Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Build & Maintain Skills

There is really only one way to master a skill:

1) figure out how to do something right, then
2) do it that way over and over again

One of the greatest struggles as a teacher is to help students understand that both steps are absolutely crucial.  When I have a student who spends a lot of time on #1 and not enough on #2, concepts are understood but are never made into a permanent part of technique.  On the flip side, those who do not spend enough time on #1 and a lot of time pounding their minds and voices into #2 usually make bad habits permanent.

And issue that has become prevalent to me as a teacher is how much I enjoy the time I spend on #1, and how little time I have to practice #2.

One recurring them in the book "Great Singers on Great Singing" by Jerome Hines (see here) was the practice of singers in the previous generation and beyond of vocalizing every day.  Domingo, Pavarotti, and hundreds of singers before speak of a daily routine along the lines of waking, getting ready, eating breakfast, then vocalizing for at least around an hour.  If the voice wasn't ready upon first vocalizing, the singer would wait a couple of hours, and try again.

It is suggested again in this interview of Pavarotti and Shirley Verrett which I watched recently:


Common practice today suggests a different habit.  Teachers and singers alike speak of only needing one good song or aria to warm up the voice.  Perhaps that is true for some singers, but I am realizing more and more each day, particularly as I get older, that the same cannot be said for me.  Maybe it's anatomical/physiological, which makes it all the more important that each singer spend time on how #1 works specifically for them.

As an experiment, some time ago I decided to use the commonly mentioned "Thirty Daily Exercises" by Concone on a daily basis (which can be found HERE on my website).  So far the results have been extremely encouraging.  Edges are smoothing out, I feel stronger, I am more able to sing through small illnesses, and most importantly I am developing even more confidence in my technique.

**I believe it is important to note that I would not suggest this practice for students and singers early in their development.  In my studio we use exercises and repertoire chosen to work on specific singing skill sets.  To leap into hour long daily vocalizing at that stage would reinforce under-developed, perhaps even damaging habits.  It is much more effective to focus on the exercises and repertoire needed to build the fundamentals, then once those have been grasped to vocalize them in every day.

I am curious to learn your experience in this area. What is your process to develop and maintain needed skills?