I have a couple of guitars at home and often pick one up as I’m walking by, strap it around my shoulders and strum a little as walk to the next room. Usually these drive-by music sessions last less than a minute and then I’m on to my next thing.
At other times, I sit down with my guitar as I would in a conversation with a long missed friend, hearing every facet of its voice. This is a wholly more enjoyable experience.
Listening well brings us quickly into the present moment. As I sit writing this, I hear the plastic-y thud of my fingers on my computer keyboard, the soft, persistent hum of a refrigerator, the pulsating chorus of cicadas outside, an occasional car motor nearing and then fading, the caws of grackles. Suddenly the fluctuations of my mind are more distance and the world feels more juicy.
Our ability to enjoy the music we make with our voices is directly proportional to the quality of our listening.
The greatest improvisers are the best listeners, for they are tuned into what is occurring in the moment and can respond instantly to what is actually there, rather than some idea of what sounds good.
It may sound counter intuitive, but to gain greater vocal freedom and enjoyment, we can start with listening.
As you begin your practice today, start by growing Dumbo ears. For a few minutes, just listen. What do you hear? Then listen more closely. Then even more closely.
Try listening more deeply to any one sound.
For example, on the surface, the hum of my refrigerator is one solid drone, but the more I listen, I can hear different aspects of it, a low tone that pulses, a higher tone that, though continuous, is really made up of tiny clicks.
You can also scan your environment for sounds other than the ones that first present themselves. What sounds are hiding out, ready to be discovered by your big listening?
Now turn the same kind of listening inward. Begin making some tones with your voice. Anything will do. You could hum or sing “Mahhhhh.”
The key is to be focused on what you hear, like it is a new creature at the zoo that you have never even heard of before.
It doesn’t matter what sounds you make with your mouth. You could even try singing a familiar song, but with your attention more on listening than on singing.
Simply play around with sounds and become fascinated with what you hear.
You are developing muscles here that will serve you greatly as you expand your vocal practice.