Tip of the week: Break up with your tension
We all know that things like habitual tension are more than just physical. It's a committed emotional relationship. We grow attached to our old ways. Like an unhealthy romance we just don't want to end because we have so much HISTORY. Am I right?
So here's a fun exercise: let's take the metaphor to a whole new level. . .
Step 1. Write a break up letter to your tension. Tell your aches and pains and muscular tightness and stress that you are leaving them for a new love: an open relaxed body! Take the exercise as far as you can. Why did you start the relationship to begin with? What were you expecting? What did it turn out to be in reality? What do you get out of it? (Be honest, there's a reason you're still together.) What memories and parts of yourself have you attached to this relationship that you are scared you'll lose when you admit that it's over? How are you realizing now that this is destructive and stopping you from being who you really want to be? Have your friends commented? Is an intervention necessary? Personify your tension, tell it how it makes you feel. Then gently, but firmly, let it know you are moving on to a healthier you.
Step 2: Write a letter to yourself to strengthen your resolve. How will your life be better with your new flame? Do you need support from your friends? - Ask them! How about a new regimen? Dream about what life will be like when you are free.
Write it and mean it. Even mail it to yourself to make it more official.
Step 3: Stick by what you've said. Implement your new habits and cut those ties for good. It's a process, it takes time, you'll have days when you want to run back and beg forgiveness. But you know this is best. Be strong. Pamper yourself and commit to a healthier, happier you. :)
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My recent experiences auditioning and giving advice to friends who are starting to audition made me realize I should share a few audition tips for those of us who get nervous.
1. Choosing a Monologue
I'm just zeroing in on nerve-busting strategies here. Obviously you must still take into account all the normal stuff like appropriateness of genre, range, length, context, your personal connection to the piece etc etc.
If you've done any work with me you'll have heard me say that you need to know your text inside out and back to front. This is always true but it is especially important in the context of an audition. To test if you know your piece well enough try it while doing something that requires both your body and brain like a choreographed dance or gardening. If you cannot simultaneously say your words and do the activity then you don't know the piece well enough yet. In addition to knowing your words inside out, it is also helpful to know yourself. Everyone is different. How do your nerves manifest? At an audition what does your body typically do? What mannerisms and personality traits surface? And how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?
Now, I'm NOT saying that you should choose something about a nervous actor and just ride your nerves in the audition. There are so many reasons why that doesn't work. But it IS a lot easier to match your physical energy and subtly change it than is is to do a complete 180 against what your body is giving you. You'll always have to ground your energy, personalize and get into character but if your nervous self is highly strung perhaps a neurotic or desperate person would be a better choice than a depressive or zen-master. That way you can use your adrenaline engine instead of spending all your energy trying to smother it. Similarly, if you become paralyzed with nerves and want to crawl into a hole a hide then perhaps you want a less physical character, look for something a bit more contained.
The hardest part about auditioning, especially if you are choosing to work with your nerves instead of against them, is staying/getting grounded. Most of us when we're nervous let that hysterical energy bring our centre of gravity way up into our shoulders. But we'll address that a little later in the series. Right now just think about the character you've chosen or are going to choose and how you can make the physical manifestation of your nerves work for you.
Tip of the Week: D your T's!
The articulation tip for today (say that 10 times fast!) is to D your T's.
No! I don't mean say budder instead of butter! This is about being precise, not lazy. D and T are a plosive pair. That means the only real difference in making them is that one is voiced (D) and the other is unvoiced (T). Other than that, they are exactly the same!
I've been hearing a lot of splashy T's lately, the result of either a lazy or an over active tongue tip. The "splash" is usually caused by the tongue straying too close to the upper teeth, either upon contact or as it releases. The placement of the tongue for the letter T should be exactly the same as for the letter D, that is firm on the ridge behind your teeth. I've included a graphic here because it's hard to explain, please excuse my ineptitude with a pencil. Click on the image to see a larger version.
The tongue should move up to touch the ridge behind your front top teeth and then retract straight back into your mouth. If your tongue slips forward at the end of your T then you are being too enthusiastic!
