Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Linguaphile - Lover of language

This is a rather impromptu post, however I said something in an early conversation today that I wanted to discuss here.

"In becoming a linguaphile I have become a lover of language."

This statement seems redundant I'm sure.  However let me explain what I mean.  One of the things that I am striving for in my journey of learning languages is to be able to have musical moments in which I find myself transcending language and music and finding a deeper connection.  I had this occur on Christmas eve while singing "Oh Holy Night" in the original French text.  While everyone thinks that the song is beautiful in English, it was only through my knowledge of French that I found the true beauty of the song hidden in the real text of the song.  My French is at a level where I no longer need to translate what I am reading or saying, I just intuitively know what I am saying or reading.  This enables one to experience the culture of thinking in the language you are using.  I have found it to be true that people who speak different languages see the world differently.  Let us take a look at the text of Oh Holy Night to see what I mean.  The order will be French (original), then a literal translation and then the sung English version.

Minuit, chretiens, c'est l'heure solenelle, ou l'Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu'a nous.
Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour, where the God-Man descends among us.
Oh holy night, the star is brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior's birth.

Pour effacer la tache originelle, et de son Pere arreter le courroux.
To erase the original stain, and to stop the wrath of his Father.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Le monde entier tresaille d'esperance, a cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
The whole world trembles in hope, on this night which he gives a Savior.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance, Noel, Noel voici le Redempteur.
People on your knees, await  your deliverance, Noel, Noel, here is the Redemptor.
Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices, oh night divine, oh night when Christ is born, oh holy night.

For me, in performing the French version of this song I finally felt the true emotion of the piece and was free to perform it with the integrity it deserves.  I found the real text to be considerably more moving and inspiring and that was channeled through me as I was singing.  This is the real reason I learn languages, so that my performances may be truly genuine.  Because I know French at an intimate level, I was able to connect to the music.  My love of language grew tenfold that night, because I learned experientially that speaking a different language really does give one a new way of thinking about a topic.  Only through a thorough knowledge of the language one sings in can one truly give an informed and accurate performance.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

End of the Year Update and Next Year's Plans

LANGUAGE:  Well, the year is coming to an end and I think I can successfully say that I have accomplished my goal for French.  In my two reading test at the end of this year I have averaged a 97% comprehension rate.  I do have one more test planned for next week so I can have a three score average to more accurately rate my ability.  Additionally, I feel pretty comfortable in conversation in French and feel as though I can express myself pretty well.  I am very pleased with the last eight months of work in French.  Admittedly, I was not always as consistent in my work as I would have liked to be, but it provides me with goals for the coming year.

2012 brings in an entire year devoted to German for me.  My system will be similar to what I did for French, since it seems to have been the most effective for me.  This includes working through Michel Thomas, Assimil and LingQ on a daily basis during the work week, taking the weekends off from studying to allow things to work themselves out subconsciously.  In addition I will again be consulting my friend Ernest for conversational practice beginning early on in the process.  My goal for the coming year is to be more consistent in my studying - making sure that I get in all three phases of my work, five days a week.  Based on the results I saw with French after only eight months, I am hoping to be even farther along in German by this time next year with the extra four months of work.

MUSIC:  This has been an enlightening year for me musically.  I have grown much as a singer and artist, however I also encountered some setbacks that varied from minor annoyances to things that made me step back and think about what it is I am undertaking.  Overall I am better for all of my experiences as they have led me to discover new interests and paths in which I can explore my own artistry.

The most difficult part of this year was the culminating recital, my first as a tenor in nearly ten years.  I had some successes and some failures throughout the performance which I meant to talk about here but never got around to it until now.  The positives from the recital were that I made it through all of my repertoire without feeling fatigued at the end or ever really feeling in danger of cracking.  The negatives were that I never really loosened up during the entire performance and thus my singing came out pressed and my artistic performance suffered for it.  I blame these issues mostly on nerves from not singing that high in public in many years.  I remember as a baritone that I had similar issues for a number of years until I had enough performances and faith in my voice through performing that I no longer suffered from the fright. 

The other challenge this year has been that I do not feel I have progressed as much as I should have this year.  I take the sole blame for this and have already begun to plan how to address this issue in the coming year.

After my recital, I began to contemplate if this was really the field for me to focus on and began taking choral conducting lessons with the plan of going to grad school for choral conducting.  Much to my delight, I have found that I really enjoy the study of choral conducting and have found myself doing what I do when I become truly interested in something:  researching and absorbing as much information as I can about the subject.  Ultimately this has not pulled away from my desire to perform and performing is still my primary goal, but I am still considering a MM in choral conducting, since an MM in vocal performance is not necessary for my goals.

For the coming year I really need to focus on more directed, intensive practice.  Difficulties abound due to my schedule, namely that I work overnights, however I have to figure out ways to be more productive and push myself if I want to make my dreams realities.  It is a challenge only being able to have lessons once every couple of months, but I cannot let that be an excuse for my not progressing.  This year I truly have to take my fate in my own hands and constantly remind myself that achieving my goals is a responsibility that rests solely on my shoulders and nobody else.

I am looking forward to 2012!  I can already tell that it will be a year of great growth for me as a person and artist.  Highlights of the coming year include planning a recital for the fall and my wedding, as well as figuring out where I will be relocating to in 2013.  Have a happy holiday season and I will be back in January!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Response

Today, I read a blog post by my teacher, JRL, which dealt with faith.  I found this post to be very poignant, and to a certain extent I felt like it was directed towards me.  With out going to much into the specifics of the situation, my last lesson with Ron was a challenging one for me, and I sense for him as well.  I came out of the lesson questioning whether I had the ability to make this all consuming dream of mine a reality.  Ultimately, my faith in myself got the better of me and a reaffirmed myself to my work ethic and the knowledge that my own perseverance has won out in the past and will ultimately win out again.  It seems to me that things always must become more difficult before they get easier.  Such is the case currently as I am struggling mightily with my voice.  

Things I thought I had finally overcome  have come back and new struggles have accompanied them.  This is particularly disconcerting as I am singing in a recital in less then ten days, and  I feel that I will not be as well prepared technically as I felt I was going to be originally.  The difficult aspect of this situation is that I am presented with two choices:  1.)  Allow myself to go back to what I was doing prior to my lesson so that I can get through the recital, or 2.)  Work as hard as possible with these "new" concepts that I have been struggling with and hope for the best when I get to the recital.  Ultimately the choice is an easy one to make.  Option number one serves a solely selfish purpose and does not benefit me in the least, or my audience.  Option number two, while considerably more difficult at the moment will be more subservient to my final goal and a step in the right direction, even if my current level is mediocre.  In general, one must always move with forward progress, even if it feels backwards at the time.  

In his post, Ron talks about the time it takes for a singer to develop their instrument.  In fact, this is a common theme in Ron's writing which more singers need to hear.  The truth of my situation is that I am in no rush to get out and perform, outside of the fact that I really dislike my day job.  My main goal is to become a complete singer who can be the best at his art.  At 27 I am still on the  young side of this business, but I am beginning to feel some pressure as young artist program age limits are beginning to creep nearer.  However, if I develop my instrument completely, I can still forge a career without the help of these stepping stones.  

The Kashu-do mantra that heads Ron's blog is the perfect statement about my life and my path in music throughout my musical life.  I believe wholeheartedly that I will make it as a singer, and even though I have faced many tribulations in this field already my faith, patience and hard work have always paid dividends in the long run and will continue to do so into the future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mid October

I am nearing the end of my intensive time with French and can say that I am very happy with where I am.  I am understanding the vast majority of what I read now and will try and do a reading test from a newspaper before the year is over.  My listening is still a bit behind everything else, especially when listening to the radio, however I have begun to work intensively on my reading and listening abilities so hopefully they will both come up in level before the end of the year.

