In the past few years, I’ve begun viewing my singing work in a similar manner to my weight training. And vice versa.
The two share obvious similarities. We use time and effort to get better:
- We want more power.
- We want more endurance.
- We want more agility.
- We want to be more durable.
- We want to recover more quickly.
Here a couple cross over ideas between the two.
An argument against scales and other such technical exercises is that they aren’t musical. “Why not just learn a piece that incorporates these challenges?” Before you scoff, I have encountered passionate arguments in favor of that view. And I believe it’s a fair question, and I’ve found that bringing in my weight training experience helps answer it.
My philosophy is being shaped by a series of rhetorical questions:
- Would we make the same argument for strength training?
- As in, would we tell someone that the best way to get strong is, for example, to help people move their furniture since that’s a real world “functional” use of strength akin to a composition being more “musical” than scales?
- Were we to follow that path, how would we deal with the inevitable imbalances and sub-optimal movement patterns that would occur?
- How would we deal with the higher risk of injury?
It’s clearly safer to get strong by doing reps in a gym and slowly raising the intensity over time. Once trained, we can use that movement in the real world more safely and with more skill than if we just began with the real world application. I think everyone can see that.
When I pick up a heavy box now, I pick it up with the same movements I practice in the gym. I’m much more aware of what I can safely do. I’m better at the real world activity because of the training.
Likewise when I sing repertoire, I use the skills developed from training scales and arpeggios. When I train scales, I’m doing my “reps” because it’s safer, and it’s easier to fix a poorly performed scale than to unlearn bad habits in a repertoire piece. I can then transfer that skill to a piece of music. The transferability makes the technical work worth it.
In fact, I honestly should be doing more technical work than I am. I like doing it, but I could probably increase the rigor with which I approach it. With my classical guitar practice, my abilities go up noticeably when I reliably do rigorous technical work.
Beating Ourselves Up
Let’s reverse directions to help our fitness mindset.
There’s a masochistic aspect to fitness culture. Training harder, longer, or to failure gives us the sense that we’re accomplishing something: “Man, that workout kicked my ass,” or “I’m so wrecked from yesterday’s workout,” or “I’m still sore from last week’s leg day,” are the kinds of things we might say. Another rhetorical question though:
Would we ever deliberately sing “until failure”?
If we did, I don’t think we’d feel proud of it. I think we’d be worried.
We practice singing and experience growth without this masochistic instinct, so maybe we can beat ourselves up a lot less in the gym and still improve. In fact, if you search for “sub maximal training”, you’ll find a lot of resources around that concept. Check out “squat every day” too, which we could easily swap with “sing every day”. The basic idea is that we grow even without pushing to extremes. That’s obvious when we sing, but for some reason, in the fitness world we’ve decided that we have to suffer to grow.
If I think of my workouts as a kind of practice rather than a workout, it’s easier to let go of the “until failure” grindset. I’m practicing movements and making them harder when they become too easy. Just like how I’ll occasionally sing at max volume, I will occasionally test my strength limits but not with the goal of beating myself up. We can push ourselves but perhaps not to the absolute edge.
Cross Pollination of Ideas
My summary takeaway is that I’m viewing parts of my singing practice as training, and my strength training as practice. This framework lets me use concepts from one realm to help guide decisions in the other, and I’m sure that you could make other helpful connections that I didn’t spell out here.
Likewise, I’m sure that you have areas of your life aside from singing or weight training that can provide helpful lessons for your singing life. And vice versa.