Hitting The Pitches

One, two, three strikes you’re out! Now that the country’s favorite pastime is in “full swing” (by that I mean watching the drama between the Yankee’s and Sox), it occurred to me how many singers approach the stage as if it were home plate in a play-off game. Standing there like a kid donning an over-size batting helmet, they often squeeze their eyes and lock their muscles in anticipation of tough pitches. It’s a self-defeating stance. Once the body becomes rigid, it’s almost impossible to make the minute adjustments required to connect on target. When the inevitable misses start adding up, suggestions from coaches like “relax” and “breathe” are wiped out by panic.

The downward spiral continues as all attempts at maintaining a balanced form are abandoned in favor of a full-out attack at each pitch. While poor mechanics are certainly an issue, the mind is far more at fault in these situations. Singing is mostly reflex activity, which means the muscles are in reaction. However, where the mind goes the muscles will follow. Ironically, if you want to sing in tune, stop thinking about the pitch.

We tend to forget that there’s more to singing, and baseball for that matter, then hitting pitches. Dynamics, tone, duration, note placement and interpretation of lyrics all play a vital role in music just as fielding skills do in baseball. What great singers and players do is focus on a bigger picture.

When performing, the mind-set of a singer should be on the sentiment of the song. What do you want to express to your audience? What do you want them to feel? Are you in the song? Is your head in the game? These questions are the ones to address when you feel you’re losing control. Taking the focus off the physical aspect of singing not only provides a better environment for your reflexes, it also allows the audience to stay with their emotions. Unlike baseball, singing is an art. No one is counting the misses unless the singer draws attention to the problem. Remember, where your mind goes the audience will follow.

There are steps you can take to prevent the distraction of an occasional foul note. A good warm up is essential. Your muscles respond much better when activated slowly. Cold muscles are rigid and require more energy, which throws off the delicate balance needed to be in tune. Another way to promote accuracy is to vocalize every day. The best hitters in major league baseball never miss batting practice. They do this so they can concentrate on where to hit the ball during a game, not how. Vocalizing gives you this same opportunity to focus on technique in order to free your mind during a performance.

The goal is to simplify things so there’s less to deal with when under pressure. On stage, while we tend to work extremely hard when singing high notes, in reality, the muscles responsible are as small as those which move your eyes. It is impossible to feel the vocal folds stretching for a note — any note. When you practice, work on reducing the physical effort associated with pitch, no matter how inaccurate it makes you at first. Allowing yourself to sing out of tune is vital when exploring how little it takes to be on pitch. Obviously, this is easier to do in private than on stage.

What you can do when performing is dig deeply into the lyrics. Even if no one can understand a thing you’re saying, let the words move you. If something unintentional slips out, keep in mind that the audience has no idea what you intended to sing. Own the blunder if it worked. Have you ever seen a baseball player not take a base because he didn’t mean to hit the ball to right field? It’s just as important to learn to get over a missed pitch. You don’t need to bat a thousand to get into the World Series.