To increase my levels in those two areas I have begun to use LingQ almost exclusively. I even upgraded from the free version so that I could use the program more effectively.  I have to admit that I find it to be very helpful.  I love the concept of extensive/intensive listening and reading, but it is very difficult to read when having to flip back and forth from a book to a dictionary.  LingQ eliminates this by having a pop-up dictionary always present.  I have talked about LingQ before so I do not want to spend much time here on it except to tell you all to try it out.  As much as I liked the idea of using it for free, I do not feel that one gets the full benefit of the program until you upgrade to a pay version (and come on, it is only ten dollars a month!).

I am currently on the train on the way home from NYC, where I had a lesson with JRL.  Today's lesson was a very frustrating one for both of us I am sure.  Lessons like the one I had today are huge tests of courage and perseverance.  I have gone through a range of emotions in the six and a half hours since my lesson and have landed on a huge desire to get into a practice room and work.  It may be perseverance, or it may be ego, however I cannot have another lesson go by like this one did.  So I will spend the next month fixing my issues and come back better than I was today.

The largest frustration to me is that I spent the last two months working very hard and came in today feeling pretty good about myself.  Unfortunately during those two months I seemed to have regressed on a certain bad habit that I honestly was not paying as much attention to in the time between lessons as I was other technical things.  It would appear that I overdid to the point of misunderstanding a certain idea I was given last time and now I must go back and fix those issues which were not plaguing me at my lesson but came back with a vengeance today.  If this teaches one anything, it should be that we must always be vigilant!  Complacency can only lead to disaster.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

End of September/Beginning of October

It has been a bit since I last wrote here.  Some good things have happened on both the language and singing fronts, as well as some discouraging things.  In my language work I have begun reading Les Fables de la Fontaine which are mostly on my level.  I find that the hard thing with reading is that though I know the words I'm reading, I often miss the actual context of the story.  I figure that this is similar to listening comprehension and the practice will ultimately make things clearer as well as fill in the holes in my vocabulary.  I have unfortunately been rather lax in my other forms of study.  I have recently picked back up on Michel Thomas, but as of yet have not gotten back into my Assimil work in about two weeks.  I have every intention of working on it again tonight though!

In other news, I feel that I am to the point now where I can actually begin to call myself a tenor.  For the last month and a half or so I have been working on the Duke's arias from Rigoletto by Verdi.  These arias have stretched me and almost forced my voice to work in a different way than it has in the past.  In the last couple of days my Bb4 has really come into its own and the B4 is not far behind.  I am looking forward to the few weeks, during which time I am hoping to have a few lessons, some coachings and even participate in a recital (my first as a tenor)!

The only discouraging part of my singing life currently has been this week.  My voice has been feeling different this week and certain things that were relatively secure before are not this week, while other things that were not present before are now starting to present themselves.  I assume that this is just some of the growing pains in the process and am not terribly worried by them though.  I'm hoping to get back into being slightly more regular with my updates here, but with the holidays quickly approaching we'll see what the reality of that is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mid-September Update

Je pense que je vais ecrire un post en français.  Cette semaine etais un peu agaçant pour moi parce que moi et ma fiancée sommes malades.  Parce que-là, je n'avait pas pratiqué.  Je n'aime pas perdre les temps et je ne peux pas attendre commencer encore.

En autre information, je commence ecouter de la radio française.  Le meilleur problem pour moi est l'audition; je peux lire et parle, mais je ne peux pas bien ecouter.  Etrange, non?  Maintenant, j'ecoute à France info de Paris.  J'espere que je peux amèliorer mon compréhension à l'audition devant l'année finit.

*I welcome any corrections, as always.  An English translation is below for those who would prefer not to read French.

I think that I will write a post in French.  This week has been a little annoying for me because me and my fiancée are sick.  Because of this, I have not practiced.  I do not like losing the time and I cannot wait to start again.

In other news, I am beginning to listen to French radio.  The biggest problem for me is listening; I can read and write, but I cannot listen well.  Strange, no?  Currently, I am listening to France info from Paris.  I hope that I can improve my listening comprehension before the end of the year.

Monday, August 29, 2011

End of the Month Update

I am now more than 75% through my Assimil program and nearly as far through Michel Thomas.  I somewhat feel like I've stagnated a little bit as far as progress goes; mainly due to my slacking about the last couple of weeks in studying.  The bright side is that the Active Wave exercise today went very well and the majority of items just flowed out of me, which is a good sign.

On a note of wanderlust, I purchased Wheelock's Latin over the weekend and am going to read through it on the weekends when I take time off of French/German (after the new year).  I don't necessarily know what I'm hoping to gain from learning Latin, other than that I will inevitably have to sing in Latin so understanding the structure and language will be helpful in that regard.  Plus being Catholic, Latin kind of comes with the territory.

Vocally things are going very well.  I am feeling more and more comfortable every day.  I am going to be actually singing my first concert as a tenor in November at my church as part of an "Opera Hits" concert.  I will likely only be singing one aria and a duet, but this will mark my first public performance as a tenor!  As of right now my plan is to sing Alfredo's aria and the Parigi, o cara duet from the final act of La Traviata.  Hopefully, I can convince someone into video taping this performance so I can post it to youtube, and thusly on here as a mark of my progress.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I just came back from a quick jaunt to NYC for a lesson with JRL where I received some great encouragement.  I'm pretty sure that I've posted here about how I always feel like I am never progressing.  Well, apparently my brain was wrong!  At my lesson I was commended on my marked progress and even encouraged to begin coaching repertoire and think about auditioning in the fall (next fall, not this one I presume)!  This is great news for me and really gives me a boost.  In addition to this I had just recently in practice session found some of my top notes and was excited to begin with before the lesson.  Now, before anyone reads too much into this, I still am maintaining my work ethic and still have the general concept that I am sub-par as a singer.  The thing is though, that sometimes we need that encouragement to push us onward.

I have had similar experiences with French, where I will go through a patch where I feel I am not progressing at all and then someone who is more knowledgeable than I am will compliment me on my progress between times that they had talked with me.  I think ultimately that this goes back to the idea of being persistent and having trust in the process.  As I made mention of before, all progress that is worth keeping will happen gradually.  The past couple of weeks have shown this to me more than ever.  Between my vocal progress and the books I have been reading lately, I feel that my entire outlook on life has changed to one of bigger time frames.  For the most part the long-term goal is what matters, not the short-term ones.  As long as you constantly check in and are working towards your long-term goal, then you will be on the right path.  My long term goal as a singer has always been to be able to support myself solely by singing.  It would seem that I have made large strides towards this goal in the last four months and I look forward to what is still yet to come.

Love the process and make it your goal!

Friday, August 12, 2011

You are what you do!

"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

Today I want to break down this statement by Aristotle.  I cam across this while reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and I feel it really speaks to my life.  So much so that it has been my quote of the week.

Part I:  We are what we repeatedly do.

The great thing about this part of the quote is that it is a statement of unequivocal fact.  Michael Jordan became a phenomenal basketball player because he practiced so much that the game just became part of him.  Likewise, the cello is simply an extension of Yo-Yo Ma because of the endless hours of time put into learning and perfecting his art.  In all fields, one can find similar stories that all follow a similar path.  This same point that Aristotle points out so eloquently has recently been elaborated on through the 10,000 hour rule, which has been popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (a book which I highly recommend).  The basic premise is that if a person reaches 10,000 hours spent performing a specific skill or activity that they will be a master at it.  This equates to three hours a day over the course of ten years.  The truth is in the results.  Gladwell points out that the number of hours is not a magic number, and that one may become a master before reaching 10,000 hours, but that the process of constant, consistent work towards a goal will eventually reach its fruition.  

