and an indicator of the musical health of the individual” ― she argues that: SMS (Selective mutism for singing) [is a] syndrome [that occurs] where individuals maintain physiological ability to sing but, for “psychosocial reasons”, they remain mute”.
    Further, perhaps Pilar’s response is embodied in these words from Meki Nzewi:“Music is the intangible resonance of which the human body and soul are composed: The human body is the quintessential sound instrument; the human soul is the ethereal melody.” (Nzewi, 2002)

    It would be great what you think/feel about these ideas…

    Nzewi, M. (2002). Backcloth to Music and Healing in Traditional African Society, Voices: A world forum for music therapy (Vol. 2).
    West, S. (2009). Selective mutism for singing (SMS) and its treatment: Conceptualising musical disengagement as mass social dysfunction. In W. Baker (Ed.), Musical understanding: Proceedings of the XVII National Conference (pp. 212-219). Launceston: Australian Society for Music Education (Tasmanian Chapter).

  • Elsy John says:

    Yes, I am afraid of failure, and above all, what people would think if I failed ! So, when I sing, my throat gets contracted and I feel tight in the chest, kind of suffocated and I can’t freely sing. Then the voice would crack. I want to come out of this ridiculous condition. Now I have to be bold enough to fail. Thank you for your support and ideas of free singing.

  • Anoop K says:

    This website has opened a new window to my awareness on voice and singing. I can relate to what Elsy John says
    ” when I sing, my throat gets contracted and I feel tight in the chest, kind of suffocated and I can’t freely sing. Then the voice would crack.”
    I have bookmarked this site. Thanks to Per Bristow for throwing some light on voice and singing.

  • >