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The First 20 Hours - How To Learn Anything (TED video)

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I found this video this morning and it really seemed to make some great points that I believe are directly applicable to learning how to sing well.

Some emphases: Learning to self-monitor, deconstructing the skill, ACTUALLY PRACTICING instead of procrastinating just reading about it all day long...

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I'd say what you get in 20 hours though is not the skills of singing that we're all chasing though, and not all of them at once.

I mean, just look, he really didn't accomplish much on the ukelele there...four chords, a simple strumming pattern, and the ability to sing over it without screwing up the ukelele part.

That being said, what you can definitely get in 20 hours as a singing would be stuff like:

-singing with a pleasant tone

-learning to connect head and chest at a low volume

-learning to take the full voice range somewhere past the D4 for men or G4 for girls

-learning to carry a tune

etc.

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not the skills of singing that we're all chasing though

not all of them at once.

The point, I think, or my own analogy and application of the theory behind this specific video is that if you make a habit of practicing something that relates to what you want to get better at you will progress faster than having longer working hours or sessions. Many studies have been done (not straw-manning, but I don't feel like digging up the studies right now) on learning and attention spans of adults, and the "20 minute rule" is like the break even point.

If you do more, it's just more taxing but you might get a little something extra done. Sure. But would practicing only 20 minutes at a time carry over to how fresh you are, and how eager you are to practice more in the next session? My practical experiments say yes. I have a habit of doing different vocal routines, about 10-30mins in length all throughout the day, and sometimes, maybe 2-3 times a week I actually take an hour or two and just sing. Every singing session I feel like I've progressed tons and tons, and I find new aspects of my voice every single session. During these smaller "habitual" sessions, though, the progress isn't so imminent. It feels like everything is gradually getting easier, but I don't make huge leaps and bounds, I just feel like every day I have a little more range, a little less tension and a little more control over my tone.

I'm a strength training nut, and the way to achieve most skill-based feats is to practice them as often as possible, as fresh as possible and without overtaxing the mechanism involved.

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Exactly. His point was that he wasn't going to achieve mastery... nowhere did he say he was going to master the skill in 20 hours. He even goes on and on about how the game of telephone goes around society distorting what the message of 10000 hours to "mastering a specific skill" to "getting good at anything" and mastering... in comparison to his claim of 20 hours to learn ukulele... not be Jake Shimabukuro.

I agree that learning to bridge chest and head at a low volume... or even developing a audible head voice (as was the case for me) via CT exercises... those should be achievable with 20 hours of work. 45 minutes of practice 5 days a week for a month! SO doable.

I think a trickier part of the application of these concepts for singing would be the self-regulation aspect. Kaufman wants people to start working on the skill as they're reading as soon as they can self-correct their errors. The problem is that even with many voice methods we're used to hearing about here, readers can still find it to be hit or miss with comprehension of the important points that are necessary for success. For example, proper posture alignment, and coordination development...

This is probably the part where a vocal instructor would be most helpful or at least some extremely detailed forum and youtube research and BS filtering to figure out what sensations to look for in practicing in order to achieve efficient quick learning.

And Khassera, I recall reading somewhere that many experts in their fields can expand the amount of time they spend focusing with high degrees of attention beyond normal folks. I hear in classical violin healthy practice suggestions being 50 minute intervals with 10 minutes rest, for as much as 3-4 hours at my level. I hypothesize that one way violinists and vocalists may be able to achieve that high enduring attention may be to focus with a high degree of attention on different aspects for 10-20 minute intervals - e.g. breathing 5 minutes, sirens 5 minutes, scales 10 minutes, arpeggios 5 minutes for voice or something.

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Thanks! Forgot to say that I consider strength to be a skill, so skill and strength don't exclude each other in my philosophy. :) Also, one could add "as RIGHT as possible" but that's something that should be obvious. On the flipside it's very easy to ingrain bad habits......

Sounds right. Sure. But to me the 20-30mins 5-6x a day 5-6 days a week gets in more efficient work than what I could do if I sat down and did nothing but vocal exercises or related training for a couple of hours. I dunno, I really like the video since it's my approach to all skill-related practice in life. :) It's lifehacking!

I'll give an example: Last week my wisdom tooth flared up my gums and singing my normal routines was a pain. I switched over to practicing messa voce only, 5 minute routines which I did 3 times in one sitting, and I did it 3-4 times a day since it was very low volume and effort. Now, just an hour ago I did my basic routine and sang a couple of songs. It might be the work I did on messa, it might be recovery from chronic training, or whatever, but I bridge much, much smoother and I can actually sing in a tone I haven't been able to sing before (low larynx, bright and soft) with practically no effort.

tl;dr: The stuff discussed in the video works for some, not for others.

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I totally agree with you, Khassera. I think the advantage we have as singers over other musicians like pianists and violinists is that we have our instruments with us all the time. Violinists can't pull out their violins in the shower or in the car... but their violins also don't get sinus infections lmao

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Khassera has it right. And Steven Fraser has stated it before. The hours logged in practice are not as important as the quality.