One thing that this rule, and Aristotle's original statement allow for is gradual progress.  The road to mastery is a long path and thusly progress will not be in large leaps, but in small steps.  Every once in a while there will be a "breakthrough moment," but these are really just a culmination of many little adjustments over time fusing together to create the current product.  This process of slow growth is not often embraced today, however the effects are considerably more lasting than quick fix practices.  

For myself, coming to realize this slow process has been a lesson in patience.  I first started my transition from baritone to tenor about two years ago.  Apart from my obvious issues of distance from my teacher, the process has been very slow as in not nearly done.  I have just recently come into possession of a high A and Bb, and they are still fickle at best.  The process has been, for me, one that seems to move at such a pace that I do not really feel like I am progressing at all, but feedback from others and those few moments affirm that I am on the right path.  Faith is a key component to this as well, for without faith that I am a singer, I would never have pursued this path this far.

Part 2:  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Using the example of Michael Jordan again, he practiced his shot so much over the years that it was second nature for him.  The same goes for Tiger Woods at his peak, or Michael Phelps, or Luciano Pavarotti.  This ties into my last post, but when we put the time in to make something a part of ourselves, we have no choice but for it to appear easy.  If we practice with the goal of attaining the highest level possible then excellence will occur.  It has no choice.  

Aristotle's quote as a whole is really an if-then scenario.  If we repeatedly do something to the point that it becomes a part of us, then excellence is to be expected.  There is a concept in endurance sports that essentially states:  If you want to be a better runner, go run.  If you want to be a better swimmer, go swim.  Excellence can only occur when you focus on a task.  What do you want to become excellent at?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A realization

I was driving home today and had a light bulb moment that for some reason had not yet occurred in my tiny mind:  I am getting paid to sing every week.  By definition this makes me a professional singer, my ultimate professional goal.  To be honest the true fulfillment of my goal is to be a professional singer singing opera, not church music, but that is simply a matter of definition.  The fact of the matter is that I am getting paid to act out my passion!  I am far from a complete singer at this point in my life, and singing is definitely not paying the bills on its own yet, but I am one step closer than I have been in the past.  I am averaging approximately one service a week at the moment and would love to be able to find more work.  This week I also have my first paid non-church gig in over a year singing for a NAVY retirement ceremony.  I am very honored to be singing for this as the ceremony itself is apparently steeped in 200 years worth of tradition, and most civilians do not get to witness this.  All this to get to the point of my post this week.  It is a combination of old mantras:  Good things come to those who wait.  Slow and steady wins the race.

I have been working towards being a singer for about 12 years, 8 of them have been spent in serious pursuit.  I have had a fair share of setbacks, including very discouraging classmates in college, and people who I consider to be within my circle who often doubt my path in life.  However through it all I have kept firm to my beliefs that I am a singer and that this is my calling in life.  Now after countless hours of work I am beginning to see some of the fruits of my labor.  I often tell people that I am not the most talented singer, in fact many of my friends have considerably more singing talent than I do, but that the reason why I will be successful is that I have a work ethic that comes from a lack of talent.  I have seen many talented people become mediocre due to a variety of reasons reaching from sitting on their laurels to an unwillingness to hear criticism.  So while they simmer and fizzle out, I continued my work quietly and mostly unnoticed, until one day I was better than they were, seemingly out of the blue!  The moral here seems to be apparent:  Work ethic and passion will trump talent every single time, without exception.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Art of Practice

I am currently reading a book on running by Danny Dreyer called ChiRunning.  I have only just started this book, but have already come away with at least one great point that applies across the board of skill acquisition:

"Making an activity a practice is a process of self-mastery... One reason to practice a skill is to make that skill easier until it doesn't take effort."

This sums up why we practice better than anything I've ever read.  I truthfully could end this post here and I feel it would be sufficient, however I'll expound.

Whenever we begin to learn a skill, be it a new language, instrument or physical activity it is a difficult task.  There are many new things going on that we have to process and think about getting right that sometimes the  ultimate goal seems incomprehensible.  However, as we continue to work on the skill (a.k.a. practice) the smaller building blocks that we stumbled over before become simpler and simpler to the point that we eventually don't think about them at all.  Naturally, there are always more blocks to come on top of the ones we already laid out, however as the process continues in the same way with new, challenging concepts gradually becoming easier and eventually becoming second nature.  This is the beauty of skill acquisition!

The end result of this process is something we all know when we see it, a sense of ease that a master has when performing his/her skill.  This is what we should all strive for no matter what skill we are learning.  Below I will post a couple clips of the end result in various skill areas.

The most obvious master in the modern age of operatic singing, Luciano Pavarotti.  For that matter, also a master conductor, Herbert von Karajan.

One of the best running backs of all time, Barry Sanders.

One of the best short distance runners around, Usain Bolt.

One example of many masters of language, Richard Simcott.

A brief update on my own journey:  French is progressing along steadily.  I plan to finish up my French studies during the first week of the new year and then I will move on to German!  Vocally things are really starting to solidify for me.  I have recently found my high A and am gaining a lot of stability with it, the next step here is to hone in on the B-flat!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Barefooting It!

Recently I had grown tired of constantly having shin splints while running.  Upon inquiring about this on facebook I was referenced to the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  After reading the book I was convinced to try barefoot running and see if this could cure what ails me.  I proceed from that book to Jason Robillard's Barefoot Running Handbook which I found in e-book form through the Runner's World Barefoot forum.  Now I am currently reading Barefoot Running Step by Step by Ken Bob Saxton.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have the tendency to go nuts when I find a new thing to be interested in.  After a few weeks of trying out various things and reading and trying to internalize what I have read I finally was able to go out on the track today and run 200 m. without experiencing any shin pain.  My only casualty was a small blister on my left foot, which leaves me with more technique things to work out, namely lifting my foot instead of pushing off.  I always appreciate acquiring new skills.

I have noticed that sill acquisition is a kind of crosstraining for the brain.  It seems to me that the more skills we attempt to acquire the better we are at acquiring skills.  My first real experience in conscious skill acquisition was a long time ago when I first set out to learn to play the saxophone.  As time went on I learned skills such as basketball, billiards, darts - mostly physical skills.  I noticed however that a large uptake to my acquisition speed was when I began to learn languages.  It seems that there is something about developing a process of learning on my own that has enabled me to know how to approach other skills now.  There is a saying that the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn more languages.  I always thought that this was due to common structures, vocabulary and such; however, I am beginning to think that while those things are helpful, the real key is that you know what your process needs to be.

Being a research minded individual I found as many different methods of language acquisition as possible during my initial 10-month cycle.  By going through in a sort of trial and error fashion I learned what worked well for me and what didn't.  Now, I have developed a method for myself that has enabled me from being at an A2 level in French to a solid B2 if not a lower C1 level in a matter of four months!  Applying that to other areas, when I decided to give barefooting a go, I found a couple of highly recommended books and studied them thoroughly then fused a method out of the books to make it my own and now I am looking down the barrel at actually being a runner like my parents were.  I didn't really know where this blog post was going to go, but I feel like the moral here that I want everyone to take away is this:  Develop your own method!  I believe that there is much we can learn from others, however at the end of the day we have to make our skills our own.  This is what separates us as artists and as human beings - our sense of self.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nothing is Hard!

