the one thing to do to succeed (in singing)

the one thing to do to succeed (in singing)

the one thing to do to succeed (in singing)

W R I T T E N  B Y  Allison Mondel

I used to pride myself on being able to manage a million things at once. I’m a MultiTasker! It’s on my resume! And lemme tell you, my mind is quick and agile and bouncy, and while this may seem useful (it can be), it is also a major complication to actually, well, getting things done.

Then I read an article a few years ago that mentioned the fact that the human mind cannot actually multitask. It can – literally – only do one thing at a time.

Multitasking means trying to perform two or more tasks concurrently, which typically leads to repeatedly switching between tasks (i.e., task switching) or leaving one task unfinished in order to do another.

(from Multicosts of Multitasking, published 2019 in Cerebrum)

This did not flow into my worldview, especially when it came to singing. 

In traditional vocal pedagogy, as well as choral singing, we are taught that in order to create an ideal sound, we must manage approximately one million tasks simultaneously. This usually leads towards some highly-charged situation like a performance or audition. Sometimes, we even find ourselves in rockier emotional territory, like sight-singing, or sight-singing in an audition, or worse yet: sight-singing on Zoom!

And to do all these things while sounding beautiful. And for God’s sake: Don’t. Mess. Up.

Oy.

That is a tall order for anyone. This is way too much pressure, expecting some perfectionistic ideal, and in my experience will result in a total letdown. 

This approach is simply ineffective. Here is why we will be let down: we are simply not able to manage it all at once.

Why? We think we can do all the things, but it’s not possible. 

The scientific study of multitasking over the past few decades has revealed important principles about the operations, and processing limitations, of our minds and brains. One critical finding to emerge is that we inflate our perceived ability to multitask: there is little correlation with our actual ability. In fact, multitasking is almost always a misnomer, as the human mind and brain lack the architecture to perform two or more tasks simultaneously… We have a hard time multitasking because of the ways that our building blocks of attention and executive control inherently work. To this end, when we attempt to multitask, we are usually switching between one task and another. The human brain has evolved to single task.

(from Multicosts of Multitasking, published 2019 in Cerebrum)

You know what this means? It means that we inhibit our functionality to execute tasks when we give ourselves too many tasks. Let’s break that down further: if you expect to do anything well and effectively, you can only do one thing at a time.

The article quoted above does not even begin to skirt the realm of emotional and spiritual wellbeing, which I believe are a fundamental aspects of our creative experience.

But I hope the point is made: in order to feel successful in our singing, we need to simplify.

How?

We must be focused on one thing in every moment. Not many things over many moments. Just One Thing in Every Moment.

And there is a way. It is so gloriously simple, you may not believe me. The medium is the most foundational aspect of our being. It is the thing that marries every aspect of our self into a unified whole. It is the thing that allows us to be present in every moment. It is the thing that bridges our human experience to the divine. It is the thing that marries our humanness to our consciousness. It is the thing that, when trusted, will open the gateway to your higher mind, increasing your intellectual, physical, and emotional capacity in any task you pursue.

It’s your breath, of course. 

But what exactly do I mean? How does that translate in real time, in the real world?

It means that when we prioritize the flow of the breath, other tasks are inadvertently removed. This is actually a good thing. Because when we are unable to take action (because you are busy breathing and your mind is not roving), we are able to create intention. 

Intention is a byproduct of inspiration and creativity. This is what flows into our practice when we are not bound up in the mind, our thoughts pinging like tennis balls. Tennis ball thoughts are constant distractions, and not only do they slow down your processing speed, they can stop your breathing. Which makes you anxious! And the very thing that you want to attain (I’m assuming beautiful and accurate singing) is very, very difficult to achieve. 

how to simplify

Let me lay out some clear points here to help guide you towards a more effective practice. I refer to this process as transforming your role in your own singing from Oompa-Loompa to Willy Wonka. Line worker to CEO. Worker bee to Queen Bee. (You get it.)

You want to be operating at a higher level. This may be very challenging at first, but you will begin to see how much more effective you will become, and this builds confidence. 

1) Determine Your Objectives

Before you enter any situation, you need to get clear about your goals. What defines success for you right now, in this situation? Be specific, reasonable, and objective. Our egos prefer us to be Absolutely Fantastic at all times, and when we fall short of this we are pretty surely let down. So dial this back, and get really clear: what do you hope to manifest or achieve in this moment?

2) Eliminate Distractions

This is a biggie, and it’s also the toughest. Your inner tennis ball machine needs to understand that it’s not time to shoot balls at you. It’s time to get quiet. This means, in my own practice and the Sacred Voice Framework, that you enter into the heart space and tap into the inner voice and self. Here is where I become embodied and whole. Not just a tennis ball machine (even a kindly one) making some sounds.

