How I used ‘Paths of Least Resistance’ to create a daily singing warm up
Sometimes, without realising it, the way you set up your tasks (whether they’re one off items on your to-do list or regular tasks in your routine) makes it harder for you to do them.
This is not so much a question of discipline or motivation – which is the subject of several other articles – but rather making the tasks as easy as possible, to remove any barrier to getting them done.
The hardest part of a task – whether it’s exercising, doing your daily singing practice, or sending out a new piece of work to a long list of press contacts – is often starting it. Once you get into the groove you feel time fly past. In order to get to this stage, you want to make the initial kick of energy required to get started as small as possible.
This can be called creating a “Path of Least Resistance”.
At this stage, I have to credit my three years’ experience working in a supply chain role for a snack brand. When you’re asked to find ways to make a production/delivery system as cost efficient as possible, you have to fight the temptation to assume things are already being done the best way possible, pull them apart and spot the inefficiencies you might be ignoring.
I wanted an example of how I have applied this logic in my life as an independent musician – so I’ve written about I created and fine-tuned my daily singing warm-up.
My daily singing warm-up
For many years, I knew I wasn’t taking good enough care of my voice. Not only would I not warm up before gigs, but there were periods of time when I wouldn’t be regularly singing between gigs. This had a negative impact on things like vocal stamina and pitch consistency (i.e. singing in tune) and so I decided to create a daily vocal warm-up, about fifteen minutes long, that could lead into a more extended practice of my songs. My experience is that, once I start singing I can’t stop – it’s addictive.
I took a number of exercises from a singing lesson I had with a great teacher in South East London (his name is Sam Kenyon).
Initially, I would accompany myself on the piano through each exercise – this meant going to the piano (requiring me to be at home), and playing as well as singing.
Both of these issues stood in the way of an easier practice routine. Instead, I recorded piano chord backings for them on Logic Pro (my recording software).
I ended up with 6 tracks on Logic – each track was a series of chords for a different singing exercise (e.g. ‘sirening’ up and down, or sticking fingers in my mouth whilst singing certain sounds, etc). They all had different tempos and so I would have to change the time signature in Logic between each exercise.
I did the exercises like this, trying to do them daily but actually doing them fairly intermittently, for several weeks, before I realised I still hadn’t made the task as easy as possible. Part of the reason I was struggling to do the warm up every day was that it wasn’t laid out on a plate for me; it involved more than just the singing exercises as I was having to fiddle with Logic as well.
I then made a simple change (it took me about twenty minutes to work out how and then do it) and resulted in a MUCH simpler process and much more frequent practice.
This part might sound like really obvious common sense (often these things are) – basically, I took all the tracks and placed them onto one track, with the tempo changing automatically between each exercise, and bounced them as a low quality mp3 file I could easily store on my phone and Laptop desktop. The result: one audio recording for the whole set of exercises.
Now, whenever I want to do my warm up, I just need to click on the file and sing along. This could be in the shower, whilst cleaning the kitchen, whilst doing the ironing (I’ve mainly written this so that my mum thinks I actually do any ironing), and so on.
This sounds so patronisingly obvious, but it’s amazing how long I was doing it the harder way before I took the time to simplify the process. That initial twenty minutes:
(a) has saved me around two minutes of faffing around EVERY TIME I do the warm up, literally hours over the course of one year; and
(b) made the warm up easier, resulting in me sticking to it MUCH more consistently
This all culminated in my latest recording session, when Jonathan (the producer I’ve worked with for over five years) said he’d heard a marked improvement in my tone and vocal control!
So, how can you use this thinking to make your tasks easier to start?
Think about what exactly you’re doing
Next time you perform a task that you do on regular basis, focus in minute detail on what you’re doing. Jot down the specifics to questions such as:
How many clicks does it take to open that webpage?
Where are you art materials stored and how easy is it to get them ready?
Is this step (typing out an email, getting X ready, etc) something that I do again and again?
Where can you save time?
Imagine you’re going to be doing this task every day for a year. If you take 5 minutes to start a task that could be started in 3, you’re wasting 12 hours over the course of the year. The time you take to get up and running is valuable – don’t ignore it and continue doing the task the same way every time.
Ask someone else how they approach a task
Another person’s perspective can help you step out of your own process and realise where you’re creating unnecessary steps. I did say above that, often, these things are quite common sense – but you don’t always notice if you’re caught up in the task, day after day.
So, this is the fun bit – comment below, tell us what you’d like to streamline, what routine tasks do you struggle to keep up with every day?
As always, here’s a song recommendation – please go and listen to Mirrorball by Elbow, it is gorgeous in every possible way, from the sweetness of the lyrics, to the production of the drums.