Today I had a friend whom I had not seen in some time ask me how my languages were coming.  I spoke truthfully and said that I am now conversational in Italian, French and Spanish as well as some Swedish.  This prompted a response which I get a lot and spend most of my time trying to refute:  "You have a gift - languages are hard (rough paraphrase)."  I responded to this as I always do saying that nothing is hard.

For whatever reason I always get strange looks when I say this to people, but let us reflect on it a bit.  According to the hard means "difficult to accomplish; fatiguing; troublesome."  While most skills might be challenging, I do not believe any of them are actually hard.  Take an example from the athletic world, if one wants to learn a particular sport or fundamental of a sport there is a process involved in acquisition:

1.)  Instruction
2.)  Practice
3.)  Application
4.)  Acquisition

If this sequence, or some rough form of it, is followed acquisition is unavoidable.  I have a friend who is a U-14 soccer coach.  One day he was explaining to me how he was teaching his boys to strike the spherical, showing me the proper technique.  Afterwards, I went home and for a week practiced the proper technique in slow motion making sure that every bit of the form was correct.  When I saw my friend again and was playing around pretending to strike a ball he exclaimed that my form was nearly perfect.  In fact, he mentioned that he wanted to take me to a practice to show his boys how the form looked!  This is huge for me, considering that I am not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination!  Now in reality I have not taken this skill to the next step of application, however I know that if I wanted to I could become very good at striking a soccer ball because I have already laid the groundwork through my practice of the instruction given.

I have unwittingly applied this same process to many skills throughout my life, from my basketball shot, to my billiards playing, to singing and language acquisition.  Overall the process is always the same!

The other mantra that goes along with the concept of nothing being hard is "Slow and steady wins the race."  Going back to the model of the soccer strike I only would practice the form for maybe thirty seconds at a time multiple times during the day and within no time at all I was able to have perfect technique.  In singing, I have never been one for marathon practice sessions, however I consistently put in time every day, multiple times a day.  In language acquisition, I only study for approximately 30 minutes a day and then speak to myself and others here and there throughout my day.  Do I make progress as fast as others?  Not always.  However, the progress is consistent and always forward.  My fiancée today remarked that my French has now gotten to a level that she doesn't understand what I say.  That is in only three months of steady work as compared to her four years of schooling!  Similarly, when I began the road to becoming a singer I was bad; not just mediocre but flat out horrible.  I even had people questioning why I was a voice major, but over time with my consistent and constant practicing (generally not in an actual practice room, but more on that in a minute) I eclipsed the majority of my graduating class and am one of only a few still following my career path.

The key to this mantra is to always be in a state of practice.  As a singer, I sing all the time.  That may seem like a "duh" statement to some, but let me expound a bit:  I literally sing ALL THE TIME.  I sing in the shower, when I get in the car, walking through the store, in the practice room, in my apartment, in my mother's house, in church, etc.  The difference between me and others is that I am always attempting to sing my technique whenever I open my mouth to sing.  This is how I have gone from worst to best in some circles of singers.  It is not always about the amount of time spent in the practice room, or in the library or on the pitch.  It is about the amount of time spent.  It is better to spend 5 minutes practicing 20 times a day then 1 hour practicing once a day.  If you want to learn a skill, any skill, learn the technique and practice it constantly.  Before long you will become an expert without even realizing it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Passion for Learning

I determined the other day that I have a problem.  As soon as I become interested in a topic I try to learn as much about it as possible.  Examples are as follows:

1.)  When I first became interested in the science of singing I read as much as I could get my hands on about the topic.  I covered authors spanning from Tosi and Lamperti up through Reid and Frisell.  I even read Jerome Hines book on pedagogy (not Great Singers on Great Singing, but his other book, The Four Voices of Man.  Overall, I spent about six years reading almost exclusively about the voice and the art of singing.

2.)  When I decided to truly become Catholic, I again went and obtained as much information as I could about the Church.  In my collection I own works by Thomas a Kempis, St. Teresa of Avila, Jean-Pierre Caussade, G.K. Chesterton, etc. not to mention having a catechism and Bible with me nearly all the time.

3.)  Now I have taken up an interest in running, specifically in barefoot running and the same pattern has followed.  I already have two books coming in through ILL and have an eBook in my possesion which I am currently reading in addition to the book that I have already finished.

Truthfully this is not a problem, maybe a slight disorder especially compared to other people in my generation that I have witnessed.  The urge to learn, I believe, is one of the greatest determinants of eventual success.  How can anyone become an expert of anything if they are not willing to do research on their own.  A friend of mine who I was recently discussing this topic with commented that this makes almost obvious success.  In his professional world, as in many, the first step to proving a theory is to research and see what has come before the theory and what might make it plausible.

In our instant gratification world, so few of my peers even pick up a recreational tome, let alone an informational, non-fiction book unless they are being forced to do so by some class.  Why have we as a generation moved so far away from a true thirst for knowledge?  If anything, this trend seems counterintuitive to me.  We now have the internet and eBooks at our fingertips which can provide us vast information about practically anything we could want to know; and yet most people would rather spend their time on social networking sites.

I would still be a complete novice in all four areas of passion in my life were it not for my thirst for knowledge.  I submit that I still am a novice in some areas due to my relatively new discovery of them, however I can say without hesitation that because of my unquenchable thirst for knowledge that I will quickly surpass others who may have started down a particular path prior to me.

A prime example of this lies in language, one of the main purposes of this blog.  I am currently working on French, as you all know, and prior to this current time I had taken one semester at university and spent one month on my own working on the language.  When I decided to focus on this particular language I did what I do with nearly all of my passions:  I signed up on a forum concerning the topic.  From this forum I was able to ascertain numerous possibilities of ways to study and from there determine what I wanted to try.  The next step was to get materials I would need.  In general I attempt to get as much as I can for free or inexpensively.  In the case of French many of my materials came from the library and inter-library loan (ILL).  What I could not get for free I bought from a discount site,  After I get my resources it is just a matter of application and practice.  I continue to research new possibilities to aid me in my learning and acquisition and continue to watch my progress.  Approximately two and a half months after starting this focus on French I was able to list the language as one I can speak.  Now nearly four months in I am continuing to grow my skill and am nearing towards my final goal in this language, which is to be able to teach or give a speech comfortably.

The above process goes for any skill that I embark upon learning.  I have already proven to myself that I can succeed in picking up any skill because of my desire to learn and constantly improve.  Imagine the things we could accomplish in this world if everyone had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and did not just want to skate by on their undeveloped talents.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Frustrations, Progress and a Diatribe

In the past two and a half weeks I have had quite a few different emotions running through my system in regards to language, singing and life in general.  Starting with languages, I had a week of solid conversational French practice while I was in Kentucky on a mission trip with my friend Ernest.  For those who don't know, Ernest is from Cameroon and fluent in about eight languages ranging from Italian to Bengali.  After that week I jumped right back into my studying and am progressing at a very pleasing rate in French.  I anticipate that I should be able to call myself fluent in French by the new year.  That may seem far off to some of you and not long enough at all to others, but the truth is that languages can be learned quickly if the motivation is there.

The frustrations of my past two and a half weeks came in singing.  During my week in Kentucky I was unable to practice at all outside of singing for daily mass.  When I got back in the practice room the next week I felt like my voice was not doing anything correctly.  Then, luckily, I began to turn things around late this past week.  I also had a realization that I have been breathing far too shallow for far too long.  Now that I am taking completely full breaths I have found that singing is feeling much better again.  My current frustration now is finding the funds to get down to NYC for a lesson with JRL.  I posted an ad on my facebook asking for applications for a patron, but no one seems interested which is sad for me.

