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Read Barbara Ann Grant’s latest concert review ‘A Revelatory Feast of Opera’. Reviewed in the Nelson Mail 16 May 2016.

May 22nd, 2016

Listen to Barbara Ann Grant’s interview with Nelson radio Fresh FM. You can check out the new brand profile here

March 1st, 2014

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    Top 5 Tips for How to Sing – No. 3 Practice smart not long

    If you want to learn how to sing make your practice short and results focused

    My own vocal journey spans 40 years, if I start counting from when I first sang in public at age 6. In that time I’ve had ample opportunity to learn that when it comes to working to improve your singing it super pays to work smart but not long.
    This truth is under-scored by an early story about the, ‘Austrian Oak’ Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is long before, ‘the Governator’, in the early days when he was working to be known as a super muscle man and body-building legend. Like many rising stars in the early eighties glory days of body-building, our budding Terminator trained at Golds Gym in Venice Beach, California. It was the playground of some of the biggest names and muscles in the business. The story goes that early on Arnie was relentlessly teased, as despite his impressive physical development he had very puny calf muscles. Now, counter to what you might expect, Arnie took the bold move to train fully covered from top to toe in long sleeved tracksuits, his only innovation being that he cut away the lower leg of the pants just below the knee. Now the only body part visible as he trained was his weakest, and every training session, day after day, week after week, month after month, he went and endured the taunts and jeers as he worked to improve those calves. Needless to say with such single-minded determination Arnie went on to be a 6 time Mr Olympia champion and known as, ‘the best calves in the business’.
    The lesson is equally applicable to your singing. Working smart in singing practice means to me concentrating on targeted, specific exercises that improve the weakest aspects of your singing technique. Now of course, first of all you have to find out what these are and for this I recommend finding a pair of ears you can really trust. This means finding a teacher, mentor or colleague who you can respect because of the type of singers they either produce or are. The next challenge is to accept the points for improvement they offer and actively seek to work in your practice at this identified ‘growing edge’.
    This relates very much to what I said in Tip No. 2 – Embrace your Mistakes. You see so often I’ve noticed that because singing is so intimately tied to self-identity singers don’t like to be told what’s not so good, it tends to be taken very personally and a lot of time what’s not so good is avoided and ignored. That’s ok if you want to keep doing what you’ve done and keep getting what you’ve already got, but not so good if you genuinely want to improve. If this is you, then you should do short targeted practices that focus on what you’re not so good at. That’s where the courage to grow is.
    For instance, in my own vocal journey, it was only when I really accepted that all the feedback I’d gotten in my twenties on severe tongue tension might actually be on to something that my singing really started to improve. Believe me, I often wish I’d learnt the truth of this tip a lot quicker than I did! This would have saved me years of heartache and disappointment with my own singing. Truth is, it’s really hard to embrace what you don’t do so well, particularly when it’s part of what you love to do most. I think we’re mainly all guilty of wanting to work only to the best of what we can do and kind of gloss over the short-comings. However, when it comes to practice the shortest distance between where you are and mastery is working exclusively on what’s not so good. My advice is to listen to the person you trust most to give honest feedback and then work on no more than 3 key targeted exercises to address the problem. From my own teaching studio I’ve noticed key problems with how to sing usually relate to one of the following:

    1. Tongue Tension
    2. Jaw Tension
    3. Misaligned posture – chin jutting forward or compacted backwards, head tilted off centre either tilted too far up or down, too narrow a base – feet too close together.
    4. Lack of energy – no engagement of the core muscles of effective singing support – rib intercostals, 6 abdominal sheets and the latissimus dorsi (also diaphragm but this is an involuntary muscle).
    5. Incorrect breathing – usually too shallow and incorrectly sequenced with abdomen not expanding with in-breath or even the abdomen moving inwards with the in-breath (the reverse of what should happen!).
    6. Laryngeal constriction – too much constriction or pressure put on the vocal folds to initiate sound, or occasionally, the reverse of this, too little connection of the vocal folds to create a resonate non-breathy tone.

    Just about every singer there is will have 1 or more of the above to work on as their vocal challenge. You need to know intimately, and specifically which challenges are yours. The more courage you can show in the face of what you, and others, don’t like about the way you do something you love, the greater the odds that you will overcome it – and fast! Work on it every day is my advice and make it little and often to cut down the frustration factor. 1 or more 10 minute practices in a day on one of these specific aspects of your practice will yield tenfold results over just singing through all the songs in your set without addressing any specifics aspects of your technique. Work in a way that emphasises improvement and break-through rather than embeds habitual short-comings and within 3 months I guarantee you will surprise yourself with measurable improvement! Take courage and have the discipline to change!

    And finally . . . remember to always sing with spirit!

    Yours in singing support
    Barbara Ann

    See more Top 5 Tips to Improve Your Singing! No. 2 – Embrace your mistakes!
    See more Top 5 Tips to Improve Your Singing! No. 1 – Get present!