What Puppies Taught Me About Singing

You read that right -- puppies! Allow me to explain...

One of my students, Claire S., is an assistance dog trainer. She's enrolled in Singing Transformation and noticed that a lot of my teaching revolved around the following principle:

Singer's should QUIT....while they're ahead.

It might sound weird. But it's a tried-and-true method -- not just for learning how to sing. As Claire told me, it's also great for training service dogs!

Before we talk more about puppies, let's first discuss:

What does it mean to "quit while you're ahead" when you practice singing?

In my opinion, the best warmups sessions should end on a "high note" (no pun intended). If you use my 3-step practice system, your typical warmup session might look like this:

  • PART 1: Breath Activation and Stretching (relieve tension, make sure your singer "engine" is working for you)
  • PART 2: "Open Up Shop" (get the juices flowing)
  • PART 3: Skills Work (a couple of challenging exercises, to develop whatever skill you're working in)

**The quitting happens in Part 3.**

At this step, you might sing through a challenging exercise one time and feel like, "Okay, that was decent. But I can do better." So you sing through it again.

This second time? Damn -- it felt really good! It wasn't perfect, but you can hear progress. You feel relaxed, and for the most part, very jazzed about how it sounded.

My advice to you is: STOP. THERE. Log your progress, write down what worked, but then close up shop for the day.

Why?

While working on a singing skill, it's easy to push yourself to the point where you're straining, pushing, or feeling frustrated.

When you quit while you're ahead, you avoid that negative spiral, AND you end your session on a positive note -- thereby reinforcing to your subconscious mind that you CAN do it.

But don't just take it from me. Take it from Claire and her experience training little cutie dogs: 

Claire wrote:

"Fel, [quitting while you're ahead] is the same principle I use when training assistance dogs.

"When we were training a new skill, if we stopped at the point when the puppy had just reached a new skill level, and celebrated it together, they would be able to do it really well the next session, and also be super keen and confident.

"On the other hand, if I pushed them to keep going after the new milestone had been achieved they would begin to go backwards and everything would unravel...next session they would be less confident and clear about what to do."

"Shorter sessions clearly proved to be the best training method, as the puppies improved much more rapidly and with less stress. Their cute little minds had time to process things in between sessions."

Didja hear that?

Our cute (singer) minds deserve a break in between training sessions, just like those adorable puppies.

Listen to the puppy... "Don't over-practice!"

What do you think of this technique? Are you willing to give it a try?

Leave me a comment here on my blog, I'll read every single one!

xo Fel

AUTHOR

Felicia Ricci

All stories by: Felicia Ricci
44 comments
  • Carina Chen
    REPLY

    Yes, this is a good idea! I am like a puppy too! ????

    By the way, will you please teach us how to sing solo of the song "For Good" from Wicked? I saw your video on "Defying Gravity" and it was superb! Please produce a video on "For Good".

    Many thx!

    Sincerely,

    Carina

    • Bob Myers
      REPLY

      Hi! Fel!

      The puppy above ain't that cute!,

      He looks like the type that sneaks up from behind and bites your Achilles' tendon!

      These puppies are worthy of field goal practice!

      Anyway, you're puppy concept sounds like a really good idea, and if I ever get my self motivated enough to finish practicing with your I ntroductory course that you offer so reasonably, L will try out the puppy concept.
      Unfortunately for me,
      I'm getting old and starting to "warble" a bit when I sing as I'm approaching age 64. But I do believe that I may have some good singing years left in me!

      Part of problem I make up for myself is that I don't practice because I think my wife, or heaven
      Forbid, someone else will hear me. And then I' ll never hear the end of that.

      So I' ll try to be brave, and practice without making any noise---just kidding!,,

      If you have any good techniques to pass along on how to keep from "warbling" I'd sure like to know!

      I do believe in you and your teaching, and hope to get myself more motivated with your course!

      I really like singing at Church service, and hope to improve with your course.