Now onto my diatribe which will take this blog of course momentarily.  This past evening I attended a "Teen Life Mass" at a nearby Catholic Church.  I had recently heard stories about these masses from traditionalist (like myself) speaking of various horrors inherent in this style of mass.  To my mind, these were all verified during the course of the mass.  The purpose of a Teen Life Mass is to reach the teens through more "accessible" music and encourage their participation.  However, to me, I was attending a protestant mega-church worship service rather than a mass.  The major problem I have with the music is not necessarily the music itself; contemporary christian music has its place, but not in the mass.  There was a huge disconnect between the upbeat, bubble-gum music and the solemnity of the rest of the rites of the mass.  Not only that, but the music had nil to do with the actual readings, which it is supposed to according to the general rules for the mass.  Also, the whole point of this music is to engage the teens and youth of the parish more, however I saw a very small percentage of these people actually participating in the singing!  There were other problems within the course of the mass liturgically speaking.  During the mass I vowed to never be at another Teen Life Mass in my life.  What this type of mass does is set up the youth of the parish to leave the Church!  I pray that the new missal and future reforms will save our youth from the horrors of the Teen Life Mass and bring back a sense of reverence to the Mass.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

French Update

Since I have some free time at the moment, I figure I will free write a post on my progress as of late. 

Currently I am sitting in the library listening to France Bleu Isere out of Lyon and they are currently playing a French version of the Frank Sinatra hit "My Way."  It actually sounds very nice in French, although lacks a certain swagger that Frank had when singing this.  In listening to the radio I have noticed that I am understanding quite a bit of the words, although they are not necessarily completely making sense in my brain (natural listening) and the pace is still a little fast for me.  I have to research some exercise to improve my listening to a more natural level.  A large part of this I think needs to be approached by simple immersion (i.e. listening to French radio, watching French TV and movies, etc.).  I find that the most annoying and challenging thing about immersion for me is that the only way I can access French radio when driving, which admittedly is how I spend most of my waking hours, is through my Palm Pre which has horrible battery life, especially when using streaming apps.  I suppose that my solution to this will have to be podcasts.  In keeping with the immersion concept, I have changed much of my computer, internet and GPS to French in recent weeks.  Truthfully, I don't even notice that most of them are in French, which I take as being a good thing. 

I have been working my way through Assimil and Michel Thomas during my studies and have been keeping  a pretty steady pace throughout the last month and a half or so.  I only recently started the MT and only do one track a day, so I am only at about lesson eleven or twelve and ultimately the amount of material covered is relatively small.  For the most part, however, I am using MT as a reinforcement so I am okay with the slow pace I am taking on it.  At my current rate it will take me about three months to get through the course and then I will move on to the vocabulary booster and then the advanced course.  In Assimil I am currently on about lesson 33, so nearly one-third of the way through the Passive Wave.  I find that I am learning quite a bit from the Passive Wave without necessarily doing a whole lot.  The book recommends spending between twenty and thirty minutes per lesson in the Passive Wave, but I find that I am under this number daily (maybe 15 minutes or so per lesson).  The program has been helping my listening and in general I have noticed that I am gaining between 2 and 5 new words per lesson at this point.  This may not seem like a whole lot, but percentage wise 5 words over the course of about a one and a half minute segment is rather significant.  There are also other words in the course of the lessons that I do not know and do not necessarily pick up through just the Passive Wave, but I am sure that I will pick these up during the course of the Active Wave.  More importantly than the vocabulary, arguably, is that I pick up new grammatical rules, structures and some colloquialisms as I am going through these lessons and am finding myself retaining some of the work on tenses that they present during the course of my listening and reading. 

I do not necessarily have a great measure of how well I can speak the language at this point, although I seem to have an easier time staying in French when talking with my friend and I generally have a certain level of comfort in my conversation that I did not necessarily have a couple of months ago.  I think I mentioned earlier that I have changed my learning plan for my languages.  I have progressed to a more realistic plan of spending all of my time with one language until I have learned it to a level that I consider fluent, which I will describe eventually to the public, and then move on.  I believe that I can reach this level in most languages I am working on in a year and thus I still will be well within my goal of ten languages by the time I am forty.  My progression through languages has also changed based on my needs for my intended profession.  The order is thus:
  1. French
  2. German
  3. Italian
  4. Spanish
  5. Russian
  6. Czech
  7. Swedish
  8. Portuguese
  9. Arabic
The tenth language here is English, obviously and the reason that Italian is third on the list is because I need to take my French and German farther than I do my Italian which is already at a decent level, although not completely fluent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Been awhile

Since moving back to French I have felt less inclined to write posts.  My French is increasing daily and I find that the language is getting easier and easier every week.  By the same token I am also progressing vocally.  I have found a renewed fire for working on my technique and languages which I have been reveling in for the last couple of weeks.

I have a good thought in mind for a methodology minute, but it is going to have to wait until another post as I do not have it fully formed in my brain yet.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Update - Back to French

I have been rather lax in updating this since my burn-out with Arabic about a month ago.  I am currently back to working on French.  I have foregone Italian for the time being because my level in that language is rather comfortable at this point.  Also, I need to bring my French and German level up because I am planning on applying to grad schools in the next year or so.  For French, I am using Assimil and French in Action at this point as my only learning sources, with the exception of Ernest, my friend from Cameroon.  I have seen my French skyrocket in the last month or so I have been working on it.  I am able to understnad and have basic day-to-day conversations with Ernest without many hiccups and am finding that I can express myself pretty well.  I have somewhat changed my plan (again) and am going to stick with French until I am "completely" fluent.  I will define what I mean by this at a later date.  I anticipate that this will take me at least until the fall, if not until the new year.  After that, I will focus on German until it reaches a similar level, and then I will come back to Italian to bring it up to the other two.

On the vocal front, I have a lesson in the City this coming Tuesday and I am excited to see what is next.  I had a moment of frustration, understanding and excitement all within about 15 minutes of each other today while practicing.  First I was frustrated because I feel like my range is not increasing to include the "tenor notes" at all.  Truthfully I know that I am progressing and that the path is long and slow, but every once in a while I get annoyed.  Second, I realized today that I have to warm up my voice all the way to its top (F above high C) and then bring it back down through the passaggio in order for the voice to find its place where it needs to be so that I can sing.  Finally after accomplishing this I sang through Di pescatore ignobile from Lucrezia Borgia and nailed a high Bb at the end that felt comfortable and somewhat released!  If I was a..."lesser" person I would have just given up after the initial struggles, however I continued to work through and past them and was rewarded with a major victory for my vocal progress.  Hopefully I can ride this momentum into my lesson on Tuesday!

Monday, March 14, 2011

It Is the Process That Is Important

I have halted my Arabic studies for the time being.  I burned myself out right around the 60 day mark.  Even though I am burned out on Arabic, I am still very excited to get back to Italian, and I may even start working on Italian again earlier than I had prescribed.

Vocally things are going very well.  Singing above the staff gets easier and easier as the weeks go by.

Methodology Minute

In all skill areas there are generally different methods which are touted by different people, all claiming that theirs is the best and/or only way to learn.  These beliefs can, and often do, lead to arguments or at the very least heated discussions.  I am going to fly in the face of these people today and say that at the beginning of one's study, any method will work.  Until a person reaches a level where they need to begin to refine their skill the act of doing something will achieve results.  If we are discussing this in terms of language study, there are hundreds of books, CDs and software programs available targeted at beginners.  Any of these will give the learner an insight into the language of choice and any one will get them to at least an upper beginner level of use in the language.