30 minutes of good stuff is better for you than 2 hours of crap (I paraphrase.) That doesn't mean you only need to practice 30 minutes a day, before any one jumps on that. Just saying, whatever time you do practice, make it concentration on the right things.

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Also, in the seminar, he points out how the legend of 10k hours came to be. A professor tabulated the average amount of time an elite athlete spent at a pro level before they started receiving recognition. Average 5 years. Many govt agencies, even the TDLR which governs my trade license, determines that 1 year is 2,000 hours. (5 days a week, 8 hours a day.)

Whether you worked 2 hours on day, or 12 hours. Overtime does not get calculated in or added to it.

I think the speaker wisely points out that once that thought got popular, it also shifted statements, as in the telephone game where you start out with the phrase, "daisies are yellow" and by the time it reaches the end, the phrase has become "my favorite spice is goosenfrabe."

That learn takes place not because of a specific amount of time but from learning well some basic and correct things. Like chord forms on a guitar. So, changing keys is often just a matter of moving the form to another fret. Same with lead guitar work. There are some basic formations called "modes" and you can play them anywhere on the fret board. And you can get some interesting harmonies using the pentatonic at the V chord rather than the I, even while the accompaniment is playing the I. Simple patterns like that. If you are paying attention.

Little secrets for song writing such as circle of 5ths.

Is he a virtuoso after 20 hours? Of course not. But he now has the tools to be one, with more practice and imagination, depending on his desire. The point was, how long does it take to go from complete incompetence to some appreciable level of competence? Average 20 hours.

I threw some numbers together. I have been singing a really long time but for the purposes of this, I will pick 1988, when I really wanted to pay attention to my singing. Many times I have sang for hours in a day or night. Carte blanche, I am going to say one hour a day for an average. That comes out to 9400 - ish hours. Guys, I am almost there! :D

Point being, people are still telling me that I need to improve my voice or singing and they may certainly be right. 10k hours means nothing.

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Very well said Phil! It's what I refer to as smart practice. And it's a skill that's often not taught to the student by voice teachers and often reflects that the teacher lacks knowledge about didactics because they are mostly singers themselves who happens to teach.

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the REAL test is taking a break from it and coming back to it to see if it's still there. THat's how you want to test yourself and build yourself.

Consistency is king, but CORRECT consistency is the ultimate.

Amen.

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Ok then.

I will come back 20hrs from now.

;)

Seriously, there are some good points, but there is nothing extraordinary. The problem is that the skill necessary to do the second step PROPERLY depends on a good control of the instrument.

And, some people will not get even close of reproducing the melody as he did (barely) in 20 hours, or even 100. Its multidisciplinar, yes, one of the skills necessary is relative pitch perception, how do you perceive that your perception is off? :)

Great post btw Phil.

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Does anyone have any of this kind of "habitual" exercises they like to do all throughout the day?

I blow into a straw since it doesn't really make any noise to train my tranverse (I've been doing that before I sang) all throughout the day varying the intensity and the duration. Never so much as to feel exhausted or winded. Sometimes I vocalize softly through the straw, some 5-tone scales trying to stay mixed as low as possible.

Also, I have a pitch matching app on my phone which is on all the time, so probably every hour I do some pitch matches for relative pitch (ie. "hum the M3 of sounded note")

Then I try to mimic singing when I speak to customers or colleagues to not talk out of my chest since my voice gets shot really easy.

Anyone have "weird vocalist habits?"

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Does anyone have any of this kind of "habitual" exercises they like to do all throughout the day?

I blow into a straw since it doesn't really make any noise to train my tranverse (I've been doing that before I sang) all throughout the day varying the intensity and the duration. Never so much as to feel exhausted or winded. Sometimes I vocalize softly through the straw, some 5-tone scales trying to stay mixed as low as possible.

Also, I have a pitch matching app on my phone which is on all the time, so probably every hour I do some pitch matches for relative pitch (ie. "hum the M3 of sounded note")

Then I try to mimic singing when I speak to customers or colleagues to not talk out of my chest since my voice gets shot really easy.

Anyone have "weird vocalist habits?"

I don't know if I can define it as weird, because it may be standard in my industry or even my level of management. But often I find, after hanging up with a builder or person wanting a scheduling thing to happen without giving me enough required technical information, I find myself phonating in elevated volume and pitch and my lyrics are American curse words used in combinations not often heard. Information they could provide if they simply thought about what they were doing. When you walk into a room and the room is to have a light, how do you turn that light on or off? A switch, right? Where?

I mean stuff that basic. And I have to ask it every day. Because they cannot remember how to do their jobs from day to day. Each night's sleep clears their RAM, so to speak. And I stress because it all literally becomes my responsibility. And problems become my fault. Sometimes through failure to anticipate their failure. Because they (others) cannot find their way out of a wet paper bag, even if they had a sharp knife in each hand.

These things inspire the elevated volume and pitch and impromptu lyricism.

I came up with another ronws maxim. If you have to ask how long it takes to become a good singer, you don't have the patience for it.

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