Learning Your Stuff

What is the best way to learn your material. This is part on of a two parter, where I talk about the process I teach for this.

I also invite you to join me live in London to learn the full process: Free Your Voice

If you can't make it live, you can also get the whole process here as a mini-course, which also includes changing the way you view your audience and yourself: Free Your Voice Course 

To listen to Part 2 go here: Learning Your Stuff - Part 2


Podcast Titles (2)

The Courageous Performer Podcast

Learning Your Stuff

Read the episode transcript here:


Hi, I'm Hattie Voelcker, from Find Your True Voice. And today I want to talk to you about, a bit more about preparation, and if you see my recent posts, you'll know that I am not a fan of learning by rote, or perfecting. If you've seen all of my posts, and this has come, probably partly due to necessity, because my memory when I developed a chronic illness, gosh, about 10 years ago now over 10 years ago now, and that completely shot my memory to pieces and so I couldn't learn the way I used to learn. And this really panicked me. But then I realised that the way I used to learn was actually, although really easy, was not a very effective way of learning my material, and that was both for my work as a barrister and for my singing, although now I look at it, and I work as a barrister has probably fed more into this process that I now do with people, and the process that I teach.



The process that I teach works, whatever sort of performer you are, it's even it even works for dancers and visual artists, sculptors, and painters, etc, etc. But for this podcast, I thought I would split it into two parts. So this is a two part, two episode podcast because I thought I would take it from the aspect of doing work that someone else has written. Or maybe you have written it another time, but doing work that has been written and that you are going to give a rendition of, and that can also apply to dance as well.



The second part is going to be about doing work that you are creating. And that so that relates much more to public speakers, because in public speaking, I don't recommend reading word for word because it's harder to connect with the audience if you do that. And even even if you're reading from notes, it's about having the ability and the flexibility to weave in and out deal with questions perhaps as they come up deal with looking at the audience and seeing that they're not getting this point, how do I bring some clarity here, etc, etc. It's much more creating on the spot.



But the process that I talked about, is, is a process that will work for both of those because of the nature of the whole thing. But as I say part one, I'm going to be diving into performing other people's work. And this can be this can be both freeing because you don't have to create, you don't have to create the work, you have to create the performance of it. But also, it can create all sorts of psychological barriers to it. So as part of the Free Your Voice process that I teach, which is the process by which the learning the material is part of that process, one of the steps is diving into what you are performing.



The reason we dive into what you are performing is that your connection to the work can make or break the performance. It can have a huge, huge impact on what the audience get. If you are struggling to connect with a piece, or you're focusing on accuracy and not connecting with the piece, then your audience will get less and they will find it harder to connect with the piece there.



Their only route to connect with the piece is you and if you don't have that connection, then there's a break in that chain and they cannot connect with the piece. I don't know if you've ever been to see a rendition of something that you love, and found that the the performer has not been connected with it and it's just not there. It's not doing it, although you like the piece, it's really not doing it for you. Because in order for to have the links in the chain that allow your audience to connect with what you are performing, you have to connect with it.



And because there are a number of things that happen on top of it being impossible for your audience not to connect with the piece if you don't connect with a piece. If you don't connect with the piece there'll be spurious emotions going on. So not emotions associated with the piece. There'll be emotions that are your commentary on how you feel about the piece which will get in the way of the audience's enjoyment as well.



For example, I was working with a singer the other day and as we went through it, they it was really clear. They didn't like the song. They found it patronising and simplistic. But as we pulled it apart, and looked at different meanings that could be there, it transformed how she performed the piece. In fact, and we, in fact, did this as a poem. So we took the music away, and just looked at the words and then the performer, the singer, read it as a poem. The first time she read it, it was very rum te tum te tum tetum sort of, like saying it to children. Second time, once we brought a different meaning to it, the connection was there and suddenly there was this beautiful, even within the poetry, this beautiful legato, that went through the lines, we suddenly started hearing the words way more clearly, because it was making more sense to her, so it made more sense to us. And that was just shifting the perspective, so that she could connect with that piece.



Now I have another great example, the first time I ever taught the Free Your Voice process, I was part of my 5 day challenge, and I did this three years ago now. And I remember there was a person there, who is one of my lovely, lovely clients and I love her to death. She was looking at a very famous piece. Dido's Lament from Dido in an Aenaes. And she said, she just didn't like Dido, in that she didn't connect with her, she didn't like what she was saying. But by digging into it, digging into the meaning of what she was singing, digging into the words, understanding it, trying to look at it from Dido's perspective, she suddenly got a different view that really connected her to it. So the next time she performed that piece, she was connected.



And not only did it give a great, a better rendition for all her audience to hear, but it also helped her sing it better. Because all of that tension that comes from the battle within, I don't like this piece, shows up in the voice. And so if you're having this battle, so it, the song becomes the enemy. And so you stand up on stage, and there's tension, there's a battle before you even open your mouth to sing. And this can happen if there's a particular section of that song that you find technically difficult. Suddenly, it's a way of demonstrating your inadequacy, and you're worried about not being able to sing that particular section. And so you disconnect and become technical, and your audience, get the fear and the worry and the anxiety, and they don't get you singing.



I can't tell you how many times I've worked with singers, we've worked on the meaning. And a particular passage that they were finding technically difficult, suddenly becomes completely easy because once the meaning and they're singing it for a reason, that particular phrase, those high notes, high notes, stop being high notes, and they start being an expression of emotion. And suddenly, the tension is gone. And they suddenly appear. And it makes a massive difference to the technical part of your singing as well.