At the beginning of studies, the most important thing is exposure to the language.  Once the learner has a strong grasp of the basics of the language, then they can begin to direct their studies toward their particular weaknesses.  A person does not know what their weaknesses are until they can at least use the language somewhat.  Personally, I have used different resources to begin my studies on every language I have worked on.  What I have come away with is that as long as I have something to look through and study I have progressed to a similar point in every single language.  So my advice is to find inexpensive resources at first for your language studies, once you understand what your weaknesses are, then you can begin to delve into the wealth of strategies that abound for language acquisition.

This also can be applied to other skill areas as well.  In most skills, the basics are the same across the board so learn the basics the least expensive way possible.  Then it will be possible for you to refine your skills with the best resources available later on.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

العربية -- أسبوع ٩ 

I decided to take the week off from most of my active studying.  I still did some listening and my Anki, but otherwise I was feeling a little burnt out so I took a break.

Vocally progress is still steady.

Methodology Minute - The Importance of Rest

I wrote on this in an earlier post, but I believe that in most skill acquisition rest is an important part of the process.  The most typical application of this concept is can be found in weight training.  The body does not actually build muscle during the lifting itself, but during the rest period in between sessions.  I believe that the same thing occurs during all fields of learning.  In voice training, the muscles of the voice need time to rebuild stronger from the exercises performed.  In exercises of the mind, it is good to give the brain some time to process what it has learned.    

I have found that after periods of rest, I come back to my studies or vocal training stronger and with a renewed energy.  There is a limit I believe to the amount of rest that can be taken before it becomes to much and has a detrimental effect.  Sometimes, coming back from a prolonged rest I find things to be more difficult.  However, in physical training about 2-4 days rest seems to be optimal.  Mental rest, on the other hand, is dependent  on the person.  I think that while one make take a rest from learning new things, I still think that some small review during the session of rest is beneficial to not totally allow the brain to shut down.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

العربي - الأسنوع ٨

I have made some good progress this week.  The most notable accomplishment of the week has been my average study time.  For a number of weeks I have been averaging just a little less than one hour a day of studying.  This week I finally got back over the one hour average.  I am learning quite a bit, however  I have not seen results manifest themselves in my spoken language.  I attribute this mostly to a lack of opportunities to speak with people in Arabic.  The few natives I do know are surprised when I speak to them in Arabic, however they do not respond back in Arabic.  I am hoping that I can wear them down and eventually they will engage me.

Vocally, I am still just working away.  This week has not been one of major discoveries or majors steps, however consistency and ease are coming in more and more every week.

I have found that I have a new transition that I need to keep myself accountable for:  my health.  I have decided to chronicle this here; my plan will not consist of any fad diets or workouts.  It will simply consist of adjusting to a healthier diet and exercising regularly. I will also be exercising three times a week.  These workouts will be both cardio and weight training.  Given my current physical ailments (a very bad knee, possibly a meniscus tear) I will be gradually working up to running for a full hour.  I will record my numbers here every week beginning with this week as my starting weight.  While I will be following a MWF exercising week, my weeks for the purposes of this blog will still go from Saturday to Friday.

Current Weight:  237.4 lb.
Goal Weight:  185 lb.

Methodology Minute:  The Importance of Passion

When I was in high school I was a saxophonist.  I was actually the second best saxophonist in my city area, according to audition-competitions for various ensembles.  I actually initially went to college to study music education with an emphasis in saxophone.  However, when I went to college I was at the bottom of the barrel and had little to no hope of pulling out from that spot.  I ended up transferring out of my first school just a few weeks prior to receiving my letter telling me I was not able to return due to my academic standing.  Fast forward a few years and I am now a voice major.  I began my second college try, this time as a music performance major with an emphasis in voice.  Admittedly, I was not a very good singer for the majority of my time in college.  There are audio clips that support this, however I am not going to post those here today.  However, within a couple of years of graduation, I was being told that I was one of the singers who seem to understand the techniques being taught the best, and that I should be auditioning ASAP.

So why was it that I flunked out of my saxophone program and have thrived in my vocal life?  Was it that I was a more talented singer than I was a saxophonist?  No, in fact I would say that if anything the opposite was the case.  Most people I know have considerably more innate talent than I do in the field of singing.  The true reason that I have succeeded in my current field as compared to my former can be explained in one word:  passion.

When I was in high school the Dean of Admissions at Eastman School of Music gave a speech to my workshop about passion.  The general gist of his speech has stuck with me ever since.  He said that the key to being happy in your adult life is to do those things which you are passionate about.  The most important thing said during this speech was:  "If your profession ever becomes work, quit!"

This outlines quite specifically what happened to me at my first college;  saxophone became work.  I had to literally drag myself to the practice room to practice, in fact most times I simply did not practice at all.  However, vocally I feel frustrated when I cannot go practice!  Even now, seven years into my singing life I relish singing and all things having to do with singing.  I research music and composers, listen to and discover new singers, read books on vocal pedagogy, learn languages, read books on acting, etc.  Essentially, there is not a thing about singing and the singing profession that I do not absolutely love.  Music is an integral part of my day and is present almost the entire day.  This is usually to the frustration of those who have to be around me.  Here is an example to show you what I mean:

I was in Italy for a singing three week singing workshop and was walking through the town of Spoleto with some friends one evening.  As per usual, I was humming or singing quietly to myself while I was walking since no one was talking to me.  Abruptly, one of the people in the group turn around to me and said "You never stop, do you?" in an annoyed tone.  I simply answered "No." and continued on my way.  However the real question I wanted to ask was "You do?"  I just assumed that this want and urge to sing always was common among singers of a certain level.  I apparently was wrong.

I have often told people that when I decided to follow this path I said that I was going to be the best.  This does not mean the best that I can be, but the absolute best.  I still hold onto this sentiment, but it is not out of arrogance.  It is confidence in myself, my work ethic and my passion.  There are generally only a small percentage of activities that people are truly passionate about.  For me these things number three:  my faith, my voice and languages.  If a person can focus more on their passions and less on the pursuit of money then they will ultimately find the money anyways.  The people who succeed are the ones who are passionate about what they do.  Those who fail are the ones who simply ride talent or go for the profession that is going to make them the most money.  My urge to you, reader, is to take the time to figure out what you are passionate about, and then pursue that haphazardly and unabashedly.  If you do this I can guarantee you success in whatever you are called to do.

Friday, February 18, 2011

العربية الأسبوع ٧

This week I have continued my FLR work and am pleased with what has come of it.  I do not know how much I am necessarily retaining of my reading, I think that aspect of the work manifests itself most during my writing exercises at the end of the week.  I do know however, that my listening and vocabulary seem to be becoming strong as the time progresses.  With both, I add one unit's worth of exercises per week.  While this leads to a smaller vocabulary, I find that the words I do add implant themselves better in my brain with the time allowed to focus specifically on them.

I have decided to focus on small things vocally.  By this, I mean that I am taking single exercises and continually doing them until I achieve a desired result and then moving on.  Sometimes this only takes a couple of repetitions, other times it takes 5 or 10 minutes worth of work.  The benefits of this however are noticeable even the next day.  For example, since my lesson three weeks ago I have been working with the [ð] occlusive in my exercise regimen.  I perform a 5-note scale beginning with [ð] and moving to [i] ascending to the fifth and then descending back to the root.  I tend to struggle with not cracking, or slipping, at around A above middle C.  So, I will continue to do this scale starting on the D above middle, refining and honing in on the correct sound and sensation, until the note no longer slips.  Upon achieving this I move up by half-steps until about C5, the tenor's high C.  I am currently relatively consistent in this exercise on the A now and have moved on to B-flat and B as my main focus.