      You can see me singing in the congregation, if you download ElShaddaiministries.US. .go to the home page to watch the there-broadcast of the Archived Teaching, on any of the dates listed.

      I grew up in Baltimore, MD, not too far from you, and was raised in the Catholic faith, and attended Parochial School until I finally told my dad that I've had it with the Nuns beating us up all the time!

      I don't know if you are a person of faith, but I invite you to watch some of the archives of our Saturday (Sabbath) service. No, I'm not Jewish, but a large percentage of our Conregation are Jews who fervently believe that Jesus Chist is their Messaih.
      And so El Saddai Ministries is for all people and Nations who accept Jesus Christ as their Messaih
      ((Saviour and King, in our lives to come).

      If these words don't resonate with you, then please accept my appology. But you know what, Fel. --I really get the feeling that you are a very spiritual person. And if you don' t already have our Saviour in your life, I sincerely hope that you will ask Him into your life by the power of His Holy Spirit.

      You probably know this already, but at conception, God, our Father in Heaven ordains our life,
      And infuses the seed of
      His Holy Spirit into each and every one of us. We call it our Conciounse, which is derived from
      The Greek language, meaning "Wit knowledge". We are given "free will" to develop our lives in the manner that we choose. I believe this life is about developing our "character", God''s character
      In ourselves, so that we become acceptable and righteous in His eyes.

      I know that I have gone way outside my boundaries in writing these things to you, and I' m not sure that I should have. I do apologize if I have offended you.
      When I see you sing, I feel that there is a resonance that you make in your voice, that makes me feel
      That you are connected spiritually to our Creator. I know you probably think this sounds "Dopey",
      But, what it is worth, you seem to have that Aura when you sing.
      Please don't take this for anything more than what I'm saying, in that I believe you area great teacher,
      And I hope if I finish your intro course, that I'll see some real improvement in my singing voice.

      Sincerely,

      Bob Myers

      • Felicia Ricci
        REPLY

        Hi Lauren, Don't despair. Is there any song you LOVE singing that comes easily and is just absolutely thrilling to sing? Try singing along in the shower and make it your goal to have fun. Also, be sure to give your body some love. Check out my video on How to Sing Without Tension for some good practices to get back in touch with your body. xo Fel

      • Evelyn
        REPLY

        Hi Lauren,

        I was feeling a lot like this too for a few years and couldn't shake it off for a long time - it greatly affected my singing, confidence, motivation - everything. I kept singing, especially well-loved songs. On really difficult days I would just focus on breathing - just relaxing your breath and connecting with yourself and with silence by low, slow, breathing. Also visual cues, like butterflies flying in formation, or floating clouds. On those days when I was just too depressed to sing, spending time just breathing and gently stretching really helped. Take walks in a garden, do breathing exercises in the sunshine. That is great for your singing instrument - your body - and your mind.

        Evelyn.

  • Debbie
    REPLY

    Yes! This is so true in dog training! I'm a dog trainer also, and I learned to go by this principle years ago!! I never thought to apply it to my vocal practice. Brilliant!! Thanks so much!
    Debbie

  • marilyn
    REPLY

    well, I think it also applies to school sometimes. I'm in guitar/beat making class after school. there are times I get frusterated but I try and not give up. and I always feel positive! I will apply it to my singing too! thanks fel!

  • Rong Zhang
    REPLY

    Yes, it really makes sense to me. Positive moments do not last forever and there are negative times in our life which are unavoidable. It is a good idea to focus more when positive times come and do not push harder when they are gone. In this way, we benefit more from the positive times and avoid creating negative times. Very precious tip!

  • Aline
    REPLY

    I totally agree with this and as hard as it is to do, it is sound advice. I am teaching myself how to play the guitar and I practice the hard chords (bar chords) for 5 minutes every day. Any longer and my hand begins to hurt and frustration sets in. So, the other day I was "trying" to sing and trying different techniques over and over and before long it got the best of me. I ended up pretty frustrated and am nearly convinced I will never find my singing voice. So, it's back to the guitar for me. One thing,...I can carry a tune, just can't get the voice to open up. AAAAAAaaccckkk. I'm going to quit typing while I'm ahead. lol.

