Music Equals Love: Cracking the Whip

Written on

November 22, 2011

Starting last week, I committed myself to 4 hours of practice a day. I am trying to become music…. I’m writing everyday so you can track my progress:

Day One of Practice Bootcamp

I am going to make this quick, because I am so tired and I have to wake up at 6 am in order to get a head start on tomorrow’s 4-hour practice requirement. I started at my normal 11:00 time today, but I can tell I will have to plan better for some days. I was able to get 2 hours of consistent song practice done in the early half of the day, but I had to get the other 2 worked out this evening, after my lessons. Does teaching piano lessons count as practice? No… unfortunately it does not.

I kept track of my practice in a word document to make sure I was really practicing for 4 hours. I broke everything up into 20 minute intervals. 20 minutes of vocal warm-ups, 20 minutes of piano improv, 20 minutes of each song. It’s exciting that I have enough material to fill up 4 hours. Since I went through 5 out of the 6 original songs we have this morning, I decided to spend an hour singing a few of the songs a cappella. A cappella practice was David insistence, um I mean, idea. I resisted it at first. Mainly because I find it boring. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I did some wrist exercises while I sang… I’m such a multi-tasker (or am I just A.D.D?) Turns out he was right. A cappella singing forced me to fine-tune some of the melodies I have been singing.

Ok, that’s it for tonight. I’m so tired…. need sleep.

Day Two: So Lame

Due to a little personal drama, I only had time to practice for 2.5 hours. I sound like one of my students…. Tomorrow, I will practice more than 4 hours to make up for the lost time. The good news is that I can now hold my singing notes out for 2 seconds longer than before. That means my breath control is getting stronger. My range has also increased by 2 half steps. My highest note was C, 2 octaves above middle C, just a week ago, and now I am up to a D flat. Hard work does pay off! Need to sleep and wake early for my voice lesson. I promise tomorrow’s post will be more exciting.

Day Three: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I was so glad to fill up my first hour of practice with Katie, my voice teacher, at USC. The thing that amazes me about Katie is that she seems to have this amazing understanding of Eastern Philosophy, but she has never even taken a yoga class. Today, we worked on my high notes on the “Ah” vowel. Even though this is the easiest sound to make in the upper register, I struggle with it. Katie says I try too hard to control the sound which creates tension in my jaw, which creates a tense sound. She says that we have to learn how to let go of the need to control everything, that our voices are not truly controllable because they are always changing. My voice will be different tomorrow, and there is nothing I can do about it. The trick is to let go of the expectation and need to control every little detail. I told her that she sounded like a Buddhist and that I was going to name her “Yoga Master of Singing.” She laughed but didn’t totally know what I meant. I told her about the Buddhist concept of non-attachment, how every moment passes and nothing is permanent and the secret to happiness (according to Buddhists) is to learn how to accept that fact of life. Once I gave up the feeling of needing to be in control, my high notes began to soar clearer than ever.

After yoga, I mean singing class, I ran on my favorite trail in Elysian Heights near Dodgers Stadium. Running has helped me feel stronger when I sing, and I am pretty sure it has helped me increase my breath support. After running, it was back to the studio to practice. I am happy to report that I fulfilled my 4 hour requirement today. I’m exhausted, but calm.

I want to carry on the deeper message of my voice lesson into the rest of my life. You really can’t control everything, but if you show up and do your work, there is a good chance you will have a positive outcome. Frustration is the real killer – acceptance makes you resilient. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. :)

Time After Time

Where does the day go?? Today, I practiced for 2 hours and 20 minutes. I regret missing the rest of my practice time. I am really beginning to enjoy the discipline, but I find it difficult to manage my time wisely. I am afraid I will have to wake up early tomorrow and begin practicing during the time I would normally drink my coffee while staring at the wall. Gotta make the most of every moment.

Day Five: A Change Is Gonna Come

Last night I drank a tiny glass of cheap white wine but still paid the price all night as I struggled to sleep. I kept thinking about things in the past that have nothing to do with the present, and I couldn’t get warm. I am afraid to calculate how much sleep I actually got, but I made myself wake to my annoying alarm so I could practice for an hour before my voice lesson. I made my coffee and sat at the piano, staring at the keys for a good 10 minutes before I put the cup down and started playing. I decided to improvise in G Major. I find the key of G comforting. One black key makes things more interesting than C Major, but easier than the other Major keys. I was not awake enough to think too hard, so I let myself play a simple drone in the left hand and my right hand improvised on the scale. I was surprisingly calmed and energized by the time my 20 minute timer went off.

Soon it was time for my voice lesson with Katie, which was wonderful and challenging all at the same time. A beginning voice student was still singing as I waited outside her studio, and I remembered how hard those first years can be. It takes a lot of work to train your ears to hear pitches and then send the information to your voice. In high school, instrumental students scoffed at the singers, stereotyping us as brainless half-wits, but they had no idea how much work it takes to produce a good piece of vocal music. Oh well. There will always be haters. What can you do?

Today was day 5, and I can feel the change a comin’. When a sudden life change happens, it is normal to freak out. I now empathize with people who develop drug and alcohol problems after going through a sudden change like a divorce. Your whole world gets shaken up and it is tempting to grab at the easiest fix to make it through the day. I can tell I have made the right choice to put all of my energy into music. Music is the greatest alternative to chemical abuse, bad relationships, or TV watching, and it is just as addictive. For the first time in 8 months, I can say confidently that this was the best week I have had. It was challenging to get the practice done, but the results are already showing up, not just in my voice, but in my state of mind as well. So glad it’s the weekend…. I’m only required to do 2 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. David’s cutting me some slack.

See you guys tomorrow. Listen to some inspiring music for me.

[Retired] Music is my life. My name is Bella, and it is lovely to meet you. You can visit my blog, Music Equals Love for more posts by me.