3) Become Breath Aware

Once we are still enough to notice, the awareness of the flow of your breath is the single most crucial element of our practice. I do not exaggerate. Your practice is now to maintain your awareness of your breath. You may not feel great about your breath, that’s fine. But you need to let that go. (That’s a tennis ball.) Keep the breath flowing: this is it. 

 

Your practice will transform from multitasking to activating one task: maintaining awareness of the flow of breath. You will learn how to manage all of the other things that are happening (score, notes, text, dynamics, conductor, etc.) by watching the breath, rather than darting around trying to manage them all separately yet simultaneously. Which you can’t. 

a heads-up

I will warn you of the inherent challenge: your ego will not be eager to engage in this practice. Especially when your fears are activated. This is most likely when you meet a challenging place in the music, or feel under pressure in some way, or have some emotional trauma built into your body and/or voice. Most everyone does.

But the medicine is that when you lean into the breath, when you really stick with it, you discover that you are capable of just about anything you choose. You experience personal success and realize your objectives. You will feel buoyed and supported, rather than let down and unsatisfied. 

Try it out on one little phrase, and see what happens. You don’t need a major overhaul here, just a little taste.

Speak inwardly: I am breathing. My breath is flowing. Then start to observe the breath as you go. Bring your awareness back when you stray. Go from there.

Hugs,

allison

welcome to
The Studio!

I’m Allison Mondel, Transformational Voice Coach and big-hearted seeker on a mission to help others discover their innate, brilliant Sacred Voice, and transform their singing and their lives.

IMAGE: Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

further reading

Reclaiming your sacred nature
Reclaiming your sacred nature

W R I T T E N  B Y  Allison Mondel I am trained as a classical musician, still working in the field and meeting the demands of the work in various ways every day. But I have long felt a disconnect from the overly technical approach to vocal training. Please do not...

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the one thing to do to succeed (in singing)
the one thing to do to succeed (in singing)

W R I T T E N  B Y  Allison Mondel I used to pride myself on being able to manage a million things at once. I'm a MultiTasker! It's on my resume! And lemme tell you, my mind is quick and agile and bouncy, and while this may seem useful (it can be), it is also a major...

read more
clarify your vision for your voice
clarify your vision for your voice

W R I T T E N  B Y  Allison Mondel  As we have safely landed on the shores of 2021, I have found myself wanting and hungry for the Next Steps. What in the heck should I do now?  However, I know now that I am getting ahead of myself. Because one of the most valuable...

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why your voice gets stuck

why your voice gets stuck

why your voice gets stuck

W R I T T E N  B Y  Allison Mondel

I was up against a wall. Literally. My tongue was valiantly trying to poke out of my open mouth to formulate some semblance of an “ah” vowel whilst singing a downward scale. 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. The teacher was attempting to have my tongue stay politely in place when I sang anything. This seemed to me rather extreme and frankly, impossible.

What she could not sense was the hot shame smeared on my face because I was so clearly incapable of this task.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong: I learned how to sing a downward scale on an “ah” vowel. But not in the way you think. And it took me roughly 20 years to suss it out. 

If only she could have said, “Allison, try not to overthink it. You are having difficulty connecting with your breath. Can you, like, inhale?”

Well, I couldn’t inhale OR exhale well or properly. My voice gremlins were running amuck, and I was debilitated by fear. I lost control and trust of my voice. I was, quite literally, stuck. 

Why?

The ego voice disrupts our connection with the flow of breath.

The Sacred Voice is inherently linked to the flow of breath. This inner voice, your sacred center, your source energy, is hard-wired to your being in a state of flow, which lands you plop! in the present moment. A very important place to be if you are a human being, but especially if you are a singer.

I call this place the Flow State. It is the second pillar of the framework that I have been developing throughout the course of my singing and teaching career, and it is the most hard-won lesson I have learned. I believe it is so incredibly useful and helpful for anyone because I believe it can truly help alleviate so much pressure, worry, and anguish for singers.

How?

The Flow State is breath flow, but more accurately breath energy flow. Breath energy is more than the binary inhale-exhale cycle we are accustomed to. It is the subtle force of life moving through you. 

The basic idea is that we want to keep it moving, to be in constant flow, a breath loop. When we are in Flow State, your instrument operates with subtle brilliance. You are quite literally a sacred instrument, like some heaven-constructed oboe: neutral construct, resonant, flexible, powerful. All it needs is a clear-minded operator!

Ok, how many of us are in the constant flow of breath energy when we sing? Right.

We lose access to our breath as we live our lives on Planet Earth. It is really damn hard being a human being. The flow of life that is so natural to us as children is decreased over the course of time. This affects the flow of breath energy which affects your singing and which affects your life.

Our energy flow is compromised. Our minds become oversized. Our muscles become rigid. Our breath becomes forced.