  • Nilay
    REPLY

    Makes a tonne of sense and I totally agree, this applies to many things including playing an instrument. After learning a song, riff or scale at my skill level, once you get it down you feel great about yourself and hyped about going further. You then immediately jump to something significantly more difficult, even if that means playing it like the "original" is, which is often extremely difficult! This makes all the deliberate practice done before a little less effective, because at the end of the session your hands hurt, you don't feel like you accomplished much in the session and you feel exhausted rather than energized!

    Good stuff!

  • Nilay
    REPLY

    Makes a tonne of sense and I totally agree, this applies to many things including playing an instrument. After learning a song, riff or scale at a certain skill level, once you get it down you feel great about yourself and hyped about going further. You then immediately jump to something significantly more difficult, even if that means playing it like the "original" is, which is often extremely difficult! This makes all the deliberate practice done before a little less effective, because at the end of the session your hands hurt, you don't feel like you accomplished much in the session and you feel exhausted rather than energized!

    Good stuff!

  • Tammy Hulbert
    REPLY

    I completely agree! I'm a voice teacher, and I've been thinking about this a lot lately. When a singer masters a concept or technique, why do I immediately feel the need to push and see how much further they can go? When I am helping to build a singers range, why do I push them to the point of strain? Why don't I just live with them in the open, beautiful confident notes?

    It's very important to quit while we're ahead, because we are bulding on positive responses. Pushing further to the point of strain just builds on the negative, right?

    ps--I love your and content and teaching style. I get so much out of your videos personally and professionally!! Thank you!!

  • Pinkey
    REPLY

    Yes! Quit while you're ahead! It makes perfect sense. I've tried singing a song and said I can do better, it actually sounded better, but then I pushed one time too many and became frustrated because it no longer sounded better. So I quit in frustration and had to start the next time remembering how I left off and started with trying to improve vs just getting started. I'm sold on the concept!!!

  • Paola
    REPLY

    Hi Fel,

    I am such a perfectionist I probably do push myself to the point of frustration! and that doesn't help at all. The advice feels right and I will definitely try it. Thanks for all your tips!

  • Owen Korzec
    REPLY

    This has saved me so much during busy performance schedules! When I'm warming up, as soon I feel like my voice is waking up and starting to work really correctly, that's such a good time to quit while I'm ahead and save the rest of my energy for the show itself. I used to think that once my voice was starting to wake up like that I had to immediately ingrain that good feeling through repeating it and trying to stretch it to more advanced levels or else I would lose it come show time. But the more I would try that the more I'd get the opposite result from what I wanted. I'd over think, mess up my technique, wear out my voice and everything would just get harder and harder until I'd already be straining on the first note of the gig. In reality it was all just a self-destructive anxious habit. When I started warming up less, quitting it while I'm ahead, suddenly I was singing so much better at performances and getting to the end of the them without strain. Because I just put in a small amount of high quality practice and simply trusted the body to remember it. I would even say that on a performance day I'm often leaving the performance to be the "skills growth" itself, so I don't overwhelm the body with a double duty of skills growth sessions.

  • Cheyenne
    REPLY

    Hey thanks Fel. That makes so much sense to me. Sometimes i will sit there for hours trying to learn a new skill but get frustrated so i just have to take a break. This technique will definitely help me out. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Your friend,
    Cheyenne

  • Mercedes Cohen
    REPLY

    Dogs do sing even in chorus! Athletics baseball has a "take your dog to the game" event and when the Star Spangled Banner was sung and loudly broadcast, the dogs howled and yipped along. It was especially noteworthy after the high note followed by the pause. They sang right through the applause proudly lifting snouts to the sky!