Try this simple exercise of sneaking a T in with the D's to create a more precise, less explosive T.
1. d d d d d d
2. d d d t d d d t (x 4)
3. d d t d d t (x 8)
4. d t d t (as much as you can without letting the T run away with you)
If you notice the T is more precise at the beginning of the exercise but that your habitual splashiness creeps in near the end, repeat the second line over and over again until you can do the third without reverting, then repeat the third until you can do the fourth comfortably.
If you do any work with a microphone this exercise is very important. Too much air on a mic results in headaches for sound engineers and less than desirable recordings of your beautiful voice. You'll have to slow down at first when you practice in order to retrain your tongue, but once you have the knack you'll be able to return to your regular speaking speed.
Tip of the Week: Be Curious
I was listening to, of all things, Gold Mother by James today and it got me think about how I'm approaching the world and my life right now. I've been hibernating the last week or two, doing a lot of punishing and judging, not so much of the curious exploring. I only realized listening to that song what a funk I was in! So this tip of the week is as much for me as it is for you.
Tip of the Week: Be Curious!
Imagine a baby approaching the world, they don't even know how their fingers work! Everything is wonder and mystery and discovery. Why shouldn't we continue to approach our bodies that way all through our lives? If anything as adults we have more of a capacity to appreciate just how intricate and powerful and fragile and versatile and strong our bodies are. But instead of being in awe, we punish, we bully, we ignore and neglect.
And of course this especially applies to approaching voice work. Do you ever bully your voice? Take it for granted? Do you ever ignore what your voice is telling you because you're pushing for a result no matter the cost? I know I do. Let's take time this week to approach our bodies and our voices with respect and curiosity. Approach your practice, your singing, your rehearsals and your conversations with wonder and joy. Truly listen to your body. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Tip of the Week: Stay Warm!
"Winter is coming" as they say. Are you prepared?
If you're like me and you walk down the street singing a lot you'll have noticed the change in the weather in Vancouver, BC. My throat does not like these temperatures (OK I know they're not that low yet, I'm a ninny, I admit it) and it closes up in terror when I breathe in that icy ether.
So it's just going to get even colder, what can we do about it?
1. Wear a scarf outside. A warm neck is a relaxed neck. Shoulders too. The last thing you want is residual tension from the weather!
2. Warm ups are always important, but even more so in winter. Your warm up is there to WARM up your throat. If you don't usually warm up (wrist slap for you) or you usually only do a quick one, take a bit more time and be a bit more gentle with yourself at the outset.
3. Let that air in. I know, it's cold, your body doesn't want to, but breath is still of the utmost importance and skimping on an inhalation is not the answer. You might unconsciously breathe more shallowly in winter. Make it conscious and allow the breath to travel at least all the way into your belly (Or deeper! If you haven't read the Go Deeper Tip Of the Week, make that your next stop). Remember that breath is the fuel for the sound: less breath, less sound and less vocal range.
Tip of the Week: Trust Yourself
Today's tip is a day late because I was writing an exam yesterday. BUT writing the exam provided me with this week's tip. Funny how these things work out.
Today's tip: Work hard. Prepare. Then let it all go and trust!
This advice applies to performance of any type: acting, singing, corporate presentations, academic exams, the whole kit and caboodle. It's an effective process. And yesterday, getting ready to sit down for my exam I heard Larry Silverberg's voice in my head saying "Trust the preparation!" and I realized that I learned how to approach exams, job interviews and work presentations many, many years ago when I was just a wee young thing at speech and drama classes!
I'm going to use the actors process to illustrate what I mean, but you can apply this to anything.
The actor works relentlessly through the rehearsal period. You review your script every night even when you know all the words, you do all the table work, you question and over-analyze everything, you try every possible combination you can think of in the scene study, you work towards exhaustion. And then, the day before the performance, you rest. You get enough sleep, you go for a walk, you clear your mind, you "forget" everything you've worked so hard on and you Trust. You trust the work you've done has seeped into your bones and you trust the techniques you've drilled yourself on have become muscle memory, you trust that you know the character inside and out and you stand in the wings waiting for your cue expectant, open and ready for anything. (Personally I often stand in the wings realizing I don't know what my first line is, but I've learned to enjoy that, it has always been there when the time comes.)
