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!