  • Hugo Pagliccia
    REPLY

    Your suggestion makes a lot of sense. I have had difficulty. I got interested in learning some techniques, but shortly after it required me to be on the road more than I ever thought...the on and off bothered; know that learning should be more committed on a daily basis. Thanks for your support. I play three instruments by ear.....they tell me it is in the key of C and we do occasional sing along's 40's & 50's music. A lot of fun to say the least. I do not have a terrible voice but it has no style or resonence.....just another voice in the group.
    Thanks for your support and persistence.
    HP

  • Holly Santiago
    REPLY

    YESSSSS. I really needed this. I've been on vocal rest for the past few weeks because I've been pushing myself way too hard lately and I definitely started to feel like I was going backwards in terms of progress. Thank you, puppies!

  • Pamela Stewart
    REPLY

    Really excellent advice, I'm passing it on! Also, checked out your improv musical...wish I could be in Philly to see it. Also, check this out...finally took the plunge:)

    youtube pamela scharmannstewart il bacio

    or, youtube/xgcM8jn7VDk

    more to come!

    Pam

  • Bert Whetstone
    REPLY

    Hi Fel! I've looked through many of the comments, but not all. I assume you're writing about the warm up period of our singing sessions. We warm up to the point where we feel open and energized...and then "quit while we're ahead," and then move into our actual practice time singing songs. I get 15 minutes to warm up my voice to your downloads in the car on the way back from town...so I walk into the house ready to sit at the piano or pick up the guitar and sing. Is that how you intended the "quit while you're ahead?"

    You've been wicked helpful in my enjoyment of singing! Keep posting! Yours in Harmony, Bert

    • Felicia Ricci
      REPLY

      Hi Bert! Good question - I mean if you're working on something new or challenging. So if you're working on a song, by all means run through the song. And if there's a "challenge section" run through it to the point where you feel good about it, but then don't push through and beat it into the ground. Make sense? xo Fel

  • Gavin (AZ)
    REPLY

    See? This is what I like about you, Fel... gone are the horn-rimmed glasses, the disapproving teacher stares, the mindless repetitive exercises that drone on an on, wasting an afternoon... All gone! What WE have, in you, is a person who A) speaks our language (thank god), B) thoroughly understands the ins and outs of producing sounds with the human body (all of them...lol...), and does so in a relevant, exciting, optimistic "2017-oriented" style that is both studious yet infectiously fun. I would dare other teachers out there to dip into other fields (such as psychology, or animal training) to find valuable lessons to bring home to our art. When it's about the METHOD, and not about the teacher, the teacher will just naturally shine. And ours is the best teacher of all. Thank you for your spin, Fel. We're all rockin' your waves. = )

  • Zoe
    REPLY

    Hey Fel,

    This is so relevant for me right now. I am used to pushing myself and I know when one pushes too hard, it does unravel what work has been done to get there! The voice can't be pushed though...it should be developed else it gets damaged! So I appreciate this advice. This will help me going forward. Good visualisation even though it's a true story, with the dog scenario 🙂

    Also thank you for all your work. Been meaning to comment on many of your youtube videos. Will try be a bit more proactive and look forward to doing one of your courses super soon!

    Yours in Singing and great Music,

    Zoë (South Africa)

  • Joyce Knake
    REPLY

    Your lessons have helped me so much. I will soon be 80 and people are telling me my voice is getting better. I have taught guitar for 13 years but never did much singing until recently. It's always good to end on a positive note. One of my biggest problems, though I try to practice it, is the breathing . I forget to do it when I perform at open mics.

  • Evelyn
    REPLY

    Hi Fel,

    This makes sense and really works. For me it starts with breathing, stretching, lip trills, gentle vocal exercises, and song work. Not hours on end, but a minimum of 15-30 minutes, shorter sessions, once in the morning and again after work in the evening.

    I recently purchased your 'Lazy Singer's Warm ups' (LSW) which has worked wonders. The shorter sessions, done more frequently daily (eg. x2) has done more for me in the last 4-6 weeks than in the past two years I'd say. Apparently it is the same for physical exercise/gym work, when learning an instrument, etc. Shorter frequent sessions, followed by rest and time for your muscles to remember and consolidate new learnings = better results.