We are out of subtle balance. We have lost our flow of breath energy.

As a result, we are indoctrinated to believe that we must fix, push, or think our voice into behaving better.

I disagree. Having won back that breath energy back myself through incredible determination, I see how detrimental and potentially destructive this mindset can be. You will feel better and experience luminous, confident, effort-free singing when you are in a flow state of breath. It is utterly possible.

So HOW do we fall out of the Flow State? How are we separated from the Sacred Voice?

1) Overthinking

When you are overthinking your singing, you SABOTAGE your natural flow of breath. You are not designed to think your voice. You are designed to allow your voice. Your body knows how to sing perfectly. (Isn’t that awesome?) Overthinking invites effort and effort begets artificial pressure throughout your entire body. This means getting tight. You experience a total contraction of self. When you overthink your singing, you feel compelled to shove, grunt, or hoist your voice, and you will feel, see, hear, and experience the effects in the quality of vibration. Your breath flow system is off-kilter and out of balance, and leads to all-encompassing tension. More to the point, your ego voice is in control, and you feel disconnected from your Sacred Voice. Loss of Flow State. 

2) Fear

When you are scared, you STOP the natural flow of breath. Fear and singing are common bedfellows. When you encounter your fear, you seize up. You feel threatened. Imagine someone is about to smack you: what do you do? You clamp your eyes shut, suck in your gut, and hold your breath. I call this The Flinch. It is pure instinct, ancient patterning you inherited as a human being. So if you are singing and you feel scared, you hold your breath. This occurs within the span of a microsecond, mind you, but this complete stop will also cause full-scale tension throughout your instrument, starting in the brain, heading straight to your solar plexus, and then rippling throughout your system. Ultimately, this stoppage of breath flow makes us singers feel incredibly out of control and degrades trust in our voice. It is a lousy place to be and crazy-making for sure. Loss of Flow State?

3) Energy Block

When you have an energy block, you INHIBIT the natural flow of breath. Energy blocks are common to everyone I have ever met. They develop over the course of our lives, and they are part of our human experience. You block the flow of your energy, the life force moving within you, when you experience suffering, trauma, shame, or other triggering emotions. Each center (there are seven main energy centers) is related to some aspect of our Self, and they correspond to our emotional experiences. If, say, you feel threatened (as above), the energy moving through your solar plexus center is blocked. Your physical body manifests that block: the diaphragm becomes rigid, the jaw tightens, the tongue pulls backward, the soft palate droops, the pelvic floor tightens. Your instrument adapts to the quality of the energy flow. Blocked energy is a petri dish for overthinking and fear. Loss. Of. Flow. State. 

The Flow State is absolutely attainable for anyone. It is, in fact, our “natural” state.

But it takes a rigorous amount of self-awareness, discipline of the mind, and a trusty map of the breathing system to hook in and re-establish the flow.

How?

Keep your eye on the breath at all times. Never stray. When you fall off the wagon (you will), hop back on. And over and over again you practice, until you become addicted to your clear mind, your confidence, and your unadulterated joy in singing. 

And the greatest reward: dancing with your Sacred Voice as you share it with the world.

Hugs,

allison

IMAGE: Mario Azzi on Unsplash

 

Interested in learning more and upending those blocks? Work with me 1:1 and re-establish your Flow State.

What is your Sacred Voice?

What is your Sacred Voice?

When I first started The Sacred Voice Studio, I honestly had no idea what a Sacred Voice really was. I knew it was a something that was calling to me, a whisper of a concept that was vital and personal, but I had no conceot of what would evolve into my current understanding.

That came after many months and years of quiet discernment, of inner inquiry, of writing, of practice and play, and working with countless singers as I quietly discovered how we all… tick.

I had a vision in which I came to understand that the seat of the Sacred Voice is within the heart (read more here), which was a ground-breaking moment. But a deeper understanding came a while later.

The Sacred Voice is that presence within our being that births divine expression into form.

For me, my Sacred Voice is an entity, and takes on the form of an avatar: she is a friend, lover, and co-creator of all that I express and do when I am connected to my Sacred Voice. She has a name, I feel her presence whenever I tap into my heart center and call upon her. When I feel her presence, I abound in joy. When I sense the presence of the Sacred Voice within others, I feel their joy, too.

Please do not ask me how or why this is possible if you expect some kind of rational answer. I do have a tidy response: I believe it is the mystery of the Creator working through us. Who on earth could actually say?

Mind you, this does not happen all the time. That would be amazing, but is hilariously not the case. However, it is my sincere desire to express my Sacred Voice whenever I sing, my particular preferred mode of bringing the Divine into form. I’m constantly practicing. I get closer with every breath that I take, every note that I sing. And now I think, how could it be any other way?

Hugs,

allison