Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What a Kung Fu Black Sash Test Has to Teach About Approaching a Song

On my other blog, Barefoot Fresca, I just finished up a post demonstrating, with illustrations and videos, a practice session I had in preparation for a re-test I am taking in Kung Fu this week.  It occurred to me that much of what I was doing was similar to the kind of analysis and breakdown that is often necessary for a singer when she wants to intimately understand a piece of music.

First, check out the post here:

"If at First You Don't Succeed -- Practice!"

Now that you've done that, I'll show you what I mean about the approach being the same.

What I was practicing in the blog post was getting into my sparring gear in 3 minutes or less.

The Run-through
The first thing I did was a run-through to see where I was at.  I video-taped the run-through to help with my analysis of the state of things.  This is like recording or videotaping a run-through of singing a song.

Next, I impartially observed the outcome of the taping.  While I succeeded to get my Kung Fu sparring gear on in 3 minutes, there were little areas of concern which, when nervous, might cause problems and cost seconds during the re-test. I made a note of where these areas of concern were and planned to visit each area separately in the next part of the practice session.

This is what a singer can do, circling the places in the music, specific measures that are causing problems, not secure, or display some kind of potential trouble or that might make the whole thing fall apart when under pressure during a performance.

Trouble Spot Number 1-- The Sparring Shoes
I noticed during the video, and also remembered from the actual experience as well, that there is sometimes confusion with putting on the Kung Fu shoes.  Before taking a close look at the matter, the two shoes looked identical to me.  That's because I had been observing the shoes while "on the fly" and I had never actually stopped to examine them.

This can happen when we just keep trying to learn a piece of music by singing straight through it over and over again.  We may think that two particular musical phrases are identical, but when we stop to study the two phrases, which might be in different places in the music, we discover that there is a slight difference to them.

When I examined the Kung Fu sparring shoes, I found out that there was, indeed a left one and a right one.  Not only that, I discovered that the shoes were shaped differently, one having a wider rounder toe box, and the other having a narrower, pointier one.

Two phrases in the same piece of music may have subtle differences like that also.  Perhaps the same phrase starts on a different beat of the measure in one place than the other.  Perhaps there is one note added to a little run, or an extra rest stuck in there.  Taking the time to examine exactly what is happening brings greater understanding.

Once I knew there was a left and a right shoe, I found another surprise.  I had assumed that the two shoes would mirror each other and that the manner of fastening the shoes would be the same.  I discovered that my assumption was wrong and that the strap of the shoe went in the same direction for both shoes.

Sometimes, before we look closely, we might make an assumption about a section of music based on some other song we have sung and not realize that our assumption has caused us to learn the section wrong.

Trouble Spot Number 2 -- The Glove
When I took my black sash test, I was unable to slip the glove on quickly enough because it gave me some trouble by being tightly closed, and also because I forgot there was a hand strap inside the glove.

There can be a part of the music that has a specific difficulty to it that throws the singer each time she gets to that spot.

To solve the glove problem, I developed a technique that I would use for putting on the glove.  By rehearsing this approach, I trained myself to do the same thing and set myself up right so I could put the glove on faster and with less effort.  First, I opened the glove.  Adding that step ensured that the other parts of the task were easier.

With the difficult music section, often there is a constriction, just like the closed glove.  Learning how to remain open can often lead the way to better handling the section.

This is a dumb little post, but I hope you have been able to see how the process is the same.  I now know that sparring gear inside and out.  I know the pitfalls and problems and I've developed and practiced strategies.  When the nerves of the moment hit, I will know exactly where I am at all times.  This is the kind of preparation and readiness that is also needed to perform a song well too!


  1. This is NOT "a dumb little post." It clearly marks a watershed for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  2. Peg, thank you! On second thought, maybe it's the things that seem like "dumb little things" that make all the world of difference.