    On the dog theme, my dog is happier when he goes out for frequent short walks, but is exhausted on longer walks. He also stretches every morning and does the LSW lion-yawn thing, so I've started copying him! I think animals are way smarter and we can learn a lot from them!!

    Evelyn

  • Pavel Hrabalik
    REPLY

    Hi Fel! He everybody!

    Fel, some questions to this thema:
    You says :
    PART 3: Skills Work (a couple of challenging exercises, to develop whatever skill you're working in)
    and also:
    The quitting happens in Part 3
    And
    (if you are satisfied with some exercise) My advice to you is: STOP. THERE. Log your progress, write down what worked, but then close up shop for the day.

    My question is: STOP WHAT ? This exercise I am happy with this. Yes, sure. What about other exercises I have planned? Shall I stop doing the rest of exercises I had planned ? You say "close up shop for the day". Shall I stop singing for the rest of the day ? You don’t recommend me singing afternoon when something is perfect in the morning? Really ? Wouldn't be more accurate speak about SEANCES, not about DAYS ? And - what about ordinary singing - nothing challenging, but more routine - is it banned too ?

    🙂

    Pavel

  • Eda
    REPLY

    Hi Fel,

    Awesome as usual. I was hoping you could share some "closing down shop" exercises or point me to some you have posted, especially after working on belting.

  • Samantha Steward
    REPLY

    I thought this made so much sense. Honestly I've had the same thought long ago, that I should just stop when I feel like I really nailed what I was practicing and felt good about the technique. Unfortunately I'm stubborn and just love singing, so I keep going till my voice gets tired or I don't do a song so well. But now that I've read this, I will definitely try to cut myself off!

    ~<3 Sam S.

  • Alyssa
    REPLY

    I currently have my second assistance dog, both of which I trained myself to meet my very specific needs. These analogies are spot on, especially when you are trying to introduce a difficult concept to a young puppy. A short, sweet training session, ending with lots of praise and maybe some play will keep a puppy engaged in learning new and ever more complex skills.

    I think it's a great idea that as singers we keep our enthusiasm and drive by pointedly finishing on an upward note after shorter practice sessions. And maybe if you've struggled with mastering something for a whole practice session, perhaps too wind up, sing a song you love that you know you can easily sing ... just to take away that frustration. Our equivalent of play time! Another tip for training assistance dogs which I think is applicable is the more complex the session, the shorter it should be. If you're working on a very difficult run, or something equally challenging, just do 5 minute practices at a time. As soon as there is some sort of improvement, just leave it there. That way you're always fresh and ready to learn and you're not always dreading practicing "that bit". It certainly is a good analogy, I can think of lots of things that fit!

  • Benjy Sherer
    REPLY

    I've also learned something very helpful from dogs about singing. Something completely different, that came from me doing various tongue exercises, practicing relaxed breathing, and opening up my throat.

    Picture a dog yawning...

    Their tongues stretch out really far, and more importantly, they curve inward and create a ramp kind of shape, with a little indent curving back up at the bottom. This is the same sensation - I have found - to be what we should be going for with our mouth while we sing. The back of the tongue stays down and relaxed, allowing for smooth and easy air flow. The indent in the tongue creates extra space for resonance and prevents you from closing your throat. The position prevents air from being lost under the tongue, and helps keep the soft pallette firm and raised, while helping you keep your mouth open wide, without tensing it.

    Happy singing y'all!

  • Marcella R Charles
    REPLY

    Dear Fel,
    That makes perfectly good sense, and not just for young puppies but for trying to teach " old dogs new tricks"!!!(literally). I sing in a praise and worship team at church with a new director (3rd in the last year -2016)). I believe she uses this method and I have seen it work.
    I also can see where it can translate into other areas of my life. This denotes a good practice to have!!
    Thank you so much. Be blessed!
    Marcella RC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.