I have also noticed the importance of rest in the voice building process.  On average I vocalize about five days a week.  During this time I make progress daily, however my largest progress always comes after those couple of days of rest.  I think that this fact proves that training a voice is a muscular activity.  When training any muscle, the growth does not come during the exercise itself, but during the rest period when the muscles can rebuild and adapt to the new standards being required of them.  This is why and good exercise program should require rest periods.  Even in running and other cardiovascular activities, at least one day of rest is prescribed.  As the weeks go by, I continue to grow towards my ultimate goal of being the best singer possible.  Knowing that this process is a muscular one enables me to find satisfaction in the gradualness, but consistency of growth.

Methodology Minute - Trust Your Intuition

In most areas of intelligence, our intuition leads to more results than anything else.  Unfortunately, most of us do not trust our intuition, especially in areas that we do not consider ourselves experts.  A quick example:  When I speak to my friends in either French or Italian I generally come to a point where I want to say something, but do not necessarily know for certain what the correct word is.  During these times, I occasionally have words pop into my head from seemingly out of nowhere.  If I am comfortable with the people I am speaking with, I will tentatively try out the word in my head, usually with a positive affirmation of my offering. I always check my thoughts after the fact if I am by myself practicing, but the percentage of time that I am correct is far greater than the times I am wrong.  

If we have done enough work in a subject area (in languages this equates to input and building a passive vocabulary) eventually and inevitably this passive knowledge will become active when the opportunity presents itself.  My encouragement this week is to trust that little voice in your head.  Often it will be correct.

Friday, February 11, 2011

العربية- الأسبوع ٦

This has been a decent week for my Arabic studies.  I began a new approach this week which was developed by Moses McCormick.  I modified this a little bit, which is probably slightly to my detriment, but I skipped over the first couple of phases of the method and went straight to the textbook work.  Moses has put out a number of videos on youtube highlighting his skills as well as his method.  I have noticed a lot of progress this week, which I am not sure whether to attribute this to the FLR method of Moses or, more likely to the amount of time put in, which I will discuss in my methodology minute this week.

I have been continuing to have wonderful progress vocally.  I had a realization this week that I had not been practicing as effectively as I could be.  So, I have modified my approach to practicing so that I can be more intensive in my work, which should compound my achievements.

Methodology Minute - The Power of Patience and Perseverance 

I had a few interesting things happen this week which solidify for me the concepts of patience and perseverance.  First, while I was working through my Anki deck this week, I had a day where all of a sudden I simply knew all of my cards.  Additionally, I was watching some Arabic TV the other day and suddenly I was able to pick out words here and there that I knew, I had come out of the fog.  Thirdly, I have noticed that I have started to think and play around with the Arabic that I have learned thus far, enabling me to actually greet people and have some very basic conversation.  My theory is that all of this corresponds directly with the amount of time I have put in up to this point.  In the next couple of days, I will cross the forty hour mark in my studies. I believe that this is an important number in which things start to solidify in the brain and become more concrete.  I have had similar things happen vocally, where I try to approach a specific pitch, or a specific phrase multiple times and then suddenly the phrase or pitch falls into place.  I believe that there are specific numbers of hours, or minutes, which mark points of achievement in almost all aspects of skill acquisition.

There are many linguists who maintain that the key to learning is to put time in every day, no matter how much.  I would venture to apply this to all areas of skill acquisition.  Learning compounds over time and in areas such as language acquisition the time spent is more important than the method used.  In areas where technique is important, it is only with time that the technique becomes ingrained.  It should be the goal of anyone who is learning a skill to spend at a minimum fifteen minutes a day working on their skill.  As I said above, I believe that there are specific times associated with milestones; so the more time put in daily, the quicker these milestones will occur.

The second half of this minute I need to spend on perseverance.  For the last few weeks I had been struggling and frustrated with my lack of progress in Arabic.  Similarly during my six months without a voice lesson, I was continually frustrated by what seemed like a lack of progress.  However, by pushing through these times, I am now making large strides in both fields and have a renewed vigor in my studies.  All things in life work in cycles.  There is a business cycle, a geological cycle, and a motivation cycle.  Many people get hung up when they reach the valleys of their motivational cycles and never progress past their initial motivational peak.  However, if one can push through the valleys of frustration there are greater rewards in your next peak than what you found initially.

Steven Kaufmann of lingq has been making a series of videos on the 7 steps of a successful language learner on youtube and I felt that it would be of value to post a couple of them here which pertain to this methodology minute for perusal:

This first video of the series focuses on the topic of spending the time to learn.  Continual work will lead to mastery.

The fifth video in the series advises the learner to be patient; contrary to our instant gratification culture, anything of quality takes time and effort.

Friday, February 4, 2011

العربية -- أسبوع 5

Admittedly, I have not been doing well with studying as of late.  I have become rather dis-enamored with my resources and thusly lost a little motivation to continue using them.  I have however been pushing through and still working with them as best I can, and as much as I can tolerate.  In my text book, I am just now getting to actual verb constructions and I am already more than halfway through the text.  On the plus/exciting side of things, I have recently come into the acquisition of new resources which will renew my vigor for study.  I will describe how I came into possession of these things a little later.

Vocally things are still going well.  I am now vocalizing up to the F above high C daily and in general I am beginning to accept the sounds that I am making now as being more correct than before.  Changing one's aural image is a difficult and disconcerting task and takes much time before it really feels natural.  I have noticed that I am hearing new things in singers I listen to as well since finding this new aural image.  I tend to be able to hear more of the dark sound in many voices which I could not hear before, for whatever reason.  I am excited at the route my voice is going now and look forward to the coming weeks of work and progress until I next get down for a lesson.

Methodology Minute

Yesterday I read about a website for language resources that sounded interesting.  I went to the site yesterday but could not figure out how to use it.  I tried again today, and realized that part of the key to figuring it out was registering on the site (duh!).  Upon registering I discovered a veritable gold mine!  The site is called Uz-Translations and it literally has nearly everything one could need to learn languages, save for Assimil.  For just about any language, the site provides downloads for educational materials, literature and a/v resources.  To give an idea of the breadth of the site:  I did a search for Italian literature and was presented with 41 pages with approximately 10 books per page.  For any people who are numerically challenged that equates to over 400 books available for download in PDF format!  The problem now is that I am going to have to buy an external hard drive just for these resources.  This site is completely free and open to the public, so go there ASAP and find whatever you need to boost your language studies!

Friday, January 28, 2011

العربية - أسبوع 4

These last couple of weeks have been very bad for my studying.  I still am getting some time in every day, which is the most important thing, but it is not as much time as I would like.  I have had a couple of large setbacks lately which annoy me to no end.  I have tried to obtain both the Advanced course of Michel Thomas' Arabic program and also the audio which goes along with a couple of my texts, but to no avail.  Miraculously all of these were unobtainable from my library.  This being the case, I currently have no audio to work from with the exception of one set of audio from one text, and the audio on that is not terribly helpful.  I am finally getting into verbs in my current textbook!  The first half of the text dealt with the alphabet and noun cases, which is all well and good, however it makes it difficult to practice any writing on my own when missing that crucial V is the SVO spectrum.  I am going to be assessing myself on the 30th of this month to see my progress thus far.  Also, this will give me an idea of what I need to work on next month more intensively.

I had my lesson with JRL last Friday and it was marvelous!  So many more things became clear through the course of the lesson and I was actually singing tenor notes and not feeling like I was dying.  Since my lesson I have been routinely warming up to F above high C and singing feels really good.  The biggest concept I took away from my lesson was that I had the wrong aural image in my head for my voice, specifically for high notes.  My plan now is to work my tail off over the next couple of months and see JRL when he is back stateside, which I believe is going to be in April.