Trusting yourself on stage allows you to surrender to the moment, to your partner and to the situation in front of you so that you are truly present and alive when it matters most. If you're holding your lines in your head or thinking about your blocking or your emotional journey or (god forbid) what the audience must be thinking or whatever your particular "control habit" is, your performance will be wooden and stale. Never mind upping the anxiety scale to the point of stage fright: sweats, shakes and stammers! It is only by letting go of everything that you can make yourself available to the fullness of your experience and knowledge.
And this applies as much to cramming for an exam or preparing for a presentation to the board as it does to acting. Work hard, know your material inside out and then let it all go. Float and enjoy the mastery of your infinite potential.
Tip of the week: use the "wait" time!
Haha! No innuendo in this week's tip! I did it! *dance around the computer maniacally*
You're right. Who cares? Get on with the tip already!
If you're anything like me you struggle to find time for everything that needs to get done in your day. And I'm guessing that even if you ARE like me, voice practice might not be at the very tip top of your to-do list. So how can you keep caring for your voice without booking off an hour a day to do warmups and relaxation exercises? Well, how much time every day do you spend waiting? For the bus, for your partner to get ready, for school to be over? Use that time!
Maybe you won't be able to get on the floor and start stretching while you wait for the bus (Especially in Vancouver, it's wet! Ick!) but you can absolutely check in with your posture. In fact, that's my favourite way to wait for the bus. I do it every morning and every night. I check the weight distribution on my feet, are my knees locked or soft? Where is my sacrum at? And are my shoulders tensed or hunched? Is my sternum collapsed? Can I lift and open it? I mindfully adjust my posture and then challenge myself to stay aligned until the bus comes.
Or on the bus I practice my breath support exercises: breathing to capacity into my belly and side ribs and out to a very quiet "fff" while I count in my head. Or I just practice breathing deeper. (See how I'm referencing previous tips? They're all relevant people!)
At the office in front of that computer check in with your head/neck relationship. Is your head off your spine, conked off forward or are you balancing your skull lightly on that atlas vertebra? Is your back hunched or straight? Is your jaw clenched? Can you relax it while you work? Working at the office could become relax your jaw time!
These seem like tiny things, but they add up. If you check in with your body regularly, in the little breaks while you're waiting for that page to load, that bus to come or that clock to strike leaving time, you'll be amazed at the cumulative difference in your life. Give it a try! And please, if you have positive results (or negative results, I don't want to discriminate here) please post your findings below. :)
Tip of the Week: Open Your Mouth
Why do my voice tips always sound dirty? It's not intentional I swear!
To continue with the singing theme from yesterday: Do you ever struggle to hit those high notes when you're singing? Do you ever get choked-up (literally) with emotion or nerves or just plain tension? Next time, try opening your mouth a little more. See what happens. ;)
In our bigger, better, faster, more society there's an awful lot of jaw clenching going on. You might not even know you do it, but chances are you do. And chances are you can afford to let that tension go, open that mouth just a little further and let that voice out!
Tip of the Week: Go Deeper!
In an attempt to regulate my sporadic blogging habit I have decided to start a Tip Of The Week initiative. I'm going to aim to post one every Thursday.
4 October's tip is: Go Deeper!
Now get your mind out of the gutter for a second and think about everything you've ever been told about breath.
Perhaps you know you don't want to breathe into your shoulders (I hope!), perhaps you even breathe into your side ribs, belly or back ribs. That's great! Now I challenge you to go deeper. See if you can breathe into your pelvis, your bum, hey see if you can breathe into your thighs! Try it this week and see what happens.
Of course, there's a catch: I want to hear from you! Who tried it? How did it feel? What did you realize? How did it change your life? All observations are welcome from the revolutionary to the mundane. (But nothing offensive please, this is a family friendly website.) Post your comments below and every week you'll get to see what other people thought and experienced in this little experiment.
So go now. Live life. Breathe deep. And tell me all about it! ;)
Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.