If the gremlin in your head is always saying “I don’t want to be here, I sound terrible, I’ll never get it right,” your body will have to fight it in order to succeed. Better to have all your resources on your side!A beneficial technique when training the mind is visualization – guiding the mind through the best performance you can imagine. Such imagery can help you avoid the mental pitfalls of the piece you are working on. Say Joe usually sings easy high notes, but always balks at a particular note in a certain song, even though the note is not all that high. It could be that one time he cracked it, and expects to crack again each time he sings it. Such expectations set him up with tension and a big lack of confidence, both of which are detrimental to good singing. By repeatedly seeing himself sing that note perfectly, he begins to train his mind to expect success.There is much more to visualization than positive thinking, however. Here’s how I would suggest Joe create the images that will help him conquer the mental difficulties he has on that one note:Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe softly for a few minutes until you feel relaxed. Now begin to picture your practice space. See all the items on the piano and the sick geranium in the window. Listen for the usual dogs and cars. Smell the dinner cooking. See the music of the song out in front of you and “sing” through it in real time without making a sound. Don’t rush. Make this rendition exactly as you want it to be. There’s no reason there should be any imperfections, because your imagination is not limited at all. Feel the vibrations of focus, the full breaths, and the easy flow of that difficult phrase. Repeat that phrase several times, to enjoy how easy it is.
Use as many details as possible, involving all the senses. Create the place and situation in your mind’s eye as realistically as you can. If Joe does this exercise every day, his mind will begin to accept the idea that he can sing it, and sing it well.
Another example: Perhaps you have a problem with stage fright. Imagine the room, the people, the piano introduction, and all the while you are doing everything perfectly. Even introduce something out of your control, such as a baby crying, and mentally rehearse how you will handle it. Try this with an emphasis on interpretation and acting, too.
Visualization has been used successfully by businessman and athletes at the highest levels. The U.S. Olympic Committee hires a sports psychologist (bet you didn’t know there was such a career, did you?) to teach the technique to Olympians, with positive results. A very interesting book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, applies similar methods to sports and life goals. The exercises can be easily used by singers.
As a footnote, I’d like to suggest that you are defeating yourself every time you say “I can’t,” or “That was awful.” I hear these from students in lessons, and I sincerely believe that you will succeed only after you have removed this sort of negativism from your vocabulary, and consequently from your thought patterns.
So be sure you do perfect practice – not only with your voice, but with your mind, the most powerful tool you have in your journey to more beautiful singing.