One little troll (K. Barber, June 2022)

A little whimsy might be in order this week, given that I’ve had a couple of weeks of no posts due to sheer and utter craziness. And since trolls are one of my favourite whimsical things, and since the theme of the week is ONE THING, why not have that thing be a troll? I rest my case.

I’ve been scouring scholarly articles on voice pedagogy, group teaching in music and Body Mapping the last few days, in order to bolster some citations for an article I’ve been revising with a former student (now colleague and research partner). One discovery I came upon that struck me was in an article about a small group of singers one pedagogue was working with, to test some ideas very similar to approaches I use in the studio: mindfulness, check-ins, reflection, and self-reliance. One of the tenets of this teacher’s methodology was something she called One Thing. It intrigued me. It was coming up again and again in her paper, so I thought I’d follow the index and see what this mysterious method was. What I learned was that she was using a technique with her students that became a sort of mantra for them: they’d focus on just one applicable technical element, One Thing, that was straightforward, repeatable and could be easily sensed and monitored by the student themselves, so long as they truly attended to it. They were to remind themselves of this One Thing over and over again as they sang, repeating the technical instruction (for example, “release my tongue forward and keep it soft”) as often as needed. This allowed their brain to stay quieter and calmer, and not have to think of so many different instructions at once. As a result, what usually happened was that their singing became easier and they were also able to notice even the most incremental improvements and feel good about them. This gave them greater confidence and self-agency. And because their brains weren’t bouncing around like golf balls, they were able to actually pay attention to what they were doing and had a greater sense of satisfaction. And this satisfaction meant that they practiced more, with more enthusiasm. And then their skills improved (insert brain exploding emoji).

So today’s message is: do One Thing at a time. Pay attention to that thing. Keep reminding yourself of it over and over, so that you can notice its subtleties and also be aware of improvements. I think this little gem of wisdom will help us in more things than singing. It’s a pretty neat little recipe for life. We could call it “uni-tasking”.