I thought that I would post a couple of clips of me on here to show my progress for anyone who is interested.  The first clip is from July 2010 and was the last baritone aria I sang:

The next clip is from this past Monday, 6 months since the previous clip.  I am well aware that this is not nearly a finished product, but I found it rather encouraging.  This is a considerably shorter clip than the previous one, but I believe that this is a decent example of what JRL refers to as the "small voice" which will ultimately grow into a full voice sound:

For the sake of honesty:  Both of these clips were recorded using my cell phone and are thus missing some fundamental harmonics that would be present in real life.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

العربية - 3 أسبوع

This was a frustrating week in my language studies.  My best friend was up from Mississippi and then I traveled to NYC Friday and Saturday.  Thusly, I did not get very much studying in.  I did however, finish one introductory program this week, which was important.

Vocally, my reason behind going down to NYC was so that I could have a lesson.  The lesson was very encouraging.  I realized that I need to adjust my aural image of my voice if I want to progress.  I have noticed that when one goes a long time in between lessons, the progress that is made may be substantial, however to the singer it seems so miniscule.  I had this happen to me Friday at my lesson.  It had been six months since my last lesson and while I felt I had progressed, I was sure that it was minimal at best.  However I was informed otherwise, which is very nice.  I have my new set of things to work on for the next few months.  I plan to get down to the City again the next time JRL is in town and similarly like that for the rest of my time until I move.

Methodology Minute

Scheduling.  It is the bane of everyone's existence.  A long time ago I read an article in Classical Singer magazine which talked about the concept of place-matting.  Unfortunately it was part of a series and I never came across the subsequent articles, but I think I understand the general gist of what the author was getting at.  Essentially, during the course of a day, we all have activities that fall into three categories:

1.)  Must do (High Priority)
2.)  Should do (Medium Priority)
3.)  Like to do (Low Priority)

The average person should have about 16 productive hours with which they can accomplish tasks.  The idea behind place-matting is that at the beginning of your week you should schedule out your entire week's activities.  First, place in your Category 1 tasks (in my case:  work, practice, eating, sleep, etc.) for the entire week.  Then place in your Category 2 tasks (in my case:  language study, exercise, etc.).  Finally add in whatever Category 3 tasks fit into the time left over.

This process of scheduling your entire week by priority ensure that you accomplish the things that are most important every week.  Truthfully, this is something that I struggle with, but since I have posted it on here I am going to try to get myself to commit to this concept and see how I do.  You see that I even schedule sleep into my activities, I think this is very important.  If you set yourself a bedtime then you can guarantee yourself the amount of sleep you need every night.  I also think that it is important to schedule in free time (this can take whatever priority you want it to).  That is not to say that this schedule is inflexible; things happen and opportunities may present themselves at times other than those planned.  However, if you can maintain a schedule most of the time you will see your productivity increase greatly.

A great tool for this concept is Google Calendar.  The Calendar now has a function that can find a free time block to put your activities.  Again, I have not yet started to use this (I intend to tonight) but this will take some of the struggle out of your day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

الهربة - الأسبوع 2

This week was a good week and a somewhat frustrating week all in one.  It started out really well, but the last few days I have not studied as much as I would have liked.  I have valid reasons for this, however it is still annoying after putting in so much consistent time to have a skid of any degree.  Despite this, I had a realization last night - I believe that I may be able to eclipse my initial goal for Arabic by the end of this first month.  This is great, but requires me to come up with a new set of goals for the additional two months I have to work on this language.  Luckily, I discovered these checklists which outline very specifically what is contained in each respective level and I will use them to set my short and long term goals for each language.  I am using the CEFR guidelines because they are more universal.

I do not have much to say about my vocal progress.  There were two observations this week:

1.)  I vocalized a full voiced B-flat in my exercises that felt like it was a part of my voice.

2.)  I have noticed a generally more heady feel to my singing, however upon checking I still have chest resonance throughout most of my range (including increased resonance in the lower range).

Methodology Minute

There are many people who are very input focused when it comes to learning a language who are very successful.  I'm not saying that I am necessarily one of them, however I do feel that native input is important.  In our current society, this exposure to native input is easier than it has ever been.

The internet provides a language learner all of the possibilities to immerse him/herself in a language as a vacation does all within the comfort of his/her own home.  A particular site that I have been using for almost a year now which is fabulous is RadioTime.  As the name suggests, this site provides access to radio stations all over the world in just about any language that radio is produced.  Additionally, RadioTime has an app which I use on my Palm Pre when I am driving, so that I can listen to as much native radio programming as possible.

Second, just this morning I discovered wwiTV which provides T.V. programming from around the world.  I have not really used it much yet, but am looking forward to it very much.

Finally, there is the wonder that is Skype.  With Skype it is possible to video chat with people from around the world thus giving a language learner ample opportunities to practice their conversational skills.

There are numerous other resources on the internet for language learners as well including forums for language learners, language lessons, and opportunities for practice.  As with everything else in life, the internet has revolutionized the way we can approach learning languages so that we might be more efficient and better exposed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

الهربة - الأسبوع 1

Week one of Arabic down.  This week has been a fun, challenging and occasionally painful week for my language study.  After tonight's studies (it's still Thursday for me) I will have learned all of the Arabic alphabet!  As of the present time I have put in 7.45 hours of study, which breaks down to a quarter of my first Arabic text, Mastering Arabic, and nearly three CDs of Michel Thomas.  I like the combination of audio work and written work even more than I liked purely working on grammar last month.  The interesting thing for me in this language is that all of my written work is dealing with Modern Standard Arabic and my audio work is in Egyptian Arabic.  For those who do not know, there are many different dialects of spoken Arabic, with Egyptian being the most prevalent, but most publications and news broadcasts are in MSA, hence the need to learn both.  I have really enjoyed the process so far and am surprised by the amount that I can already say after only a week of work.  If I can continue my current pace for the rest of the time I am studying Arabic this time around (until March) then I should reach my goal amount of hours and should be right at the level that I want to be at for this first part of the cycle.

I had a good week of singing including coming upon some sensations that I had not made contact with since my lessons six months ago.  I was able to vocalize up to a (not pretty) high C yesterday and am becoming more and more comfortable with A-flats every day.  Only two weeks until my lesson with JRL!

I am not going to type this in Arabic this week as I have not yet learned the entire alphabet.  Plus, it will take me a long time to do and I have studying to do yet.

Methodology Minute

Youtube is an amazing resource for learning languages.  Within the site one can find sermons, soccer clips, television clips, presentations, songs, etc. all in ones target language.  I have long used youtube for following present singers and past singers to the point of obsession, however I just recently discovered a new reason to peruse the site.  There are many clips of various polyglots on the site detailing various methods of learning languages.  This is huge!  If you are like me, you were taught to learn by studying in a class with a teacher and a bunch of unmotivated classmates.  Through the magic of youtube though, there are many, many possible ways to learn outlined for you.  A few examples:

FluentCzech:  A British gentleman who lives in the Czech Republic developed a method which he calls the Spiral Method which relies on the student's curiosity.

NJLIversen:  A Dane who has a very specific way of studying which is suited to the more strictly academic pursuit of languages, focusing on wordlists, morphology, etc.

Glossika:  An American living in China who teaches others how to speak foreign languages using mass sentence input.

ProfASAr:  Another man living in Asia teaching languages who has a very specific approach including shadowing and scriptorium.

Through youtube, we are provided with so many possible approaches that we can try and adapt to are own learning styles and find what works the best and most efficiently!  I encourage everyone who is interested in studying languages, or is currently at a standstill in the pursuits to check out these channels as well as anything else they can find on youtube.  A new approach may just be what is needed to get you over the hump!