Optimize Your Singing Practice

Simone Niles is a Vocal Coach in London
Transformational coach Simone Niles shows you how to make the most of your practice time.

Simone Niles is a is a transformational coach, vocalist, and has lectured at several prominent music institutions. Simone worked for several years as a backing vocalist working with Eddie Grant, has performed at some of London’s largest venues  and helps singers and artists reach their singing and life goals.

This article is from our Instagram Live Chat with Simone which you can watch here:

Start By Taking a Big Breath

There are so many things I can talk about in terms of motivating people, but right now in the current climate, the world we’re in right now, it’s also okay to take a moment, to take a breath, literally and figuratively, and to just pause and give yourself a moment. When you’re ready, and if you feel like it’s time now, then there are really very clear strategies that you can put in place to kickstart that motivation and get you back into singing.

Why You’ve Lost Motivation

Most of the time when we’re not motivated to do something, it’s because we’ve lost our connection to why we do it in the first place. So it’s really getting back to that big “why”, the big reason that motivated us to take up singing or singing practice in the first place. And when we are able to connect in that way, then what we do really is we separate the “should” from the “musts”. 

And what I mean by that is when we say to ourselves, “Oh, I really should practice today. Or I should get this done.” There’s a very different energy between I should do this and I must do this. “I must get up off the couch and do this.” So the connecting to the reason you’re doing it in the first place, which for most people is something that’s going to be fulfilling for them, whether it’s, “I just want to be able to sing” or “My children listen in and appreciate that voice”, “I want to get up on stage”, “I want to be in the West End”, or  “I want to just use my voice in a different capacity.”

Understand Your Expectations

Sometimes our practice time becomes clouded over by expectations. Sometimes it’s external expectations by the music industry. Certain things are sometimes required from you that don’t necessarily always feel aligned. That’s okay because it’s part of the journey, but inwardly, when you’re doing your own practice and you’re working towards something, there is always a way to cultivate and generate joy. 

We have these drivers within us; these are pain and pleasure drivers. And it’s a very human thing to want to avoid pain, and there’s a part of us that wants to move towards pleasure. So I figure out with my clients, which one is driving them more in that instance. I’ll give you an example outside of singing and then I’ll bring it into our context. If you say, “You know what? I need to go to the gym. I really need to go and exercise.” Some people might feel more motivated to do that when they imagine and envision the healthy fit body; they can see themselves feeling and moving in the way they want. But for others, it would be the vision of them looking unhealthy and out of shape and not being able to do the things that they want to do.

Sometimes pain drivers work more effectively than pleasure drivers – and vice versa. So when I’m working with a client, sometimes I might ask them, “Well, tell me right now, what is it that is most important to you?” And the question often comes up either or, “Well, you know what? I need to learn these lyrics, because I just don’t want to look like a fool in front of everyone else.” Someone else might say, “I really need to learn these words because it’s important for me to make sure that I can understand how to actually express myself in a really positive way or mindful way when I’m on stage.” So they both have very different driving factors there.

They’re both important and you can acknowledge for yourself which one is driving you more and use it as a motivating factor to help you.

Tap Into Your Driver

There are times that you just have to do something. You then need to be able to tap into something that’s going to drive it. And this isn’t necessarily going into fear. I just want to be clear on that, because there’s this natural part of you that wants to avoid something, and there’s a natural part of you that wants to go towards and enjoy something. So we tap into both of these (pain and pleasure), and the one that’s most prominent that will drive you. Most people can relate to this when it comes to exercise, which is why I use this as an example.

Fear is a pain driver. It means that the pain motivating us is, for example, the fear of  looking like a fool –and it’s okay to use that driver. What I want to say is that it’s not saying, “I’m afraid to do these things, so I better do them”, but it’s realizing these are the things that you’re wanting to avoid, so let’s find ways to avoid them. 

You’ll find that these pain and pleasure drivers work across different areas of your life. So with singing, you’ll figure out the ones that work best for you. I think it’s mixed. I’ve got a mixed bag with singers that I work with. I wouldn’t say it’s one more than the other. It’s a very personal thing. But again, just one simple thing, ask yourself the question, “What is it that I really want to get out of this?” Or, “What is it that I’m really trying to avoid?” so that you know which one is going to drive you into the practice.

Overcome Your Resistance

The big R. Resistance comes up a lot for everyone, but especially when we’re in a creative process, it can bring up emotions, feelings, or judgments – lot of things can come up! And it’s sometimes used as a reason not to continue, but here’s the nuance: resistance is often coming up because of the perception of pain. It’s the feeling that this is going to be painful, even if it’s not. 

So we really need to look at how we can address the unconscious mind and find pleasurable ways of bringing joy into practice. I like people to move and to shake and get rid of tension in their body. I get singers to set an intention at the beginning of their practice so that the intention is what’s driving the entire practice. Even if it’s 20 minutes a day, they know that today, “all I want to get out of this practice is to feel like I breathed deeply and that I was able to get into a part of my voice that I didn’t get into yesterday.” Even if that’s the only intention you set, your mind is going to follow you towards that intention, and then therefore easier to actually achieve the goals you’ve set.

Often changing your physiology is the fastest way to changing a state. So if you’re feeling tired and you’re like, “Oh, I really can’t be bothered today.” Notice your body – perhaps your posture is “slumped”. Your breathing may be very different too. Compare that physiology to what it is when you feel and say, “I can’t wait to start my day.” It’s a different energy. So changing the physiology is a quick, quick way of changing the state. It’s often where I take people first.

Ask Yourself Big Questions

It’s really important to get in and ask the questions, whether that is about a goal that you want, what your motivation is, or the current state of your emotions.  In my lessons at Singdaptive I explore how to  use your voice to release emotion. Because as singers, we want to be able to just get up and sing and do whatever we want all the time. But we’re people, we have challenges, we have issues, we have things like every other human being, but, still, we need to show up. So it can be powerful to see how you can use your voice to help you get over some of the stuff that’s going on in the background – so that you can show up and be that bright star that you want to be!

Who Are You as a Singer?

I think the last piece really of the motivation puzzle for me is who are you… Besides yourself, who else are you doing it for? I think it’s really important for us to look beyond ourselves. We have to look at who we’re serving. Otherwise we will sing in our bedrooms and do only that for only us to hear. 

If you’re wanting to practice singing, I believe it’s because you’re wanting to express something outwardly. Who else are you doing that for? 

When you create necessity around the actual thing you’re wanting to do, it’s such a powerful thing. “Oh, I’m singing for my children.” Think of how many times we hear on reality singing shows, “Oh, I’m doing this for my family” or “I want to help my parents.” We recognize how these things are important. Who -other than me – am I doing this for? Having answers to this question opens up the doors to something beautiful. So think about who you’re serving by using your voice.

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