Learning to sing

I wanted to test out the skills of learning that I have gathered over time.  I wanted to be better at singing.  What better way to see if I know what I am talking about when I say “here’s how to learn a new area X that you have no idea about

This is part one of me following my own advice.

But I also failed. I did things in the wrong order. That was more fun. So I did step 3, then I did step 5ish because talking to friends about what I am doing is fun. Then I started again from step 1 because actually making progress on goals is important to me.

(skipping step zero – have a growth mindset because I am fairly sure I have one)

This is the process again from step 1:

step 1: Make sure your chosen X is aligned with your actual goals (are you doing it because you want to?). When you want to learn a thing; is X that thing?

I want to be able to hear a song and sing along in tune. For the purpose of once I have that skill I can gradually get better and better at singing along to songs that I know. That seems like fun, it’s a thing I have never been able to do.

step 2: Check that you want to learn X and that will be progress towards a goal (or is a terminal goal.

this goes along with my goal of being a spectacle/interesting person.

step 3: Make a list of what you think that X is. Break it down. Followed by what you know about X, and if possible what you think you are missing about X.

1. achieve volume control
how loud or soft the sound is that comes from you.
<can already do a bit>
2. hit a note accurately
start at the note, and hold the right note for as long as needed
<cannot do>
3. maintain duration
have enough breath and vocal cord exercise to sing for as long as needed
<cannot do>
4. ability to switch between notes as required
accurately change from note to note.
<cannot do>
5. have a range of high to low pitch of notes.
be able to hit all notes in at least one and preferably more octaves. (accuracy elsewhere)
<can do a bit>
6. clarity of sound
sharp, clear, not wavering sounding and one note, not several.
<bad at it>
7. good breathing
be able to take in lots of air, and sing from the lungs not the neck.
<not sure>
8. accuracy at volume, high notes at volume,
advanced skill
<not yet>

step 4: Do some research to confirm that your rough definition of X is actually correct. Confirm that what you know already is true, if not – replace that existing knowledge with true things about X. Do not jump into everything yet.

Pitch matching. (hear a sound and sing it)
Interval training. (jump between two notes accurately)
Short melody – 3 notes or more.
Scales – can be done at the same time as short melody.

more step 3 from me:
Be able to follow sheet music and sing to it. (optional if I want to)

step 5: Figure out what experts in the area know (by topic area name), try to find what strategies experts in the area use to go about improving themselves.

I have two good friends who are excellent musicians, N has been teaching piano for 10+ years. and Y is a world class choir master and singer. That means I lucked out on the skilled friends. I don’t want to be an idiot who says the equivalent of “teach me everything while I stand on one leg”, but I can reasonably ask a few questions and get guidance.

Bearing in mind that while talking to Y they mentioned that their two year old daughter can sing in tune because there is a genetic factor to ability, and while moving around the house she makes up tunes and sings them. They can sing a melody and she can copy even when she can’t talk yet.

When talking to N, they would routinely be surprised that I can’t just “do this”. and “you just hear it”. Which is just a funny way to show the difference between experts and people with marginally more than zero skill. I have an ego that’s far too big to be discouraged by these things, but I can definitely see how that would make people who didn’t “have it” give up early.

At this point, often experts don’t know how to teach the very very basics because they are well into knowing how it’s done. It would be like asking a normal person how you walk up stairs. “you just do it”, how do you breathe? “I dunno you just do”. I am not complaining, just remarking on the phenomenon of the competence cycle:

Unconscious incompetence
conscious incometence
conscious competence
unconscious competence.

At this point I already found a phone app called “pitch lab lite” which visualises which note on a scale you are currently making. Y almost sneered at the app and insisted he learnt by ear. I am sure that the feedback helps, so I am not putting it down. Y gave me exercises of singing 1, 1-2-1, 1-2-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1, and so on but keeping in tune. I did a few in person and got minor corrections, and using the app on my own I can improve gradually.

N was not sure what to offer and suggested interval training.

step 6: common mistakes people make.

<not sure that this is necessary at the current stage>

further steps: at this point I am not sure that I need to do the further steps, because they are mostly about getting amazing resources. Something I don’t need until I am at least a little better at singing. I am going to try the exercise each day, a few times a day for practice, using the app for feedback I am trying to keep on the right note. I expect that I will lack the ability to get better beyond a certain point where the feedback basically looks much the same no matter what you do.

I want to bring up 14 because I think it’s now extraordinarily relevant.

try to find experiments you can conduct on yourself to confirm you are on the right track towards X. Or ways to measure yourself (measurement or testing is one of the most effective ways to learn) (1hour per experiment, 10-20 experiments)

I have been practicing daily for a few weeks now, and I am not entirely sure I am getting better.  I am going to have to figure out how to design a feedback loop.  Probably with Audacity, visualisation apps and some YouTube videos that I can sing along to.

Any time I am in a place with music playing I try to have the visualisation app going so that I can get used to seeing the feedback of what I am listening to.

unfortunately it looks like my next step is going to involve some deliberate practice (with a computer setup) and be harder to do while passive, i.e. singing along to things when I drive.  This will likely slow my progress down.

meta: this took about 1.5hrs to write and I wrote it up for myself, to keep track of my progress.

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