So the solution is to find a way to fall in love with your piece. And I'm using I'm using singers because this is where I started my work and this is because I'm a singer, so I connect with this hugely. So many people I talked to will say you know, I just don't like this piece and say, 'Well, if you don't like the piece, don't bother singing it.' Yes, don't choose it as the next recital piece necessarily, but don't give up. Because artistic expression is all about interpretation, and it's about your interpretation. Yes, if you're in an opera, or music theatre, and there's a musical director, it's about their interpretation, but there's still a layer of your interpretation of their interpretation, as well.



So how do you get your head round it? Now I'm a life coach, so I'm all about getting your head around it and putting different perspectives and it's amazing what a difference meaning, and the meaning you are attributing to something will make to how you connect with something, because if there's a technical section that you're finding hard, or if there's a section of the song that you're finding technically hard, then that song, as I said, will feel like an enemy. And the meaning you're giving that song is that it's showing your inadequacy. And so it's no wonder that it becomes a big black monster in the room.



If on the other hand, you start looking at the meaning of the words and finding a way to connect with your character, Judi Dench talks about, you know, not playing a 2d villain, the there has to be depth and humanity to the villain she plays because that's, you know, villains have depth and humanity, I was a Barriser for many years, and there was always depth and humanity to all of my clients, no matter what they'd done, or who they were. And there's always depth and humanity, and that's the beauty of song and artistic expression, there's depth and humanity to it. And there's this funny thing about humanity, we always tend to fall in love with it. So if you can find the humanity, if you can get your head round a way of interpreting it that connects with you, not only will you find that, you'll find it easier to sing because it's no longer the enemy, in terms of psychologically, you will find it easier to sing technically, because there'll be a line to it, there'll be a reason for singing certain notes in a certain way, there'll be a reason for that dynamic there. And if there isn't, pick it apart a little bit more.



Essentially, there are three levels, I would say, first and foremost, understand the meaning of the word. So if it's in a foreign language, you'll have been told this 1000 times if you're somebody who sings in foreign languages, translate, translate, translate translate, not a poetic, a poetic translation, have the poetic translation so you can understand the meaning, but a literal translation. Really understand, why is it in that tense? Why are they talking in the past tense there, the subjunctive tense there, really understand the meaning of the words?



Because if you don't understand the meaning of the words, how can you express them in a way that connects with the audience?



But more than that, the second point is understand the narrative journey. There's a story within this song, no matter how short, no matter how small the story, because I mean, arias are great, there's this huge, they're huge songs that take the narrative journey on usually a tiny, tiny amount. But there is still a narrative journey.



If you want to know more about this. So this is just one aspect of the free voice process. If you want to know more about it, the best way would be to join me live on the 15th of April, where I'm doing a one day event at the Royal Academy of Music for both singers and speakers, to join me and I will take you through the whole process. How to unpick the narrative journey, how to unpick the emotional journey, looking at the words. I'll be bringing people up on stage to work through the process with them, and that could be you, so you see that process in action. And we take you through the whole process. So not only looking at the material, but looking at your relationship with the audience and how to change that. And then looking at your relationship with yourself and how to change that. And bring it all together to have a real plan for how to prepare, and how to go on stage knowing that you have prepared and you're good to go.



There is also an emotional journey that the character goes on. So understand the emotional journey, because that is vital. Because these three things will really help you find a connection with your piece, and once you've done that, and you're focusing on what the piece means, you'd be amazed what happens to your nerves, and how they just disappear. So that's it from a singing perspective, and this is exactly what I've said, applies to acting and dancing. But this is all to do with expressing pieces that other people have written, other people's work that you are expressing.



If you can't make that day, all of this is in my Free Voice Mini Course. I'll put the link to both of those in the in wherever I'm posting this. My mind has gone completely blank for a moment. But the most important thing I want you to remember is that if you connect with a piece, you will be able to translate that, no, communicate that connection to your audience so your audience can connect with a piece. You can do that through really understanding the meaning of the words and funnily enough if you really understand them meaning of the words, it's much harder to not remember them. Because if you know, it's that verb in that tense, and it's there for that reason, then you understand the reason it's there and it's hard to put a different word because you a different word doesn't fit there anymore because you understand or have given a reason for it being there. You don't have to understand what was in the composer's mind, you have to have a reason for it being there, and it has to make sense to you. And other people may argue with that, and other people might come up with a different interpretation later on, that you go, actually, that's better than mine, I'm going to use that. But whatever interpretation you have, it's vital, it makes sense to you.



And it's also vital that you have a narrative journey, and you have the emotional journey, because what that means is you are communicating both of those to your audience. And once you've got that, it's miraculous the impact that has on your nerves. So have a think about that. If you're a public speaker, part two, we will be diving into how this really applies to public speaking. But I really would encourage you to think about what I've said today, because what I said today will also apply in the public speaking arena.



Equally, if you're a singer or an actor or a dancer, listen to part two because when we dive into public speaking and how to connect with your own creation, it also has elements that apply to performing somebody else's work. So the two crossover and the more you understand about this process, the more you can implement this process.



So I hope that makes sense. I hope you've enjoyed it. Do let me know what you think, and I look forward to talking to you in the next episode. I'm Hattie Voelcker from Find Your True Voice.