Just to quickly sum-up, my music goals for 2013 are:
1) Combined practice target of at least 720-730 hours or more – this is 15 hours a week on average.
2) Finish writing the 3rd album, do acoustic studio recordings and get it professionally mastered ready for release.
3) Be gig-ready on guitar by the end of the year (bonus points for actually doing a gig!)
4) Be performance-ready on (classical) piano by the end of the year (bonus points for actually doing a recital!)
So far I’ve been consistently meeting and just about surpassing goal 1, which is central to all the other goals – completing 50 hours in the first three weeks. So far so good. This breaks down into about a 2:1 ratio of song-work and piano, or thereabouts. In terms of what I’ve actually been doing:
- I’ve been researching and developing better vocal warm-up exercises, and after a couple of months of religiously following other people’s warm-ups and feeling the benefits but not really expanding, I’ve come up with something which I think suits me much better and really gives my voice the biggest chance to grow in a more time-efficient exercise. I realised I wasn’t really using my whole voice before very often and struggled to hit notes, so the warm-ups I’m doing are various exercises starting from a comfortable point, working right down to the bottom of my range, then right up to the top and back again. The emphasis is on allowing my voice to expand and freeing my voice rather than pushing or straining it – and I find I have to really concentrate during warm-ups now rather than going over the same things without really thinking about it. Since it takes less time, I’m trying to warm-up as many days as possible, and every couple of days or so I find a new note in one of my ranges that I hadn’t been able to hit before – keeping track of these changes encourages me to keep at it and be as consistent as I can. Even if the new notes are not particularly strong, the process of getting to them strengthens the notes around them and I do believe in time that I can increase my range by enough to make a significant difference (maybe by about a fifth?) to which songs I can attempt.
- Warming up properly has helped me no end with some of the songs I’ve been wanting to learn where the range is quite wide or, as often happens, the range in the chorus is far higher than that of the verse. It’s not perfect yet by any means but it is better, and if I’ve warmed up I know which notes are within my grasp and learn to sing out and not be scared of them.
- Guitar practice is going well and I’m noticing fast improvements here. Each week I’ll pick a handful of focus-songs (about six or seven, which will fit into a half-hour slot) and I try to go over them as much as possible – this is great for days when I’m not feeling madly inspired but still want to practice something, or for when I’m hanging out with HH and he’s doing something else or watching TV, because it’s not too disruptive. I can now play several songs I found difficult at the start of the year and the list of songs still to learn is dwindling – it’s exciting to think that in a few weeks my focus-songs will be songs I never really thought about even attempting on guitar.
- I’m trying out new songs as well, a mixture of covers and my own old piano songs, so that I always have something new to add to the pipeline. A new song a day would be ideal (some of them don’t stick) but as long as I try a couple a week then I’m happy.
- I need to try and write more, but I’m a bit stuck on this lately. At the end of last year I had a bit of an emotional overflow and came up with several solid new ideas but now, suddenly, it’s all contracted and I’m not feeling as plugged in emotionally for long enough to write something new. I guess you have to be in the zone! Anyway, I know that at least spending time with some part-written songs will encourage me to build on them and that’s one way to make progress; it’s also a good time to be listening around to new/new to me music and thinking about what kind of singing I want to try, because the style might well affect what I write anyway.
- Through all this practising I’m gradually getting closer to having something to show for it – this’ll come in the form of the only things I can really do to update the website: new recordings and, at some point, videos. Although I can only record single-track at home (recording the guitar and then vocals separately) it’s better than nothing and although my ultimate aim is to be able to sing and play simultaneously and well, breaking it down does help me to focus on one thing at a time and having a guitar backing track makes it easier to experiment and practice different vocals for each song. So it’s a good mid-way point and I’m trying to record something each week – if for nothing else than an eventual record of how far I’ve come. I’m not setting a goal for this per se but hope it will continue to happen as I continue to practice.
- With piano, I came up with a short-list of pieces to try and play through as much as possible (this was almost everything I knew but not quite, and takes the first hour and a bit of practice). That helps structure my time on days when I have 2 hours to practice and usually from playing through everything I find points I want to work on for the rest of the time. What I want to do for next month is expand this basic play-through list and come up with a secondary focus-list of pieces I really want to improve, which needs to be no more than 30 minutes in total (like the focus-songs above) and aim to play through that list as many days as possible during February. I’m aiming to learn the notes for a new piece each month which can then go in the pile with the rest of the repertoire to be worked on.