Singing is pretty amazing. Who doesn’t want to learn to sing better, right? I’m assuming most of you reading this article are looking for advice on how to sing better. Today I want to take some time to talk about the importance of the approach you take in learning to sing.
We live in a fast-paced world. With ever evolving technology at our fingertips, instant gratification is the norm. Mastering any instrument, especially the voice, is not something that happens overnight. However, unfortunately I see many young students exhibit frustration when they can’t belt like Beyoncé after their first voice lesson.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “muscle memory”. Contrary to what the name suggests, our muscles aren’t remembering whatever tasks we are working on, but our brain is. Through repetition, our brain remembers certain tasks and sends signals to our muscles. As I am typing this article, my fingers are clicking away at the keyboard, and I am not thinking about where the different keys are. Because I have typed so much, I can now execute that task on a completely subconscious level. That is an example of muscle memory. I’m sure you can think of many examples of times when you practiced something over and over until it became easier. That is how you learned to walk and talk as a baby!
As our vocal cords are comprised of muscle, obviously muscle memory comes into play when learning how to sing. This is why you should be practicing your vocal exercises 5-6 times a week. The exercises that your teacher gives you are most likely repetitive exercises up and down a scale that are designed to be practiced frequently for the best results. After you practice these vocal coordinations over and over, they will become easier. I will go back to the example of walking. When you were a baby, you really had to concentrate on walking, but now the muscle memory has taken over, and you walk without thought.
One of the hardest things to change is bad muscle memory. A lot of singers have been practicing bad habits, whether from singing a lot without instruction, or from poor instruction. Perhaps the wrong muscles are firing when they are singing. Oftentimes, singers are engaging their jaw and neck muscles unnecessarily. To correct this, the bad muscle memory must be undone before the new can be taught. This can be a frustrating process, but consistent practice can most definitely change these habits.
This is where patience comes into play. Learning how to sing is not something you can expect to master in a few lessons. I have been singing my whole life, and am still learning and improving all the time. Besides the fact that muscle memory takes time, your voice is fragile. You can’t practice for hours on end like you can with other musical instruments. The voice can only do so much.
To study singing is an enormously gratifying experience, and one that can change you in more ways than you can imagine. However, you must be serious about your studies if you expect to see results. Consistent practice is key, and you must be gentle with yourself. As in any journey, there will be great moments, and moments of frustration. You must know that it is all part of the process. You should approach each lesson and practice session with focus, enthusiasm, and patience. You should be willing to take risks and fall flat on your face. Most importantly, you should continuously remind yourself that it is a process. Enjoy the journey!